Just in time for the U.S. Open — for which the brand is once again the official outfitter — Ralph Lauren is bringing its health-tracking "PoloTech smartshirt" to market.
Twelve months ago, the apparel giant made headlines when it announced that it had developed an athletic shirt embedded with silver fibers and sensors that would allow the wearer to capture biometric information (including heart rate, breathing rate and depth, movement, steps taken and calories burned) and transmit it, via a little black box attached to the shirt, to an accompanying iOS app. Up until that point, fashion brands' experiments with wearable technology had been — and indeed, still are — largely confined to accessories, like Opening Ceremony x Intel's "smart" bracelet and the Tory Burch-designed Fitbit.
The shirt is made of a black technical fabric in a short-sleeved crew-neck style, and embroidered with both "POLO" and the company's hallmark polo-player logo in bright yellow. Attendees of the 2014 U.S. Open had an early opportunity to see the shirt when it was worn by a first-time player as well as a handful of ball boys.
Now, the shirt is about to be made available to the public. Shoppers can pre-order the shirt on RalphLauren.com, or pick one up beginning Thursday at Polo Ralph Lauren's NYC flagship and Ralph Lauren's pop-up store on the U.S. Open premises. It costs $295 — $55 less than Apple's entry-level smartwatch. Purchasers will be prompted to download a companion app (compatible with iPods, iPhones and the Apple Watch) to view their data and peruse a library of workouts tailored to their performance.
Ralph Lauren did not develop the shirt entirely in-house. For the shirt's technical components, the company turned to Montreal-based OMsignal, which has created its own range of nearly identical-looking fitness shirts featuring the same little black box and an app that displays biometric data in real-time. (You can get an overview of how they work in the video below.) New York health and fitness media company Galvanized developed the app.
Ralph Lauren's smartshirt will by no means be the last. Other brands have dabbled in this space in recent months, including Opening Ceremony and Tommy Hilfiger, which both developed phone-charging outerwear. The company likely to make the biggest splash in the coming year is Levi's, which has partnered with Google to bring the technology company's "smart fabric" technology, Jacquard, to market.
By being early participants in the space, fashion companies are hoping to carve out a share of what research firms are predicting will, over the next half-decade, become a multibillion-dollar "smart garment" market — and position themselves as more innovative than their peers.
Beyond being an event in and of itself, the shirt's launch is also leading the way for the relaunch of Ralph Lauren's Polo Sport brand, which was launched in 1992 and shuttered in 2000. This time, Sport is being positioned as "broader" and more "athletic-focused," according to a press release from Ralph Lauren.