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Does the World Need Phone-Charging Jackets?


I'm bored with wearable tech. I was pretty excited back in 2011 when RunKeeper, makers of the running app by the same name, debuted its Health Graph, which promised to aggregate and analyze data from a variety of sources -- calorie-counting apps, Wi-Fi-connected scales, sleep monitors and fitness-tracking devices -- to help you understand, for example, if eating a big plate of pasta late at night really did result in a worse night's sleep, and if that worse night's sleep meant you were less likely to get up for a run the next morning. The promise of that kind of data, collected from a variety of seamlessly integrated garments and accessories, seemed worth getting excited about.

Three years later, and there's a lot of wearable tech on the market, some of which -- like Opening Ceremony and Intel's notification bracelet -- is quite pretty, but none of which is essential. Case in point: The phone-charging jackets debuted by Tommy Hilfiger and Opening Ceremony, respectively, this week.

Tommy Hilfiger has released two wool jackets, one for women and one for men, that has a removable back flap with solar panels. Stand in direct sunlight, and they'll charge the phone you have hooked up in your pocket. (How long that will take isn't clear; a Tommy Hilfiger spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for further information.) Both jackets are, in my opinion, rather attractive -- and what a good conversation-starter those solar panels would make! -- but they don't make for particularly reliable or convenient phone chargers. And at $600 apiece, they look overpriced. In my experience, those who spend $600 on a garment want it to look like it cost $600, whether or not it has phone-charging capabilities.

Ditto Opening Ceremony's unisex varsity jacket, which has a built-in Mophie phone charger. As Eliza says, it looks like a typical OC jacket, but it's 100 percent polyester and the gold sleeves look unfortunately cheap. The jacket is $465.

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This is a problem that more fashionable makers of wearable tech face: For every dollar you spend adding hardware components to a garment or accessory is a dollar you have to sacrifice in other materials. A jacket or watch that charges a phone or sends alerts isn't going to look as nice next to a jacket or watch that doesn't. It's no accident that the makers of fitness trackers have opted for understated, inexpensive black rubber bands that don't compete with traditional fashion accessories, or that Apple didn't model its smartwatch on Swiss-made watches or even watches in the $300-$500 price category.

Think about it: If you had $600 to spend on a jacket, would you opt for a wool and nylon coat that looked like it cost about $200 with a built-in phone charger, or spend $530 on a cashmere-wool blend, and stick a $70 phone-charging case around your iPhone instead?

To be fair, I don't think Tommy Hilfiger nor Opening Ceremony are banking their businesses on these wearable tech products -- OC only made 100 copies of its phone-charging jacket, for example. Where these companies will benefit is in positioning (i.e., being perceived as an innovator, as Burberry has so successfully done) and in all of the press their forays into wearable tech will get from fashion, business and tech press. Which seems pretty savvy to me.