The year hasn't run out quite yet, but we're going to call it and say that the fashion-tech narrative in 2014 belonged to wearable technology. Every brand and its cousin wanted in on the space in some capacity, resulting in a consistent churn of new products and collaborations every week or so. It's unlikely to let up any time soon, not as long as the term "wearable tech" has a certain buzz and FOMO is still a thing.
This isn't to be overly cynical about wearable devices. Withings put out a truly elegant smartwatch in June. Those who say they aren't excited to mess around on an Apple Watch when it eventually launches is lying or crazy. Meanwhile, Nike shut down development on its FuelBand in favor of focusing on creating software for other fitness devices, a counterintuitive move when so many other companies are just breaking into the game, but one that could give Nike a better competitive (and collaborative) position in the long run.
Collaboration was key for many of the companies that voyaged into the wearable tech landscape in 2014 -- and that required assessing what they were already good at, what they needed help with, and then finding collaborators accordingly. Google outsourced hardware production on its six Android Wear watches to partners like Sony and Samsung. After putting out its own range of titanium frames, Google Glass teamed up with Luxottica and Diane von Furstenberg to create glasses. Intel released a smart bracelet with Opening Ceremony, inked a multi-year deal with Luxottica to develop smart glasses and, to really kick its cool factor up a notch, opened an exhibit on the history of wearables with Milk Made.
Were all of the aforementioned products great? No. The OC x Intel bracelet looked nice, but was lackluster in the tech department. DVF's futuristic-looking shades for Google Glass fell short on the aesthetics front, ironically enough. The Fitbit-compatible jewelry Tory Burch released in July was an awkward attempt at fusing traditional accessories with hardware, simply proving the point that design and tech teams need to keep working together.
Tech teams are learning to compromise in areas they haven't had to before, like designing toward curves rather than flat surfaces. Fashion designers will get more comfortable with their new hardware considerations.
And the two industries have never been closer. Literally: at Paris Fashion Week, Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour rubbed elbows with Jony Ive and Marc Newson at an Apple Watch preview at Colette.
Will some gratuitous wearable tech collabs come out in 2015? Sure. Will we see more products of dubious utility, in the vein of Opening Ceremony's recent phone-charging jacket? Probably, yeah.
Will wearable tech exhaustion set in? Has it already?
Drink a Red Bull. From a fashion industry perspective, a big question is how brands will figure into wearable device development in the coming years. For the time being, fashion labels' expertise in creating thirst-inducing accessories seems genuinely helpful as players in the space work to warm consumers to the idea of wearables in the first place. But at the end of the day, fashion houses won't be the ones taking the lead on wearables, since they can't and probably don't want to compete on the technology front. So will labels enter into long-term licensing deals with tech companies down the line, just as they have with eyewear and fragrance giants?
A few more question marks for you.
Who's going to nail mobile commerce in 2015? Last January, Forrester Research said it expected retailers to start focusing on tablet and smartphone-based shopping in 2014. While conversion rates for the devices are still low relative to desktop use , traffic on mobile has been growing rapidly. Traffic stats from Black Friday and Cyber Monday last month underline that trend. People want to shop on their phones, but checkout isn't easy enough to make them hit "Buy" yet.
That's why the app Spring, which launched this September, held such promise, with its Instagram-like interface and super seamless checkout process. (Spring, by the way, takes the cake for best launch of the year in terms of PR, having gotten every tech reporter under the sun primed and ready for its release.)
And what about Instagram? We know that it's an excellent platform for brand engagement — although how much longer that will be the case for is unclear, as more and more companies inundate it — but it still doesn't have a buy button. So much potential, such a tease. Vogue and Michael Kors have found workarounds, like emailing purchase links to a user when she likes a product post. Which also involves signing up for said service, and ugh, I'm getting tired just writing this.
It's not perfect, intentionally so. But now that Instagram has also incorporated paid ads into its feed, we'll see what further moneymaking steps it'll take to capitalize on brands' immense interest in its platform.
Twitter, on the other hand, did push out buy buttons this year, which the digital-savvy Burberry jumped on from the outset. How effective Twitter is as a sales platform remains to be seen, too.
Of course, mobile commerce fits into a broader conversation about retailers' omnichannel strategies — that is, how they can best create a seamless shopping experience across all their various touch points. The good news (in retailers' view) is that consumers are still more likely to research online and buy in-store ("webrooming") than to browse in-store and then find the best price online ("showrooming"). All the more reason for merchants to get their acts together and woo customers by, say, making in-store pickup super easy.
While integrating shopping on social platforms is still nascent, content and commerce — that favorite, if mildly nauseating, phrase — had some key moments this year. In February, Net-a-Porter launched Porter magazine, a print publication that sells on newsstands and regularly features faces like Gisele Bündchen, Lara Stone, Christy Turlington and Lady Gaga. For a publication with such a vested interest in moving product, it's incredibly polished and professional — and that's why it's a standout. The beauty website Into the Gloss ran in the opposite direction, launching its own line of products in October with the aim of parlaying its rabid readership into a consumer base.
Lucky magazine also took a serious step toward better enabling shopping, with its website spun off into a new venture with the e-commerce site Beachmint. Both Lucky and Beachmint have had their own difficulties in the past, and it remains to be seen how exactly that mind-meld will work out.
In the world of startups, beauty-on-demand services caught on like wildfire. Glamsquad, the current frontrunner, hired Gilt co-founder Alexandera Wilkis-Wilson as its CEO in August and raised $7 million from investors in October — no doubt an encouragement to other entrants in the space. We're not really complaining. It's nice to be able to order manicures or ammonia-free dye jobs to your home or office. But when a particular space blows up with copycats, some are going to become fan favorites while others will quietly go under.
Consignment startups, too, were still going strong in 2014. ThredUp raised $23 million in venture capital financing in July, while the five-year-old French resale site Vestiaire Collective expanded its operations to the U.S. Poshmark, one of the secondhand sites with the lowest prices, strengthened its luxury proposition by instituting free authentication on products over $500. The handbag resale startup Rebagg is just getting its operations off the ground.
That leaves us with plenty to watch for in 2015.