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Advanced Textiles, Markets | April 1, 2016 | By:

C+ Boxing photo 11_15The wearables market builds customer relationships with new products and high-tech expertise.

The speedy acceptance of wearable technology by health and fitness enthusiasts has supported impressive growth in this market. This growth reflects today’s larger culture, in which people expect ready access to information. Consumers can even monitor and evaluate their health and fitness goals via smart phones and other devices.

Wearable technology just keeps getting more interesting. New possibilities for wearables in health and fitness are moving forward in the development process and hitting the market at a good clip. And there’s no indication of a slowdown anytime soon.

The move to an integrated solution

Among the players in this lively field is Clothing+, St. Petersburg, Fla., which recently introduced Peak+™, a smart garment reference design for building an integrated textile heart rate monitoring solution. Its customizable design and development process is taking time and risk out of smart garment development.

Jabil Circuit, St. Petersburg, Fla., an electronic product solutions company, acquired Clothing+ in June 2015. In developing Peak+, Jabil and Clothing+ partnered with Suunto, a manufacturer of heart rate monitors, and Firstbeat Technologies Oy, a provider of physiological analytics for sports, fitness and well-being. Suunto and Firstbeat are based in Finland. What makes this product unique is the “package” available to end-product companies, says John Dargan, senior vice president of Jabil and CEO of Clothing+, who adds the product is “the integration of available technologies and applications to build wearables.”

More than that, the product creates a relationship between brand and consumer that didn’t exist before. A consumer would buy a product and that was the end of it. “Now, that transaction happens and that’s the beginning of the relationship,” Dargan says. “There’s a technology-enabled activity enabled that can continue.”

When the wearer begins tracking activity—wearing a sports bra, for example—the brand can begin to advise the wearer on diet and nutrition, lifestyle, and the availability of new products to build on the initial relationship with the customer. “From a B2B standpoint, we see major brands interested in entering this technology space to extend those customer relationships,” Dargan says.

If a consumer buys a technology-enabled sports bra, the purchaser can look at the app on her phone and begin to build a history with information—meaningful information—perhaps even reducing her risk for chronic diseases, for example.

With a technology-enabled garment, the customer’s view of the brand expands whether his or her area of interest is yoga, running, Pilates or some other activity. “You’re getting a much broader relationship with the client,” Dargan says. “This is where the big brands are going.”

The textile first

“Biometric-sensing wearables work because they have a compression to the skin,” he says. “But also, we’re integrating some sensors within the textiles; for example, how you carry the signal, so we’re interested in fibers. We try to make the technology disappear into the garment so the textiles are fundamental to that.”

The goal is for the technology to be unobtrusive, durable, comfortable and at a price point that is mass-market acceptable. That is, of course, a big order, but it is working.

The Peak+ system includes:

  • Clothing+ textile-integrated electronics
  • wireless transmitter from Finland-based Suunto that transfers data collected from garment sensors to a smartphone app
  • analytics of heart-rate monitoring data from Finland-based company Firstbeat, which delivers insight and feedback into stress, recovery and the effects of physical training on the wearer
  • Jabil’s ideation, design, manufacturing and supply chain expertise

“I think from a textiles point of view, there are various applications that can be built into textiles, such as conductive materials,” Dargan says. “We’re watching closely because of communication devices and tracking capabilities.”

Where else?

Dargan says Clothing+ is going well beyond mass-market fitness wearables with new products to support medical caregivers. “We’re also integrating lighting into blankets for jaundiced babies, vests for patients to wear after surgery to detect water in their lungs—that sort of thing,” Dargan says. The company is also working on garments that can provide pain relief through light or power transmission.

Clothing+ is moving this direction because Dargan says this is where needs will be most evident in the future. “We think about the activewear market as being where the volume is,” Dargon notes. “The real value will come in medical applications. If you can begin to get the mass market monitoring biometrics, people are going to wonder why we send nurses around to take [a patient’s] pulse.”

With the high cost of health care and the aging of society, technology has to be used to help contain costs. “Anything we can do to monitor patients so they don’t need to go to the doctor, that’s going to be really valuable,” he says. “But because it’s health care, it takes a lot longer, so you’ve got a lot to work through there.”

Clothing+ has been in the business of textile-integrated electronics for nearly two decades. Brands that have worked with Clothing+ include adidas, Garmin, Salomon and Philips.

Add your shirt to your subscription

The Global System for Mobile Communications or Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) released a specification in February 2016 that allows consumers to remotely activate the SIM embedded in a device such as a smartwatch, fitness band or tablet.

In a release from the organization, chief technology officer Alex Sinclair said, “This is the only interoperable and global specification that has the backing of the mobile industry and lets consumers with a mobile subscription remotely connect their devices to a mobile network.”

The initiative does not aim to replace all SIM cards in the field but is, instead, designed to help users connect multiple devices through the same subscription. It will help mobile device manufacturers to develop a new range of smaller, lighter mobile-connected devices that are better suited for wearable technology applications, according to GSMA. Enabling easier access for consumers can only be good news for manufacturers of wearables—and wearables systems.

Janet Preus is senior editor of IFAI’s Advanced Textiles Source.

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