Writer Eric Hoffer said, “The only way to predict the future is to have power to shape the future.” So who will be shaping the future of the apparel industry? The surprising answer: “smart” women. Allow me to explain.
Activewear has been a key driver in the apparel sector with high double-digit growth over the past decade. In the U.S. alone the annual active apparel market is about $35 billion, representing 17 percent of the total retail market. According to NPD, women were the biggest driver of growth in active apparel in 2014, making brands like Lululemon, Athleta and Lucy Activewear staples of women’s wardrobes.
So what’s next? The merging of fashion and technology is billowing into an industry of its own and is the next evolution of activewear, or what is called smart apparel — and women will be the drivers.
In published reports, Under Armour chief executive officer Kevin Plank estimates that within the next five years, 50 billion retail items will have a connected chip and that many of these items will be apparel-based. Indeed, technology forecasters are expecting smartphones and mobile devices to be replaced by wearables.
Women want products that are fashionable, comfortable, cutting-edge and above all, solve a real problem. Activewear is worn by women who are focused on their health, so smart apparel speaks to these women by helping them look good, feel good and listen to what their bodies are saying. Smart apparel enables women to not only monitor but adjust their activity level based on what their own bodies are telling them. As a working mother of twin girls, receiving a subtle ping from my smart apparel reminding me to occasionally take a deep breath and restore my inner calm would go a long way toward reducing daily stress.
Performance insights are desired by women at the same rate as men and women are realizing more and more just how much they can benefit from being tuned in to their personal data, be it their heart rate, exertion level, cadence, sleep quality, calories burned or recovery time, to name a few. Not only are women interested in smart apparel, they are data-driven and will use this information in their daily routine to achieve their personal goals. In the same way that we heed the advice given to us by a coach, a personal trainer and other similar, positive mentors that we look to for guidance, biometric data have already given countless people the support needed to gain insights into their health and well-being, helping them bring about positive changes to their lives.
Genevieve Bell, an Intel researcher, states that when it comes to new technologies, “It turns out women are our new lead adopters…Women are the vast majority owners of all Internet enabled devices — readers, health-care devices, GPS — that whole bundle of technology is mostly owned by women.”
Designing, manufacturing and selling quality, fashionable smart apparel that makes the customer feel good and look good are the key ingredients in the recipe for success in the up-and-coming female-driven smart clothing industry. The companies that execute these elements well will succeed on the apparel side of the equation as well as the tech side.
Women’s interest in the smart clothing industry has been given an added push with the surge of more fine-tuned and aesthetically pleasing wearable products that are now in their second and third iterations. While the move from major fashion brands to partner with technology companies has been slow, recent key partnerships — Opening Ceremony and Intel; Tory Burch and FitBit; Ralph Lauren and OMsignal; and Levi’s and Google — give a clear sense of the potential for smart apparel design. It isn’t coincidental that household name apparel brands are collaborating with tech companies. As our daily lives become increasingly connected, the melding of clothing and smart systems becomes a more obvious reality.
Bell states, “So it turns out if you want to find out what the future looks like, you should be asking women…The majority of technology users are women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. So if you wanted to know what the future looks like, those turn out to be the heaviest users of the most successful and most popular technologies on the planet.”
When I look at the fitness community that I am a part of and do a mental review of the list of men and women that I train with, be it in cardio, weights, Pilates or yoga, those who stand out in my mind the most are the women. Their commitment, grit, curiosity, intelligence, and passion, as a whole, are beyond compare. Give these “smart” women the tools they desire to reach their goals and the rewards for the retail industry will be substantial.
Shaz Kahng currently serves as chief marketing officer of OMsignal, a biometric apparel company, and sits on its board of directors. Previously, she was president of Lucy Activewear. At Nike, she served as global general manager for the brand’s cycling business, and later as global director for the $1 billion global women’s training business including footwear, apparel and equipment.