By  on August 27, 2007

LOS ANGELES — Until recently, so-called “iApparel”—clothing with embedded electronic controls for use with iPods and other portable electronic devices—has been a status symbol reserved for rarefied tech geeks and moneyed action-sports fans.

But Eleksen, a textiles company that manufactures touch-sensitive, washable fabrics for apparel and consumer electronics, wants to change that.

Though it has historically worked with brands such as Zegna Sport, Spyder and O’Neill to create costly performance sportswear with digital music controls located on the sleeve, the London-based company said it’s lowering its price points to court mass appeal for a market that is estimated to grow to $1 billion in revenue by 2010, according to NPD Group chief retail analyst Marshal Cohen.

“The designers whom we’ve been meeting with all recognize that the consumer uses personal electronics,” said Tom Krutilek, Eleksen’s director of marketing for iApparel. “The question is how to make it more convenient to use those products at an affordable price.”

At MAGIC this week in Las Vegas, Eleksen is unveiling its “eSystem” program, targeting items that will retail below $100, including hoodies in the $69 to $79 range.

Whereas most iApparel brands currently sell expensive controller equipment with each garment—adding an average of $23 to the retail price—Eleksen said it will now sell the attachments separately. A $30 iPod controller or $80 Bluetooth controller, for example, are interchangeable between jackets, hoodies or other items, Krutilek said.

“Obviously, we’ve learned that a lot of consumers just want to buy one controller. That’s the real cost saver, as it really taps into the overall lifestyle of being able to move your electronics from one [apparel] item to another,” he added

Manufacturing costs for the touch-sensitive fabric strips, known as ElekTex, have also decreased in the past year. The five-layer laminate strips that connect an iPod to a garment are assembled in China out of American and European textiles.

Despite great expectations for the iApparel market in the coming years, awareness of the technology among average consumers remains minimal, Krutilek said, often because such items are poorly identified in stores and feebly sold by sales teams with little knowledge of the product. A main component of the eSystem is to assist in training sales teams who sell tricked-out iPod jackets and suits among their retail mix: “Zegna Sport has been successful because they have salespeople who can really talk about the product, but self-service environments haven’t done as well,” he said. “We’ll be working with brands and retailers to create a merchandising solution.”

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