WASHINGTON — Visa plans to roll out a ring designed for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that athletes can use as a credit card.
If you think this is quirky, imagine a T-shirt that can charge your phone.
These are just some of the examples of wearable technology celebrated on Capitol Hill at the first-ever Fashion Innovation Alliance Fashion + Tech Showcase Wednesday night.
Products such as the iPhone watch — or “wearables” in tech-speak — are no “Jetsons” joke, as brands, tech companies and incubators have made significant investments in the space. They are also expected to grow significantly over the next three years, according to Fashion Innovation Alliance founder Kenya Wiley, and the Obama administration is on board, making funding commitments to develop the next wave of smart textiles.
“Fashion tech cannot continue to innovate without a supportive ecosystem around it. Strong policies are a key part of that ecosystem,” she said.
Wiley’s showcase gathered legislators, aides and designers to address the issues that uniquely affect the growing fashion tech world, like trademarks, patents and digital and security privacy.
The passage of the Defend Trade Secrets Act last month was a boon to the fashion tech world, creating federal protections for technologies before they are even launched.
Among their friends in Congress is Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat whose district includes Silicon Valley. “Entrepreneurship and innovation are in our DNA. Our exceptionalism comes from our ideas. I think you’re the political descendants of our framers,” she said, adding that her father was a jeweler.
“There’s incredible opportunity with devices that can provide us with information, but also can look good, and are stylish and make a statement,” explained Rep. Suzan DelBene (D., Wash.) and a former executive at Microsoft.
Vikrum Aiyer, chief of staff at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at the Department of Commerce, said the federal government sees the “internet of things” market as formidable. He touted a number of ways Washington is supporting fashion tech players, including a multilateral forum on design patents, an expedition of patent applications and pro bono programs to help designers with their intellectual property legal questions.
The Obama administration has set a goal of creating at least 15 manufacturing hubs by the end of 2016.
One of these hubs, a private and public partnership, known as the Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles Manufacturing Innovation Institute, was launched at MIT in April and aims to create products that are elegant, useful and smarter than you are.
One of Wednesday’s showcase exhibitors was Jing Zhou, the founder and chief executive officer of Elemoon. Her illuminating bangle lights up to match your outfit, alerts you to texts, helps you find your phone and can even track your steps. It can also manage your money, apparently. She said she was unveiling a deal with MasterCard soon.
Fred Humphries, a top lobbyist for Microsoft, admitted that at first he was skeptical of the endurance and popularity of fashion tech products, but after hearing and seeing Wednesday’s showcase, he told Wiley he wanted Microsoft to be an Alliance sponsor. “Send me the invoice. We’re in.”
Among the other showcase attendees were Mark Jamison, global head of new product R&D and design for Visa, Maddy Maxey with the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator at Pratt Institute and The Crated, and Susan Scafidi, founder and director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University.