POCKETING PERSONAL ELECTRONICS
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Cell phone, corner pocket.
Like pool sharks calling their trick shots, activewear makers are designing pockets for specific electronic devices.
There are pockets for cell phones, two-way radios, Walkmans, beepers and ski-lift passes. There are jackets with pockets for CD players, with tiny holes in the hood to thread the device’s wires through. Nike ACG is even using icons on zipper pulls to identify what goes where.
“We think these types of pocket designs will become standard, like coin pockets did when coins were more frequently used,” said Anne Gorfinkle, design director for DKNY Active.
The consumer attraction to technology has triggered the trend. In a recent poll of 27,000 Generation Y consumers, 83 percent said they own a Walkman or an MP3 player — the latest toy that allows music to be downloaded from the Web to a hand-held player — 29 percent carry cell phones, 27 percent have personal pagers and 8 percent own Palm Pilots or other PDAs, according to Emerging Adult Research, a New York market research group.
Many teens take their personal electronics outdoors, said Adam Baker, product line manager for Nike ACG apparel.
“With the more traditional outdoor customer, they wanted to get away from it all and get closer to nature,” he said. “Younger customers bring the comforts of modern life with them. They’re more deeply integrated with the digital world.”
Nike ACG offers a variety of special pockets and puts symbols on zipper pulls to identify the features. The interior of each garment has a patch imprinted with the icons and their meanings.
ACG’s “Napoleon” pocket, so called because it runs parallel to the jacket’s front zipper, has a musical note symbol on the zipper pull to identify where to pocket and tie down an MP3 or CD player with a bungee chord. Some ACG jackets have pockets with an image of a carrot to signal the place for energy-bar snacks.
There are also garments with a pocket for a two-way radio or walkie-talkie, a portal to run the wire through and a clip near the collar for the radio’s microphone.
“With pocketing, it’s more about the ways people are adopting technology into everyday life,” Baker said. “I don’t see that going away at all.”
Interestingly, executives at Sony and Motorola said they have not pursued, nor do they plan to help apparel makers develop, garments designed for personal electronics. “We have no plans for any of that. Cargo pants pretty much took care of all that for us,” a Sony spokeswoman said.
With the advancement of “memory stick media” technology that stores 40 times the capacity of a standard floppy disk, personal electronics are getting smaller, she said. Sony’s Memory Stick Walkman, for example, is about the size of a stick of chewing gum.
Pockets have always been an important feature for RLX Polo Sport, and “that often comes to light” during wear testing, said Jordan Wand, company vice president.
Some jackets in the fall line have a tricot-lined pocket designed for ski goggles or sunglasses, with a detachable, machine-washable chamois. There is also a rectangular chest pocket suitable for a cell phone or two-way radio. Other features are a pocket with a key clip and a clear circular shield on the wrist that makes it easier to check the time on the slopes.
“There’s a lot to be said about simplicity and utility,” Wand said. “We want to have everything have its place.”
Bonfire has equipped its fall line with plenty of functional pockets. The brand’s GT Series, a top-flight, high-performance group that bows this fall, has jackets with internal pockets for mini-disc players, goggles and ski-lift passes. The last item can be scanned by ski-lift attendants without being removed.
Bonfire also offers pants with pockets for tissues, lip balm and a wipe cloth for goggles.
Berghaus women’s apparel, which is distributed by Xdogs.com and bows in the U.S. this fall, offers a couple of snowboarding-inspired jackets and seven single-strap bags, all equipped with long narrow pockets for cell phones.
The company has not yet seen a “huge reception” from specialty stores for these items, even though cell phones in pockets on the chest are easier to reach when they ring, said Hans Figi, brand manager of Xdogs.com.
“They’re still viewed with a little skepticism — they seem a little too Euro. Cell phones are not fully accepted yet by retailers,” Figi said. “People used to see them as a luxury, but now they’re more of a necessity. It’s a question of convenience.”
There are also safety reasons for taking cell phones outdoors, said Jim Frazier, director of apparel for Burton: “Many of our riders keep them on while in the back country, in case of emergencies.”
Burton, which has offered pockets for CD players for three years, has branched out to offer outerwear with easy-to-use cell phone pockets, since more people are carrying them when they snowboard, said Frazier.
At DKNY Active the company’s designers based their pocket decisions on their own lifestyles, Gorfinkle said. Palm Pilots, cell phones and CD players were a few staples they wanted to stash in their pockets.
“We wear-tested the garments ourselves. We tested for durability. If pockets weren’t strong enough, we added stitching, interfacing and foam-rubber coatings,” Gorfinkle said. “Each season designers check out the latest styles [of personal electronics] to make sure they fit the garment.”
Doug Prentice, general manager of outerwear for Columbia Sportswear, said designing pieces with places for personal electronics was becoming more important each season. About 30 percent of Columbia’s women’s fall line will have special pockets, compared with less than 10 percent last year.
“They provide entertainment to the user. But we don’t like that people can’t hear what’s coming up behind them,” he said. “When all is said and done, we’d rather see people recreating and not talking on their cell phones.”