Smart Clothing, E-textiles, Smart Textiles : Everything you need to know

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Back in 2004, everyone was talking about the Internet of Things and smart clothing was definitely seen as the Future. 

However, thanks to technological progress and the amount invested in R&D by several AI and tech companies, smart clothing is not a dream anymore.

On top of that, it’s truly a fascinating world. Smart clothing and e-textiles are at a crossroad between fashion, technology and healthcare.

What is smart clothing?

Smart clothing is a category in itself. It’s clothes that have been enhanced with technology so that it can perform a wide range of functions. They can have aesthetic or performance enhancing purposes.

Smart clothes enable better communication with other devices, analyze and sense the stimuli. They can pass on some data that can be analyzed to predict and prevent injuries, diseases and protect the wearer from future dangers.

Smart clothing vs Wearables

While there is a growing number of online searches for smart clothing on Google, many people are still unaware of the existing product offering.

On the other hand, they are quite familiar with wearables. As a matter of fact, everyone pretty much knows what a smart watch or what a fitness tracker is.

Ont could say that smart clothing is a sub-market of the wearables market. Smart clothes mostly refer to enhanced garments whereas wearables tend to be associated to high tech accessories and garments in general.

E-textiles vs Smart textiles

Smart clothes can be made using either e-textiles or smart textiles. Contrary to what one thinks, these are not exactly the same thing. Let’s talk briefly about the difference between e-textiles and smart textiles as it can quickly be quite confusing.

The term “E-textiles” stands for “electronic textile” or “electronically integrated textile”. In other words, small electronic components are embedded in the fibers of the fabrics. Your fabric becomes a sort of circuit that can then sense data, store it, transmit it and react to it.

E-textiles are always created with specific applications in mind. They are designed to act like a truc electronic product, with features and functionalities. Most smart clothes are made using E-textiles.

Smart textiles, on the other hand, are a subgroup of e-textiles. As a matter of fact, smart textile materials are environmentally sensitive. They are more passive and only react in the presence of various stimuli, like temperature, light, air or water pressure or sometimes blood circulation.

This being said, both are technical textiles that go beyond the purpose of aesthetic.

12 fascinating examples of smart clothing

Levy Strauss Commuter trucker jacket, in partnership with Google

Wearers of this connected jacket can use hand gestures like swiping, touching, and tapping to access various remote control options of their smartphones.

Hexoskin’s smart shirts that can accurately monitor health vitals

The Montreal-based company developped a high-tech shirt that monitors heart rate, breathing, activity intensity, steps, peak acceleration, sleep, and various other data points.

Athos’ smart clothes to improve the athletes’ performance

Athos is the world’s first system to deliver instant and actionable insights around athletic training load and movement quality using personalized, muscle activity data.

Ambiotex’s smart shirts to measure your stress level

With Ambiotex, you can record your vital data and determines the status of your autonomic nervous system in real-time. That way, you can monitor your stress level and take action if you need to do something about it.

Myant’s smart clothes that help you stay connected with your dearest ones

Skiin garments sense and react to your body, allowing you to understand your well-being, provide comfort and care when it counts, and stay connected to what matters most.

Siren’s Smart socks that helps Diabete patients

The Siren Diabetic Sock and Foot Monitoring System, which enables wearers to monitor foot temperature and spot early signs of inflammation that are indicative of diabetic ulcers.

Sensoria’s Smart socks that helps you improve the way you run

The Sensoria Smart Socks can detect which part of your feet are receiving the most pressure during your run and can send this data to a smartphone app.

Smart Yoga pants to accompany you in your yoga practice

Nadi X, developped by Wearable X, are smart yoga pants that use gentle vibrations to help wearers better perform exercises and correct their postures.

UnderArmour’s smart sleepwear to better sleep through the night

Under Armour’s Athlete Recovery Sleepwear absorbs heat from the wearer’s body while releasing infrared light to increase sleep quality and improve muscle recovery.

Spinali Design’s Connected gloves to kill bacterias and viruses

Spinali Design created smart gloves that can help fight bacterias or viruses like Covid-19 thanks to photocatalysis.

Owlet’s smart socks to keep the babies safe during their sleep

The Smart Sock is the first baby monitor to track your baby’s oxygen level and heart rate—the best indication of baby’s health—while they sleep. 

Cutecircuit’s smart clothes, a crossroad between technology, art and fashion

CuteCircuit’s smart clothes help people have new kinds of experience.

Smart Clothing: Fad or trend ?

When we think about fashion, smart clothing is not necessarily something that comes right into your mind. Yet, according to many forecasts made by different studies, the market is expected to reach US$ 4 to 5 billions in 2024 and 6-7 billions by 2027. In 2019, the market was valued US$ 1.2 billions.

Indeed, Covid-19 definitely had an impact on the projected growth. In countries such as Italy and Spain, there has been a dip in the demand for smart clothing at first and the pandemix slowed down all operations. However, the smart clothing market is likely to exhibit positive growth in post-pandemic period.

Smart Clothing market: Analysis and growth opportunities

The growing use of smart clothing can mainly be noticed in the healthcare, military, sports, and the defense sectors.

Fashion-wise, smart clothes can be used as a form of art but there isn’t a massive demand for fashionable smart clothes. Wearables, for now, are more suited to the B2C market.

As a matter of fact, at the moment, the B2B market seems to the main driver for the industry but many actors dream of turning smart clothes and textiles into a normal item of our daily lives. In Europe, people are more and more taking attention to their health. Growing consumer awareness about fitness is likely to fuel market growth.

On top of that, in several parts of the world, the ageing population and the increasing government’s preoccupation for a better and more efficient healthcare system are creating a need that smart clothes can answer.

Moreover, rising number of sport injuries in the US and at the workplace in Asia-Pacifica can also be a factor that boost the demand for such products. More and more athletes and professional sport teams in North America and in Brazil are adopting smart clothes to prevent possible injuries and improve their performances.

In the military and other public services as well (like firefighters for instance), workers are starting to use smart clothes as their uniforms. Smart uniforms that are able to identify and alert about the impacts of bullets or wounds can help prevent injuries, deaths and can help the leaders better take decisions on the grounds.

Last but not least, the advances made in the sensor technology in Asia are key drivers for the growth of the industry. Many companies invest heavily and research and development in order to grow faster and deliver better quality products.

Who are the key players ?

Some of the main players of the smart clothing market are :

  • AiQ Smart Clothing (Taiwan),
  • Athos (US),
  • Carre Technologies/Hexoskin (Canada),
  • Myant inc (Canada),
  • Cute Circuit (UK)
  • Sensoria (US),
  • Spinali Design (France),
  • Vulpes Electronics (Japan),
  • Wearable X (US),
  • Toray Industries (Japan),
  • Myontec (Finland),
  • Myzone (US),
  • Siren (US),
  • or Owlet (US).

The list is not exhaustive. Right now, the entry barriers are quite high. However, as the technology gets more accessible and industry standards get established, we will probably add more actors in the near future.

What are the main roadblocks to the development of the Smart clothing market ?

Anyone who works in fashion knows that the production chain is still quite running with old practices, despites the retail & distribution sector being so avant-gardiste and infused with the latest technologies. The thing is smart clothing is at the crossroad of technology and fashion. Therefore, roadblocks to the traditional fashion industry also apply to the smart clothing players.

Producing smart clothing is still expensive. Right now, the development of smart prototypes still require a lot of time and money for instance. On top of that, smart clothing have some extra-production steps as technologies and sensors need to be embedded within the garment. There are no real industry standards though some companies like Myant inc. or Hexoskin are working hard towards developping them.

The industry is also facing major challenges regarding the adoption of data. While big data is well adopted in the retail or the banking system, it is not necessarily the case in the healthcare or governmental sectors for instance. In addition to that, there are growing data privacy concerns. What will happen to the data that are recorded by the smart clothes ? How do you secure the privacy of such data ?

Last but not least, the vast majority of people have yet to grasp the added value of smart clothing. Right now, the most accessible smart clothe would still cost a couple of hundred dollars. Therefore, only early adopters and people very anxious about their health and shape would dive into it. So until people fully see the potential behind smart clothing, B2B will still be main venue.

Go further

Studying this clothing niche was truly interesting. It shows you that clothing is not all about fashion and that there are incredible things that can be done with garments. Smart clothing really projects you into the future. I found it really fascinating and I can’t wait to see what will happen in the future.

Are you interested into learning more about this market ? Dive into the interviews I made with some of the key players of the sector.

PS: If you are in the smart clothing sector or are an expert in this field and would be interested into giving your opinion, please contact me. I’d love to hear and share what you have to say !

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