The landscape of wearable and in-store technology is littered with the bones of failed ventures and bad ideas.
The questions facing any would-be wearable company are myriad: Is the product practical? Will the average consumer or retailer purchase purchase it and understand how to use it? Beyond that, can these gadgets actually turn a profit?
Thomas Rankin, founder and CEO of Dash Hudson, said the biggest difficulty is actually bringing the concepts past preliminary prototype stages, particularly when this involves pairing complex technologies with corporate retailers.
“I think generally hardware is hard to scale at an early stage,” Rankin said. “Fashion companies aren’t really tech companies so they find it hard to justify those investments over time without direct ROI.”
Here’s a look at four of the most notable fashion tech contraptions over the past few years and where they stand today.
Microsoft “High Tech Bra”
In 2013, Microsoft thought they discovered the way to curb emotional eating: A smart bra. The device would track emotions through biological data and sense when the wearer might be prone to reach for the Ben & Jerry’s.
In a report titled “Food and Mood: Just-in-Time Support for Emotional Eating,” five Microsoft scientists explored “the feasibility of using physiological sensors to implicitly detect emotions.” As part of the study, they enlisted a group of women to test the technology, which required a cumbersome process of removing the bra and recharging it every three to four hours.
Sensors in the bra then extrapolated information and uploaded it to a digital information cloud that predicted emotional states “with 75 percent accuracy,” the report claimed. Microsoft announced plans to create an alert to notify users when they were approaching an “overeating mood” in an attempt to stave off cravings. Future developments, they said at the time, could also include boxer shorts for men that would have behaved similarly.
However, neither of these ended up getting produced. The underthings never made it beyond the prototype phase. Realistically, selling underwear that required to be charged every three hours for the sole purpose of quelling hunger pains wasn’t enough to go to market.
Wearable Experiments Navigate Jacket
Picture a jacket that could guide you home after you get
drunk lost. Sound too good to be true? That’s because, unfortunately, it was.
In 2013, Wearable Experiments designed a jacket using LED lights and vibrations to lead users to a destination of choice without having to consult a conspicuous GPS or mobile device. This involved a series of vibrations or light patterns that would alert the user of when to make a turn while walking on foot.
Billie Whitehouse — designer and founder of Wearable Experiments, who has since gone on to develop a number of viable “smart clothes” like Durex’s “Fundawear” — said in the launch video that the goal of the jacket was to change the way people approach navigation.
“We’re really excited that design is having a forefront in the wearable technology space,” Whitehouse said in 2013. “We are transforming the art of travel into a hands free application.”
Though Wearable Experiments said they planned to send the jacket to fashion bloggers and launch a campaign to bring it to scale, it never transcended the prototype form. However, similar products have since started to crop up, including most recently Sneakairs, a brand of shoes that provides directions, created by the airliner EasyJet.
Memomi Memory Mirror
Neiman Marcus had a vision to streamline and digitize the fitting room experience, and had a partner in mind to make it happen: the then little-known Memomi, self-described as a “high-fidelity, true-vision digital imaging software platform.”
The collaboration led to the launch of the “Memory Mirror,” in-store retail technology that can take a 360-degree video of a client wearing a prospective outfit, allowing them to take a gander from all angles. It also let users share the videos on social media or with friends and family to get instant feedback.
The Neiman Marcus Innovation Lab, a branch of the retailer focused on exploring new retail solutions, called the device the “world’s first digital mirror,” according to Luxury Daily. The device functioned dually with a large interactive screen and small tablet from which the consumer can navigate the program.
When it was originally announced in January 2015, it was offered at just one store in the San Francisco area, with plans to implement more mirrors over the course of the month, but the mirrors have been slow to catch on. More than a year and a half later, there are only 19 mirrors total across the country. Jason Gunderson, president of Eye, told Luxury Daily at the time of launch that among factors that may inhibit its growth are efficiency and speed of use.
“It will depend on speed and ease of use to see how effective it is, because if the consumer experience is not simple, it may not get used or there could be a line to use it and thereby not benefit the consumer,” he said. “As with any new technology, it needs to be simple to use and provide enough benefit for the consumer to take the time to engage.”
Bodimetrics Fitness Tracker
Before the FitBit became ubiquitous, there was Bodimetrics, a health and fitness performance tracker that tracked steps, monitored blood pressure and reminded users to take medication. It also incorporated a social element, by allowing users to sync the technology to their phones to share stats and compare steps with other users.
The technology began to pique the interest of the fashion world in 2015 when Bloomingdale’s started selling the device, retailing for $249. However it wasn’t long before FitBit’s ascendancy got the attention of major fashion designers and brands like Tory Burch, who made special designs for the technology.
The lightweight, durable bracelet format of the FitBit was ultimately an easier way for consumers to track steps and sleep patterns than Bodimetrics. FitBit went on to be the number one selling wearable technology in 2015, and had an initial public offering worth $4.1 billion in the same year.