Ralph Lauren has launched a smart jacket that will allow the USA Olympics team to keep warm at this year’s Winter games, taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea.
As part of the team’s official uniform, which the brand has been designing for six years, a parka and a bomber jacket each use heat-conducting ink that generates warmth similar to an electric blanket.
“We’re looking back and celebrating what’s iconic and symbolic of America, and merging that with where we’re headed,” says David Lauren, the brand’s chief innovation officer. The uniform, which includes classics of American fashion such as jeans and thick suede gloves, nod to different American frontiers, he adds. “The frontiers of the 1800s and 1900s, and then the frontier of today, which is technology.”
Lauren explains that the design’s top priority was to allow for flexibility: while temperatures in South Korea can reach below zero in the winter, athletes needed to feel equally comfortable wearing the jacket while waiting at the backstage area ahead of the Opening Ceremony. After investigating suitable fabrics, the brand landed on technology.
The garment’s heat is achieved through a special type of carbon and silver ink bonded to the jacket lining, which in keeping with the brand’s roots, were sewn in the shape of an American flag.
The ink connects to a battery pack sewn into the garment, which when fully charged can heat the jacket for up to 11 hours. Athletes can then adjust the temperature up or down via an app.
To develop the jacket, the RL innovation team worked with several US-based partners such as engineers at Delaware-based tech giant DuPont, who had previously developed heated garments which were deemed to heavy for everyday wear. The brand also worked with Butler Technologies, a high-tech precision screen-printer based in Pittsburgh; apparel manufacturer 99Degrees, who helped bond the heater to the jacket’s lining; Key Tech, a high-tech design firm that helped design the battery packs with user experience in mind; and Principled Design, who designed the connectors that attach the battery pack to the heater in a streamlined way.
Lauren explains that the jacket is an experiment towards launching a consumer-facing connected product this year: “Our hope is that we’ll learn enough that we’ll be able to go into production with a different, limited edition jacket for this fall.”
For years, the brand has been experimenting with technology and how it can improve performance when embedded in textiles. In 2015, it launched the PoloTech smart shirt, which captures biometric information and transmits it to an accompanying app, while for the 2016 Summer Olympics, it created a blazer with electroluminescent panels for torch-bearer Michael Phelps.