Editor's pick product technology

Ralph Lauren introduces heat-conducting smart jacket for USA Olympics team

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.


Ralph Lauren's Heated Parka, tech-enabled textiles
Ralph Lauren’s Heated Parka

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.

A sketch of Ralph Lauren's Olympics opening ceremony outfit connected tech, textiles
A sketch of Ralph Lauren’s Olympics opening ceremony outfit

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.

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Infographic: Exploring European consumer views on connected technology at retail

connected technology retail week
The European Connected Consumer, by Retail Week

While interest and uptake in connected technology in retail is growing – from wearables to smart fitting rooms – levels of consumer usage and acceptance fluctuate from country to country across Europe, according to Retail Week’s latest report.

It compiled research from seven territories, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, as per the infographic below.

Titled The European Connected Consumer, and written in association with Osborne Clark, the study outlines the fact European consumers should not be targeted as one homogenous group by retailers. Understanding behavioural nuances presents great opportunities to businesses whether interacting with consumers in retail, digital health, transport, logistics or emerging innovations, it explains.

“By discovering the game-changing shifts in European consumer behaviour we believe your business will be better equipped to navigate the digital revolution and drive future innovations,” writes Laura Heywood, commercial editor of Retail Week Connect.

As an integral part of the consumer’s need to be constantly ‘on’, there’s a growing appetite for connected wearables, for instance. Fitness trackers take the lead, with Italy, the world’s second healthiestcountry according to Bloomberg, showing the highest take-up (48%), followed closely by Spain (47%) and Germany (36%). Moving forward, trackable devices will need to seamlessly blend into busy lifestyles, as demonstrated by Levi’s’ and Google’s Project Jacquard jacket, it outlines.

The UK meanwhile shows the lowest adoption of fitness tracking and virtual health technologies – 68% use neither, compared with 59% across Europe. The report indicates this could be a result of public concerns following recent high profile data breaches, such as TalkTalk’s cyber attack in October.

One of the areas to have shown the biggest improvement and uptake is payment and shopping technologies, exemplified by the rise of contactless cards. These have been widely adopted across Europe, with 45% of respondents having used them in the past three months. Spain has the highest usage at 57% and Italy the lowest at just 26%.

Alternatively, only a minority of consumers in the UK (33%) and the Netherlands (40%) use mobile payments apps like Apple Pay. This may soon change as big retailers such as Tesco in the UK and Inditex in Spain, which owns Zara and Pull & Bear among others, launch their own mobile payment apps in the near future.

connected technology retail week

Physical retail is still generally the preferred mode of shopping in many regions otherwise, sitting at 69% compared to 31% who chose online. Belgium shows the most conservative results, with an 80% majority preferring to shop in store, largely due to heavy retail regulations that make it harder for advanced technologies to enter the country, according to analysis from Euromonitor International.

Meanwhile, consumers across territories were unanimous in their biggest concern when shopping online, 54% voted security. They ranked it higher than convenience, speed and reliability. French consumers are most keenly aware of the importance of security (71%), while the UK closely followed at 63% and Germany at 59%.

There’s a willingness to share personal data however, with 53% of Europeans overall being open to it. The Italians were most confident at 66%, followed by the Brits at 61%. German respondents revealed the most reluctance, with 59% stating they are not comfortable sharing data, compared to 47% across Europe.

The report suggests that businesses that are transparent about data usage, stating how it will be shared with partners or allowing the customer to personalise their profile, manage to remove anxieties and establish trust.

In exchange, 78% of Europeans expect differentiated pricing, while additional perks such as discounts and personalised offers based on search and purchase history also help boost a willingness to share for 82% of them.

As for the future, the report outlines the fact concepts such as 3D body scanning and virtual fitting rooms are becoming more accepted features of physical stores, while there is somewhat hesitant appetite for drones and driverless vehicles to become logistic realities.

More than half of European consumers (57%) are excited by the concept of virtual fitting rooms, for instance, although the UK scores low (42%) in comparison to countries such as Spain (82%) and Italy (70%).

Opinion is more divided when it comes to drones – less than half of Europeans (46%) say that if drones were to be used in parcel delivery they would consider this a positive development. Italy is the most favourable to it (67%) followed by Spain (60%). At the other end of the scale, and once again revealing some hesitation regarding innovation, is the Netherlands and the UK, where 68% and 64% respectively say they would not consider drone delivery as positive.

You can download the full report here: The European Connected Consumer.