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Editor's pick Podcast

Gadi Amit on designing human-led wearables that evoke connections

Gadi Amit & Liz Bacelar
Gadi Amit & Liz Bacelar

In an increasingly digital world, designing physical products that are genuinely useful and evoke an emotion from the consumer, is a tough challenge, according to Gadi Amit, president and principal designer at NewDealDesign, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators.

With tech’s fast-moving evolution comes a need to design objects that are sustainable and desirable, he highlights in his conversation with Liz Bacelar. Best known as the designer behind the original FitBit wearable device, Amit thinks technology is still very much about utility, but that pioneers such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and Jony Ive have ignited change. Consumers are now becoming increasingly accustomed to technology pervading many aspects of their lives, and as a result are looking for objects that enhance their personal experiences by creating deeper connections, he says.

When developing a successful wearable product, for instance, brands need to look beyond designing status-seeking elements to ask basic questions, such as: “What does it do for you? How does it enhance your life?”, says Amit. He reiterates that an object’s uniqueness lies in its true experiential value, and not just the label.

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS

For luxury, an industry that has struggled to enter the fast-moving market of digital technologies while retaining its products’ values of longevity, Amit suggests starting with the values of the brand first, and building the technology that speaks to it.

For fashion the 2014 wearable boom was short-lived, as the market became overcrowded with products that consumer demand didn’t respond to. Although Amit thinks this is partly because devices lacked uniqueness, this is also due to the fact that wearables are so difficult to design, he explains. He particularly contradicts a common notion in the fashion industry that technology within wearables should be made to be invisible – from a usability standpoint, there are always design elements that need to prioritize function over aesthetics, he comments.

“Wearables are different animals, they’re not accessories in fashion. This is a piece of technology that needs to be on the human body, and therefore needs to be designed appropriately,” he concludes.

Scrip
Scrip

The self-confessed “contrarian by nature” is tackling payments next, an industry that historically champions frictionless and simplified interactions. Research around how exchanging physical currency affects behaviors and creates subconscious connections led him to design a new device called Scrip. This induces friction by asking the user to swipe at it a few times in order to share digital currency, meaning users make more conscious spending decisions.

It acts as a cashpoint in the user’s pocket, in which its tangibility plays a key role in triggering neural functions that automated payment systems like Apple Pay have hindered. In designing Scrip, Amit explains that it taps into the need to create objects that perfectly combine function and aesthetics in such a way that its owners will never render it obsolete.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

Categories
digital snippets e-commerce social media technology

Digital snippets: Karl Lagerfeld’s Tumblr approach, previewing #ManusxMachina, Nike’s CDO

Karl


Your round-up of the latest stories to know about related to fashion and technology…

  • ‘World of Karl’ takes a Tumblr approach to Karl Lagerfeld’s brand [Digiday]
  • A sneak peek at the Costume Institute’s upcoming ‘Manus x Machina’ exhibit [Fashionista]
  • Why Nike has finally hired a chief digital officer [The Drum]
  • Tech is front and centre in new Neiman Marcus store [Fortune]
  • How New Look is getting its senior execs on board with artificial intelligence and virtual reality [The Drum]
  • How Fitbit’s collaboration with Public School aims to cement its place in the fashion world [Forbes]
  • John Lewis reveals how it will collapse the ‘black hole’ of customer data in its stores [The Drum]
  • Misha Nonoo marks consumer-driven fashion week move with shoppable Instagram campaign [Forbes]
  • Bergdorf Goodman gets in on instant fashion gratification act [Trendwalk]
  • Menswear brand John Varvatos boosted a new digital strategy with shoppable video [Digiday]
  • John Lewis reveals how it will collapse the ‘black hole’ of customer data in its stores [The Drum]
  • Apple and fashion: a love story for the digital ages [Vogue]
  • Beware the digital iceberg: reality goes far deeper than online sales [BoF]
  • Marketers should be hunting for a perfect product, not influencers [The Guardian]
  • The future of online retail is collaboration [Wired]
  • Are fashion’s changes putting young designers at risk? [Dazed]
  • Fashion industry scrambles to find a use for Snapchat [NY Times]
  • My little sister taught me how to “Snapchat like the teens” [Buzzfeed]
  • Wearable tech at NYFW: Emoji pins, Fitbit bands and GIF dresses [Wareable]
Categories
Editor's pick technology

Fitbit’s collaboration with Public School aims to cement its place in the fashion world

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 14: A model poses backstage at Fitbit and PUBLIC SCHOOL Collaborate On Accessories Collection For Fitbit Alta on February 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Fitbit)

When Public School – one of New York Fashion Week’s hottest young designer brands – took to the runway with its Fall 2016 collection this week, it wasn’t just the clothes that garnered attention.

Adorning the wrists of several models were two new wearable technology accessories. A collaboration with Fitbit, both designs encompass the fitness tracking company’s new Alta product.

Slimmer and sleeker than previous Fitbit devices, the major additional selling point of Alta lies in its customisable, and thus interchangeable wristbands – something that has given Public School a lot of freedom to be creative with its concepts.

Indeed, rather than looking like a piece of technology, or a health or sports device, the results articulate a sense of style that bring wearables up to date with where contemporary fashion is headed.

Separate to its existing (and more feminine) collaboration with Tory Burch, this relationship with Public School is about aligning with the much more urban aesthetic that design duo and co-founders, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, bring.

“We draw our inspiration from New York City’s vibrant, active street culture and the people that surround us where we work, live and thrive,” they said. “As we work with Fitbit to design the collection for Alta, our goal is to create accessories that inspire, delight and have the versatility to become a modern extension of our users.”

While the Alta itself launches in March, the Public School accessories won’t hit retail until later this year. The collection will include five pieces (from fine metals to cheaper printed sports bands) in total, and if rumour is anything to go by, an impressive launch for the final styles during the next round of fashion week shows in September.

Head over to Forbes to read my interview with Tim Rosa, VP of global marketing at Fitbit, for the full lowdown on the collaboration and what’s ahead.

Categories
digital snippets technology

Digital snippets: all the wearable tech news from #CES

under-armour-hb-2

Trawling the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES is the equivalent of perusing 38 football fields of shoulder-to-shoulder booths featuring endless displays of new technology.

The great news about the internet: you don’t have to actually do that hard work yourself. So here’s a round-up of all the fashion-related and wearable technology news that came out of the week, as written by other people all over the web (I too gave it a miss this year!)…

  • How Under Armour plans to turn your clothes into gadgets [Wired]
  • Under Armour’s Gemini 2 sneakers are fitness trackers for your feet (as pictured) [Mashable]
  • Misfit’s wearables hide their tech behind cool minimalism [Wired]
  • Fitbit Blaze launches as $200 Apple Watch competitor [TechRepublic]
  • Samsung unveils ‘Smart Suit’ as part of family of wearables [Mashable]
  • Samsung made a smart belt that doesn’t suck [The Verge]
  • Fossil to roll out 100 wearables [WWD]
  • OMbra biometric smart sports bra woos women [BrandChannel]
  • L’Oréal patch measures UV exposure [TrendWalk]
  • Fashion icon Iris Apfel debuts luxury smart bracelets that track health [MedicalDaily]
  • Mira’s new smart jewellery combines tech and high fashion [DigitalTrends]
  • Futuristic sneakers tighten automatically, warm your feet and are controlled by an app [MailOnline]
  • Casio maps out smartwatch territory in cyclists and hikers [FT]
  • SCOTTeVEST’s new jacket lets users cleverly store a laptop inside their clothing [iDigitalTimes]
  • Clothes at the CES fashion show actually looked pretty normal [CNET]
  • A look at some of the wackiest wearables on show [Wareable]

Image via Mashable

Categories
Comment Editor's pick Startups technology

Comment counts: key considerations for starting a wearables company

Wearable technology is an exciting new sector for fashion and technology entrepreneurs, but there are multiple challenges and obstacles to confront and overcome in order to successfully take a product to market, writes Timothy Coghlan, a China fashion, retail and technology industry specialist.

fitbit

It has been more than three decades since Adidas launched its Micropacer sneaker to tie-in to the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. Now a collectable for sneakerheads, the Micropacer was one of the very first computer-embedded fashion devices developed to calculate distance, running pace and the calories burned by the wearer. Fast-forward to today, and hundreds of “wearable technology” products are available for sale in a market estimated to be worth $16.1bn in 2015, according to Visiongain, and predicted to hit $53bn by 2019, according to Juniper Research.

Other compelling evidence that the wearables sector is coming of age is the multi-billion dollar exits (cash outs) achieved by notable wearables companies over the past 18 months, including the $3bn acquisition of Beats by Apple in 2014, and Fitbit’s $4.1bn IPO in June 2015.

The wearables sector is luring entrepreneurs from both sides of the fashion and technology divide, yet the tech industry mantra that developing “hardware is hard” (as opposed to software) reigns true. Budding wearables entrepreneurs will encounter multiple setbacks in taking their ideas from concept to sellable product. Here are some of the key issues to consider in order to effectively developing and bring to market new products and brands…

Developing functional products

The recent wave of wearables began to swell in 2013 with devices including the Nike Fuelband, Samsung Gear, and Google Glass all hitting the market. These early devices gained traction with health enthusiasts and the technology early-adopter pack who used them to measure, track and record daily activities such as jogging distances and sleep data.

However, for most people who were not hardcore athletes or quantified-self fanatics, the value proposition of these early “wearable 1.0” devices was negligible – especially given the fact mobile phones could perform a lot of the same measurements. Moreover, many of the devices were plagued by functionality problems such as short battery life plus interface and syncing issues that caused users to discard them after only a few weeks.

apple-watch

Product iterations and developments over the past two years have seen many of these user (tech hardware) issues improve, as was apparent with the launch of the Apple Watch in April 2015. Yet, even with most of the hardware issues now solved, the question still remains of what actionable data and information these wearable devices provide that enhances the wearer’s life, rather than simply reporting on it.

Benjamin Joffe, general partner of the HAX (hardware) Accelerator program based in Shenzhen, China, says that despite the recent progress we are not yet in the “2.0” era of wearables: “It’s great for a device to track your lifestyle habits and give data, but that data has to have a call-to-action or tell you what to do, like a watch that announces ‘You’ve sat down too long or you’re stressed, maybe you should you stand up or take a break for a while’. The next ‘2.0’ generation of wearables will have specialised analytical capabilities that will have wider implications for both employers and end users, but developing these will require ‘real science’ with new [embedded] sensors and the trouble with this is that there are very high barriers to entry.”

Sunny Vu, CEO of Misfit Wearables says wearables should be measured against the “turnaround test”, in terms of proving the usefulness of a device to a user. That is, if you had left home and were already halfway to your destination and you realised you had forgotten your phone, keys, or wallet, would you turn around and go home to get them? Probably. But would you turn around to go home and get your wearable device? Probably not.

For Vu, it was vital to make something compelling. Simply creating an activity tracker wasn’t sufficient because it wouldn’t pass this test. “Going into the future, ‘wearables 2.0’ can’t be single purpose devices. The [Misfit] Flash device is built to be a button that doubles as a remote control for your phone to take selfies and perform other tasks. What’s interesting is that [in the future] perhaps devices will enable you to control things in your life, like calling Uber.”

The immediate challenge for aspiring wearables entrepreneurs is to go beyond the current product offerings and create something functional and with a compelling user proposition for consumers.

Funding your start-up

For wearable start-up founders, there also comes the question of funding, as hardware is far more costly to develop and bring to market than software.

Crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have become the de facto global portals for entrepreneurs to test their ideas and raise funds from individual backers who pledge money to be part of the project. The most successful wearables Kickstarter campaign to date has been the Pebble Watch, which made headlines by first raising over $10m and then raising another $20m on the site in early 2015. Pebble founder and CEO Eric Migicovsky says quite simply: “The key to successfully raising large amounts of crowdfunding is to first make a good product and then figure out how to explain it to the world before even putting it on Kickstarter.”

Pebble

Vu of Misfit Wearables also turned to crowdfunding after he had already raised an $8m Series A round of venture capital funding from Founders Fund and had developed and tested early versions of their products. In an Indiegogo campaign in 2013, the company raised over $800,000 from almost 8,000 people.The Misfit Shine activity tracker launch followed, and then another Series B round of venture capital funding of over $15m from Horizon Ventures.

The amount of Misfit’s crowdfunding was small compared to other venture capital funding rounds, though a vital aspect of crowdfunding is the feedback loop gained by interacting directly with potential customers to see if people want your product before you invest other resources into actually building it. As Vu said: “Failing to raise crowdfunding is a strong indication that your product isn’t the right [market] fit and maybe you shouldn’t make it.” In mid November 2015, Misfit was acquired by Fossil Group for $260m.

With Beats’ $3bn acquisition by Apple and the $4.1bn IPO debut by Fitbit, there is growing evidence that wearable companies have the potential to make large returns for their investors. As Rui Ma, Beijing-based China Partner for 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley venture capital seed fund and start-up accelerator, explains: “Due to the nature of hardware start-ups they need big investments and for 500 Startups, when considering start-ups to invest in, we look at companies that sell globally [regardless of where they’re based].” Omate Watches is one wearables start-up that 500 Startups has invested in.

For entrepreneurs, it is important to weigh up the different funding options. Not all funding is equal. Venture capital comes at the cost of giving away a percentage of your company whereas crowdfunding doesn’t. As related by Sunny Vu: “Venture capital funding makes most sense when interests align and there’s a tie-in to growing the business so the investors can become strategic partners for the company.”

For Misfit Wearables’ most recent $40m Series C venture funding round in 2014 from China-based GGV Capital, Xiaomi and JD.com, each investor offered great advantages for Misfit to grow its retail base rapidly in China, where there is a massive market potential. In October 2015, just two weeks prior to announcing it was being acquired by Fossil, Misfit chose Beijing as the location for the global launch of its Shine2 product.

You might also like: Top tips for retail start-ups from VCs at SXSW

Manufacturing wearable devices

With both a compelling product offer and funding secured, wearables entrepreneurs can then proceed to the manufacturing phase of product development.  

Whereas fashion designers can sketch their designs and have them made into samples with relative ease around the world, developing wearable device prototypes embedded with technology is much more complicated. It thus follows that many wearables entrepreneurs underestimate the arduous and multi-phase nature of the manufacturing process that could take (far) longer than expected to get a product ready for shipping. This is why many successful crowdfunding projects do not stick to their original promised delivery dates.

beats

China is the leading country for large-scale production of wearable technology devices. In researching the manufacturing process for hardware devices in Shenzhen China, Ma from 500 Startups told TechCrunch that the process may take up to 14 months for the delivery of a new product. The difficulties of manufacturing is something Vu from Misfit echoes: “You can’t just send CAD files to the manufacturer and expect them to understand your specifications and everything go smoothly… and you have to design a product to be made at 1,000 units per hour.”

To help navigate the convoluted manufacturing process, one option for fledgling wearables start-ups is to join a program such as the aforementioned HAX Accelerator. HAX offers multiple benefits to start-ups including investment, office space, sourcing, prototyping and guidance on finding retail distribution as fast as possible. Companies participating in HAX spend 3.5 months in Shenzhen working on strategy and sourcing. Upon graduation, the program helps them pitch their products to potential investors and also launch their products to the media.

Joffe says: “For program participants, one week in Shenzhen is equivalent to one month in Silicon Valley where there is no large-scale manufacturing ecosystem for prototyping products.” From Joffe’s experience: “Chinese manufacturers are pretty flexible with unit numbers and a lot of problems can be worked out on the factory floor. Plus, eventually to achieve scale in the hardware business you will need to manufacture in China.”

Succeeding at retail

With manufacturing complete the final element to achieving commercial success for a new wearable device is executing effective retail distribution. This is another area where wearables start-ups often stumble, especially for entrepreneurs astute at engineering but not experienced at elements critical in retail, including PR, marketing, branding and customer service.

Few, if any wearables companies these days have the scale and resources to open their own physical retail stores, and so they rely on being sold through other doors whether that be department or electronics stores, fashion boutiques or various online platforms. Even for those who crowdfund to get fans and followers, and test their products, the majority still aren’t discovered by consumers until they’re in the retail environment. For real long-term, large-scale success, wearables start-ups have to build a brand in the same way that Beats, Fitbit and Misfit have done.

MisfitFlash

For wearables start-ups that do make it this far and find retail distribution they still won’t be able to rest there. As Joffe from HAX shares: “Many wearables start-ups think they can just put their product on the shelf, but it won’t sell by itself and in most retail formats the sales staff don’t have enough expertise to explain and sell it on your behalf anyway. So the company continually needs to build awareness and create demand on its own.”

Ma from 500 Startups echoes this sentiment: “Retail is a big challenge for hardware start-ups and it’s a totally different game [from software] because it takes much longer to sell physical products and achieve high sales volume versus just selling APPs and software online. This is also something VCs consider when investing in hardware start-ups because we look for companies and products that display rapid exponential growth opportunities.”

Taking Misfit Wearables’ operations as an example, Vu says: “For wearables start-ups, life doesn’t even start until you attempt to sell the completed product. Customers won’t care which famous VC firm funded you or where you went to school, they just care about amazing product experience at an amazing price – so you need to give that to them.” Misfit has complex operations encompassing a wide variety of core products plus accessories available in multiple colours and with retail distribution in over 30 countries and speaking around 20 languages, he explains. “Succeeding with wearables is just as much about being crazy good at business as it is with having the right product,” he adds.

Overall, the wearables market is an exciting new sector for fashion and technology entrepreneurs to develop product ideas, yet as laid out here, in each phase of development and in bringing the items to market, there are multiple challenges and obstacles to confront and overcome. Being aware of these issues and making the right decisions at each phase will give wearables entrepreneurs the best chance of success.

Timothy Coghlan is a China fashion, retail and technology industry specialist based in Beijing.

Comment Counts is a series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via info@fashionandmash.com.

Categories
Blocks technology

Guess which brand is top in wearable tech

fitbit

What’s the top wearable technology brand? No, it’s not one named after a fruit. It’s the (relatively) humble Fitbit (as pictured), which managed to keep its lead in the global wearables sector in Q3, despite both Apple and Xiaomi giving it a run for its money in second and third places.

The latest sector report from research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), said Fitbit’s total shipment volume was 21 million units, with a massive rise of nearly 200% year-on-year.

Apple’s presence on the list is no surprise given that it finally released its much-hyped Apple Watch this year. And Xiaomi is unsurprising too as China is the fastest-growing wearables market globally and that’s where most of its sales are made.

So what devices were the stars of the sector? Fitbit’s Charge and Surge models proved to be topsellers, as did Xiaomi’s ultra-affordable Mi band. And of course, THAT watch.

Interestingly, despite all the hype around the high-end version of the Apple Watch and Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendt’s work to make the company’s stores a more luxury experience, the device that sold best was the entry-level Sport line. Anyone who bought a more expensive one might be a little miffed at the moment, given that Best Buy has dropped Apple Watch prices by around $100 as part of a Holiday season promotion and rumours are flying that Apple will announce an improved, next generation watch in March 2016.

Whether Apple Watch 2 offers anything truly new we won’t know for a few months. But for now it seems that between the Apple Watch Sport, the Mi band, the Fitbit Charge and Surge, and fourth-placed Garmin’s wide range of fitness devices, wearable technology still hasn’t made a big-league leap out of the fitness sector… yet.

But in order to meet the ambitious growth that’s expected for it, wearable tech will have to fit more into our everyday non-fitness-focused lives too. IDC forecasts that 72.1 million wearable devices will have been shipped by the end of this year, compared with only 26.4 million last year.

But in the next five years, there should be annual volume sales of 150 million devices. Whether those 150 million items a year will be more than just new types of fitness tracker, we’ll have to wait and see.

IDC_table

IDC_wearables

This post first appeared on Trendwalk.net, a style-meets-business blog by journalist, trends specialist and business analyst, Sandra Halliday

Categories
data digital snippets e-commerce social media technology

Digital snippets: Apple, Michael Kors, Chiara Ferragni, Crocs, Snapchat, Neiman Marcus, Gap

A round-up of the latest stories to know about surrounding all things fashion and tech…

AppleVogue3

  • Apple runs first watch ads: 12 pages in Vogue [AdAge]
  • Michael Kors is getting into wearable tech [Bloomberg]
  • 10 things we learned about the business of blogging from Chiara Ferragni’s Harvard Study [StyleCaster]
  • Drones to fetch orders at Tokyo Crocs store [WSJ]
  • Luxury brands on Snapchat? Why Michael Kors is taking the plunge [Digiday]
  • Asos plots further Snapchat activity despite admitting it provides ‘virtually no data at all’ [The Drum]
  • Neiman Marcus integrates interactive tables for unbridled selection [PSFK]
  • Gap launches Instagram soap opera with Jenny Slate, Paul Dano [Mashable]
  • Nordstrom shrinks Innovation Lab, reassigns employees in shakeup of tech initiatives [Geekwire]
  • Apple stores will implement jewellery store practices to help sell the Apple Watch [TechCrunch]
  • I wore a Fitbit during fashion week [Fashionista]
  • What the tech world doesn’t understand about fashion [Racked]
  • The future of retail is the end of wholesale [BoF]
  • Will drones fly in retail? [Stores Magazine]
  • Jeff Bezos makes another push for Amazon Fashion. Will it work? [Bloomberg]
  • How Code and Theory’s Brandon Ralph gained the trust of everyone from Anna Wintour to Burger King [Fashionista]
  • Victoria’s Secret ads warm up People Magazine’s Snapchat Stories [AdAge]
  • Adidas app lets sneakerheads wait in virtual lines for limited editions [Bloomberg]
  • River Island moving IT ‘out of the back room’ with tech hub collaboration [The Drum]
  • ‘Lucky’ launches LuckyShops.com [MediaPost]
  • Face hacking: transforming our future visages with digital make-up [Motherboard]
  • How start-ups are beating Burberry to DIY fashion [Marketing Magazine]
  • How Line is turning Instagram into an e-commerce app in Thailand [TechInAsia]
  • First digital measuring tape to make online shopping less risky [PSFK]
Categories
Blocks Editor's pick technology

Designers are jumping into the wearable tech space this #NYFW – should we care?

RalphLauren-smart-tshirt

Tomorrow marks the first official day of New York Fashion Week, and with it a month-long series of runway shows that will next travel to Europe – to London, Milan and Paris – to highlight what all we’ll be wearing for spring/summer 2015.

Attention won’t just be on the new clothes in New York on this occasion however, but on the wearable accessories set to hit the catwalks too. Designers including Rebecca Minkoff and Opening Ceremony are each expected to unveil new tech-enabled pieces, while simultaneously over at the US Open, Ralph Lauren’s biometric t-shirts are already being worn.

The question is, after all the hype that will no doubt follow – will any of the new releases actually provide something that has true market appeal beyond the early adopter set?

Read the full story via Forbes.com to find out.