Jackets, jeans and even socks may turn electronic in near future

The experiments with the so-called smart clothing e.g. jackets equipped with mobile phones, MP3 players, microphones and earphones have stalled. The smart ware products occasionally put out by leading manufacturers of mobile phones and digital electronics are mostly experimental. Analysts do not believe the design and manufacture of socks with Bluetooth devices or shirts made from interactive fabrics will pay off. Smart textiles can only give a boost to a company’s image.

The intention to suit mobile devices for use in any environment has become one of the leading trends in the world of consumer electronics. Smart textiles e.g. jackets, vests and hats featuring embedded electronic gadgets are one of the examples of the trend. The whole section of the international trade show CeBit-2006 held in Hanover this March displayed an array of apparel lines launched by the world’s top fashion companies: Pierre Cardin, Cinque, Mephisto, Melistone.

Phillips NV, a Dutch electronics giant, the European division of Levi Strauss & Co. and Massimo Osti, an Italian designer, were some of the first to brandish their way into the commercialized world of electronic apparel. In the fall 2000 they introduced the apparel line - Industrial Clothing Design Plus (ICD+). The line included four jacket styles, each equipped with a microphone, remote controller, a GSM mobile phone Philips Xenium, an earphone and a MP3 player. An earphone was conveniently put in the hood while a microphone was sewn onto the collar. A small display enabled the wearer to have assess to the mobile phone, the Internet and e-mail services. The jackets retailed in the neighborhood of $800. The garment was not available in Russia. “The jackets were of a limited edition for experimental and display purposes only. Philips has long stopped manufacturing those products,” says Inessa Galactionova, a marketing communications manager at Philips Russia.

Undaunted by the initial attempts that looked rather botched, the German company Infinion Technology joined forces with the clothes manufacturer Rosner to design a men’s sport jacket dubbed Wearable Electronic Jacket MP3blue. The mobile phone Bluetooth control board and an MP3 player were discretely integrated into the sleeve of a garment.

Companies like Alcatel and Interactive Wear made a few attempts to launch “smart wear products but their products never reached mass consumer markets. Motorola combined efforts with the company Oakley to launch the sun glasses Oakley RAZRWire in 2005. The sunglasses could be used as Bluetooth device for mobile phones. Motorola seem to have liked experimenting with electronic gismos. In collaboration with Momodesign, Motorola designed a biker’s helmet with inbuilt Bluetooth device. To top it off, Motorola also launched a winter apparel line with mobile phone controls and MP3 players that were sewn into the garment developed in collaboration with Burton, one of the leading manufacturers of snowboard and ski equipment.

Unlike the smart products by Levi Strauss and Philips, Motorola made sure that its new winter apparel was available in Russia. The above sunglasses cost around $250 in Moscow.

It’s doubtful that smart products will be hugely popular with the consumer. However, the range of smart products incorporating Bluetooth technology can only grow wider in the future, say representatives of Motorola. “The company intends to widen an variety of Bluetooth devices fully integrated into household items and garments. This is Motorola’s new project under the company strategy dubbed Seamless Mobility. The strategy is aimed at providing the consumer maximum freedom regardless of his immediate activity e.g. leisure or work, sports or travel.

Motorola strives to make the use of mobile phone and its multimedia options a comfort by developing such products,” says Kirill Lubnin, a PR-director for mobile phones department of Motorola’s Russian division.

Analysts believe mobile clothing is just an interesting project, which is unlikely to have good prospects as to a new market sector. “Some companies look set to developing a communications sector, others are trying to make the design and marketing of ‘smart wear’ a success. This is a sort of an attempt to build up a stronger trend. But vendors look a way ahead of time, and today’s consumers aren’t ready to buy such clothing. Therefore, the project is nothing but a fancy novelty at the moment,” says Margarita Zlobina, a leading analyst with Prime Consult. As regards Motorola, it’s an image-boosting move, no doubt about it. The company is poised to be in the forefront and make the most of its innovation technologies – and they’ve got plenty of them dating back to the years of the original R&D under defense contracts,” adds she.

Izvestia Nauki

Translated by Guerman Grachev

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov