Will Wearable Tech Ever Be Stylish?
By Cillian O’Conner, 8th July 2016
We live in an age of shirts that can track your heart rate and suits that can send digital business cards. But when, if ever, will they actually be wearable?
Imagine it’s winter. Imagine it’s snowing. Imagine – knowing that you’re already running late for work – you step outside the comfort of your centrally heated home, and into the freezing air. Where the icy wind stings your skin, and the sub-zero temperatures instantly set your teeth chattering, no matter how tightly you wrap your coat around you.
But what if that coat was heated? What if, instead of piling on more layers than a millefeuille, all you needed to do to keep warm was flip an ‘On’ switch?
These are the questions that spurred Rana Nakhal Solset, founder of Emel + Aris, to develop the Smart Coat – the world’s first high-end, self-heating overcoat. Launched on Kickstarter earlier this year, it seamlessly mixes trailblazing technology with the finest Italian Loro Piana fabrics and a Savile Row cut. In other words, it’s a game-changer, a giant step forward for what’s increasingly referred to as the wearables market – that nebulous term that covers everything from fitness trackers to smart textiles.
The Smart Coat’s concept is simple. A light and inert polymer (buried in the coat’s lining) uses power from a small pocket-sized battery (concealed within an interior chest pocket) to produce far infrared heat that spreads across the body, heating the wearer’s muscles and increasing their blood flow so that they feel toasty all over.
The coat is safe, features three different heat settings including low (1), medium (2) and high (3), and although not yet through its first production run, has wooed some 250 backers into parting with their hard-earned to get their hands on one come autumn.
Despite not being the world’s first heated garments – Solset is working with a manufacturer who’s been tinkering with the technology for over 30 years – Emel + Aris Smart Coats (the brand is launching with two for men and two for women) are the first of their kind in that they are pieces of wearable tech which are actually, well, wearable.
Sure, recent years have seen wrist-based devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers get a lot sexier, so much so that CCS Insight expects $7 billion worth of them to ship in the next six months. But when it comes to more conspicuous fashion pieces (like T-shirts or jackets instead of accessories), it seems form is invariably forced to take a back seat to function.
It’s partly to do with the technology available. “The sensors used in wearables used to be so large – I remember once being shown one at CES that was the size of a pager,” says Rachel Arthur, digital innovation strategist and founder of fashionandmash.com. “But they’ve shrunk to the point where now we have sensors like the Intel Curie, which is smaller than the size of a button.”
Batteries have slimmed down too, a development that’s enabled Solset to make her Smart Coat a reality, without the awkward bulk. “A few years ago, you would’ve needed to walk around with something like a 2kg battery to heat our coat, but batteries are getting smaller and smaller,” she says