While earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the main talk was how brands like Intel are now finally moving into the realm of wearable technologies, the focus has often been on pieces and ideas that are not actually youth culture focused. And yet, it is the youth marketplace of today that are by far the most tech-savvy generation in history.
The majority of the new releases in the wearables category concentrated on athletic pieces that measured heart rates, workout achievements, and headsets that supposedly let you play video games via one’s mental wavelengths.
But the reality is that wearable technologies are quickly becoming not only key components to one’s individual style, but a defining fashion statement overall—if you know what’s attractive to your target market.
When it comes to youth culture, the main motivators of this marketplace include watches, such as those from Nixon or FLUD (or even the anticipated iWatch from Apple), designer headphones which are a huge category at trade shows such as Agenda and Project, technical backpacks from brands like DaKine and Burton, and the most popular, wearable technologies that have to do with personal music listening devices. Such wearables are opening the accessories category and changing spending patterns for a new tech-savvy generation that prefers in many cases, the latest electronics over a new pair of denim jeans.
In the Credit Suisse report, which talked about devices such as Google’s Internet-connected eyewear, Apple’s smartwatch, and Nike’s FuelBand, they predict the market to grow from $3-$5 billion today, to between $30-$50 billion in the next 5 years. But unless these industries understand what youth markets are looking for, which in most cases are not fitness-related wearables, they’re making useless, overpriced gadgets.
It’s taken a long time for luxury labels and high-end fashion designers to get into the game. The fact that wearables are such a big deal now, as revealed at CES, i.e. with Intel’s announcement for a collaboration with Opening Ceremony for a smart bracelet to be released at Barney’s New York, streetwear and youth culture brands have been at the forefront of the scene, incorporating style elements with the social value that means something, i.e. designer headphones, snowboard jackets with wired music listening devices, backpacks that recharge cell phones.
Nixon, Flud, SkullCandy, and a variety of brands that integrate technical components such a music listening capabilities and brands such as Burton and Oakley, have been on the forefront of challenging the status quo of “what is fashion” in the sense of youth culture today. The shift in spending patterns also illustrates that while the economy is still challenging, it’s even more important than ever to know where young people are choosing to spend their discretionary income, which has changed dramatically (see also our Spring Youth Culture Study 2013 and upcoming Spring Youth Culture Study 2014 for analysis).
This is not a trend that’s going to fade, just as fast-paced changes technologies continue to increase. However fashion brands that don’t lean outside of their comfort zones will be the ones that miss a market opportunity.
Carol Lim, co-founder of Opening Ceremony explained their collaboration with Intel: “As Humberto [Leon] and I have seen the emergence of wearable technology, we’ve always said, ‘Someone needs to create something that’s a beautiful object that you would want to wear, regardless of its functional features. There are some interesting products out there, but [from a design perspective] it’s been a void. Until now, technology companies have tried to own the entire development process, but to push things forward, a marriage between a tech company and a design house makes a lot of sense. We want to create something that people covet. At the end of the day, all the tech features in the world won’t sell if the product is not something consumers want to wear,” she added. “We want to create something that can really stand alone on a design level.”
While Opening Ceremony’s founders may not have yet seen an aesthetically pleasing wearable yet, as we’ve noted previously, there are many out there that suit the needs of the streetwear and youth marketplace. Opening Ceremony’s new smart bracelet, set to debut in Spring at Barney’s, will undoubtedly be good-looking, but probably out of the price range of what should be their target market.
Herein lies another problem with new collabs from the likes of Intel and high-end designers. If anything, they should have seen the wearable technology trend coming and taken a beat from Beats by Dre or SkullCandy or Nixon years ago. What’s not really needed is another activity tracker smart bracelet that tells you what you already know.