There are few things more fashionable in 2017 than a progressive woman — but why stop at politics? Rebecca Minkoff’s connected handbag line lets the modern lady carry progress in a cross-body. If the modern man wants to get in on the smart clothing trend, there’s a stylish bomber jacket by New York City men’s designer Rochambeau that uses the same technology as the new Minkoff handbags.
A lot of wearable tech misses the fashion mark for the simple reason that it’s designed for athletic purposes rather than for style. It’s function without form — or at least, with a very specific form that may not be to everyone’s taste.
Last year, a Mashable fashion reporter went to New York Fashion Week clad entirely in wearable tech, from the LifeBEAM Smart Hat measuring heart rate, cadence and calories on her head to the Sensoria Fitness Socks and Anklets monitoring cadence and foot landings on her feet.
While she certainly made a statement, it wasn’t a fashionable one. But why should wearables be limited to fitness buffs? We all use technology every day, and as much as athleisure style has grown in recent years, sometimes people just want to dress normal.
Well, as materials and technology evolve, it seems there could one day be a wearable for everyone, starting with Rebecca Minkoff’s handbags and the Rochambeau BRIGHT BMBR smart jacket — both powered by a partnership between Avery Dennison, a company specializing in apparel and footwear branding, labeling, radio-frequency identification and digital solutions, and IoT smart product platform EVRYTHNG.
Whether mainstream consumers embrace this fashionable progress will depend on what these wearables do — and, just as importantly, on what they don’t do.
Trials with Bluetooth beacons in stores demonstrated what any consumer probably could have told retailers for free: People don’t want to be bombarded with notifications and deals. But the right level of connection could enable brands and retailers to forge a unique personal connection with each customer and tailor the shopping experience to suit their preferences.
Bill Toney, Avery Dennison’s vice president of Global RFID Market Development, and Andy Hobsbawm, EVRYTHNG CMO and co-founder, recently told PYMNTS how it all works, what consumers and brands stand to gain and where connected fashion could go in the future.
A year ago, the BRIGHT BMBR introduced the idea of being #BornDigital, or coming out of the factory with a serialized code stitched onto the item: the key to the product’s unique, invisible identity in the cloud, which becomes tied to the consumer upon purchase and registration.
A hidden pocket in the bomber jacket’s left sleeve contained a pull-out label emblazoned with a unique QR code and containing an NFC chip. Similarly, each Rebecca Minkoff purse comes with its own scannable code.
From there, explained Hobsbawm, the jacket or handbag can deliver special experiences, such as offers, coupons, vouchers, partner experiences, cross-sell and upsell opportunities and loyalty benefits, which get pushed through to the user’s smartphone.
For example, the Minkoff bag uses geolocation technology, so if it finds itself in Seattle a block over from a fitness class that partners with the brand, it can push through a voucher for the bag’s owner to go try out the class. The BRIGHT BMBR unlocks exclusive curated New York City experiences at restaurants, nightclubs and art and fashion destinations.
With the new handbag line, Rebecca Minkoff also launched the hashtag #AlwaysON, which begs the question: Do consumers want to be always on? The Bluetooth beacon situation suggests maybe not. At the very least, and this should come as little surprise, consumers want to control how connected they are and when.
So that users don’t get notification fatigue, Hobsbawm said, these products take more of a “let them come to us” approach. It’s possible to carry a Minkoff bag or wear a BRIGHT BMBR jacket and never have a connected experience. It kind of defeats the purpose, but maybe the customer just liked how the accessory looked, and that’s fine.
But, if they want it, the connected experience is there — and the more customers tap into it, the smarter it gets about targeting benefits.
“The bag is always on, but you don’t have to be,” Hobsbawm explained. “The bag will only talk to you when you ask it a question. It’s like Alexa: She’s always on in your home, but she isn’t always talking to you — only if you ask her a question. This is a version of that. The bag is there, carrying your stuff and looking cool. Then, when you need it, the connected experience is there without impinging on your life.”
Digital Emotional Intelligence
IoT-enabled smart clothes aren’t about solving problems, said Hobsbawm and Toney; they’re about enhancement, much as fashion itself is about icing on the cake.
Technology tends to focus on utility. What problems does it solve? How does it increase convenience and decrease friction? These are important things, Hobsbawm said, but they have kept many innovators from focusing on how technology can enhance, delight and empathetically connect with consumers to help them experience more from their world.
That’s called digital emotional intelligence, and Avery Dennison and EVRYTHNG had to learn all about it before trying to take the marriage of wearable tech and fashion to the next level.
Rebecca Minkoff as a brand is about confident young women going out and living life on their own terms, getting the most out of their world, said Hobsbawm. Giving the handbags a digital layer serves to augment that message, even if it doesn’t serve utilitarian functions, like reducing friction.
Although EVRYTHNG and Avery Dennison’s partnership may be focused on intangibles, connected fashion delivers some tangible benefits on both the consumer side and the merchant side, said Toney.
It enables both the suppliers and the consumers to learn more about each other and to do so faster — a critical capability as development cycles grow increasingly abbreviated.
It helps designers customize products by discovering what customers liked and didn’t like about certain products. If something isn’t selling, is that because of a fit issue, or a design issue?
It can even drive a true omnichannel experience, Toney said, creating a cloud-based connection that enhances the shopping journey — from ensuring that inventory is available prior to visiting the store to creating a custom shopping experience (does this customer want to look, touch and try on, or get in and get out?).
Toney predicts that this could eventually evolve into interactive experiences, such as scanning a tag in-store to learn more about the product or self-checkout by mobile, allowing shoppers to skip the queue.
When a product is #BornDigital, added Hobsbawm, it creates transparency into the supply chain and product lifecycle. Consumers can now gain insight into how their favorite products were sourced and whether they were made sustainably, which is important to many shoppers today, especially millennials.
If scanning tags in-store to learn a product’s story does become commonplace, then this intangible could quickly translate into a tangible as consumers invest in products with stories they can get behind.
Meanwhile, brands can see what happens to their products after purchase in a way that was never before possible. They can see how, when and where it’s used, how it may drive loyalty and re-purchase and, ultimately, whether it’s disposed of in a responsible fashion.
“The future,” said Hobsbawm, “is in more sophisticated ecosystem integrations. Whatever is on the products — whether that’s a Google jacket, these tags or connected fabrics — the interesting question is what it does and how. In the ecosystem of our lives, if everything can speak to everything else, then we’ll be able to coordinate really amazing experiences.”
“That will take orchestration behind the scenes,” he admitted, “but it will only grow more sophisticated.”