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Fashion futurologists have iteratively declared that smart textiles are the way ahead. One day, the thinking goes, coats will automatically warm up when it is cold. Trousers will stitch themselves back together after splitting. Shoes will comfily mould around the wearer’s feet.
Development projects have rolled on for years without spawning a significant sector. If that changes, Lex will eat its internet-enabled, self-wicking hat.
In 2015, Levi and Google began developing “smart” jackets that would let the wearer control their phone. Project Jacquard was part of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects division. It sought ways to weave conductive fibres into clothes, making them responsive to touch.
A small Bluetooth attachment in the Levi cuff controlled the phone. Demand was predictably limited. Google’s parent company Alphabet is in a cost-cutting mood this year. Google closed Project Jacquard’s accessories app in April.
Smart fabric makers are focusing on health, fitness and productivity instead of connectivity. San Francisco-based Siren creates washable smart socks designed to help monitor diabetes patients. Start-up Nextiles is working on weaving sensors into a fabric that can track motion for sports players.
Investor appetite is limited. Utah start-up Owlet made socks that could monitor a baby’s temperature when it was sleeping. Shortly after it listed via a special purpose acquisition company in 2021, Owlet received a letter from the Food and Drug Administration questioning the way it marketed the socks as a diagnosis tool. Revenues fell 9 per cent last year. Shares now trade for cents on the dollar.
Wearable tech has leapfrogged smart fabrics. Germany’s ProGlove makes scanners that can be attached to gloves worn by warehouse workers, for example. And why put on a smart sock when Apple Watch can track metrics such as heart rate? Fabrics with embedded sensors and haptics are hard to make at scale. Wearable gadgets render them pointless.
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