Growing consumer interest in wearable technology has created a promising environment for the smart clothing industry. Experts from Acumen Research and Consulting predict that smart clothing and e-textiles will grow to US $ 15.09 billion by 2028 and may exceed US $ 30 billion by 2040.
The wearable clothing industry is constantly evolving, with new and innovative ideas being brought to the forefront every day. While it is true that the industry is dominated by men, there are a growing number of women who are making their mark. Additionally, they are bringing unique perspectives to the field and playing an important role in shaping the wearable clothing industry as a whole.
“Since wearables’ is fairly a new industry and not always based on textiles, we can see an array of people with various backgrounds working in the space; both men and women, so I’d say that this new generation of textile-related engineering may be more gender-neutral than the traditional textile industries of yesteryear,” said Elina Nurkka, Ex-director, Smart textiles, PUSH and currently Director of Innovation, Research and Sustainability at Innovision Holdings Corporation.
Experts believe what sets these women apart is their ability to combine fashion and function in the garment. Whether it’s a sports bra that monitors heart rate or a dress that lights up depending on body temperature or the yoga pants alerting about the wrong posture, these women entrepreneurs create clothing that are practical and stylish. Be it designers, researchers or tech entrepreneurs venturing into fashion, women have made significant contributions to the wearable clothing industry, helping it to grow and reach new heights.
Women leaders: the forerunners of the wearable clothing industry
In addition to designers and entrepreneurs, women in the wearable clothing industry are also making their mark as technologists and engineers. One such example is of Sabine Seymour, Founder of SUPA, an entrepreneur and data economist who founded a company that designs fashionable connected clothing or in simplified explanation makes clothing a ‘Data Platform’, which means it is building sensors like trims, a biometric data kit that can be incorporated in apparel to collect the data while an individual goes running, surfing or even partying. Since its inception in 2014, she started building SUPA, a line of sportswear which tracks individual’s biometrics and SUPA’s AI then turns that data into simple, helpful fitness insights. Additionally, it’s not wrong to state that SUPA is a secure software platform that harnesses the power of biometric and lifestyle data for companies while compensating young consumers (Gen Z) for their data and protecting their privacy.
“Our goal is to democratise healthcare by being the coolest, most trusted brand for biometric data,” said Sabine.
Additionally, it has also launched its SUPA-powered bras and straps and was also invited in CES (Consumer Electric Show) trade show organised by CTA (Consumer Technology Association) to showcase the products. In addition to being a SingularityU Portugal expert in Data, Internet of Things (IoT) and Sensors, Sabine Seymour, PhD, MSc, MPS, is also a researcher and athlete. As a well-known technologist, she creates products at the intersection of sensors, data and the human body. In addition to SUPA, her think tank MOONDIAL brings together silicon and style (tech and fashion) for Intel, Siemens, GE, Disney.
Furthermore, she was the first Professor and Director of the Fashionable Technology Lab at Parsons School of Design in New York, co-leading the research project BODYMETAPHOR with Miriam Steele at the New School of Social Research, originating Computational Cellulose at Aalto University and chairing the Rockefeller Foundation’s Computational Fashion Research Initiative for Eyebeam Art + Technology Centre.
Another feather in her cap is her published books. She is also a renowned writer of three books – Fashionable Technology, Functional Aesthetics, Computational Fashion and has been featured in Wired, Vogue, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and on PBS, NBC and ORF, and has been dubbed as ‘Inventor of the Future’ by Cool Hunting.
Wearable tech has always been the best way to show what a person really gets out of buying a tech-integrated expensive piece of clothing. Most of the time, the answer is ‘data’ and that’s a fact, especially when it comes to health, consumers are actually ready to spend more. Smartwatches may no longer be the future. Another woman entrepreneur who believes in the same idea is the Australian innovator Billie Whitehouse, the Founder and CEO of Wearable X.
Wearable X is a fashion tech company based in New York City and Billie is an expert at making wearable tech products that combine hardware, software and clothing in a unique way. She is known for making Nadi X, which are cutting-edge technology-infused yoga pants that help to do yoga with ease. Wearable X was founded in 2013 and uses haptic technology.
Nadi X is basically revolutionary yoga pants with sensors built-in that enable the users to track their progress while they do the poses. Coupled with the mobile app, it gives both visual and audio feedback, as well as vibrations if the body isn’t in the right position of the individual performing yoga.
After getting her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in design, fashion and technology, Billie decided to go against the typical career path in the fashion industry and be at the forefront of the merging of fashion and technology. Her frustration with yoga motivated her to develop the product. She wanted one-on-one feedback and to be able to go back and practise correctly and hence the research started.
With recognition in her pocket, Business Insider named Billie one of the 30 most important women under 30 in tech, while Fast Company ranked her one of the 100 most creative businesspeople. In addition to being a keynote speaker at fashion conferences in different countries, including the New Yorker Tech Fest, Indian Fashion Forum and others, Wearable X has been called one of the most innovative fitness companies ever.
Another brand which is a highlight in the sports fraternity is the brand Maaree and the very passionate founder Mari who literally took up the challenge of providing the best sports bra for the consumers. Mari found about the research which stated that around 10 per cent more men than women participate in regular exercise and around 7.1 million women say they want to be more active but somehow are stuck in the personal barriers of looks and comfort. Mari, the founder, launched a sports bra with ‘Overband Technology’. Basically, in overband technology, overband curves along the top of the breasts, effectively reduce upward movement during exercise. This world’s first and revolutionary technology softly distributes pressure over the bust for a natural-looking silhouette without creating unwelcome lumps or bumps. It is carefully integrated into the front of the bras and its underband, so when consumers fasten it, tension is applied from both sides. As a result, it will stay put even in dynamic situations. Both Maaree’s Solidarity High-Impact Sports Bra and Empower Medium-Impact Sports Bra feature this special Overband Technology.
Another woman entrepreneur pushing the boundaries of fashion innovation is Aniela Hoitink who is the CEO and Founder of Neffa, looking at nature’s consumptive behaviour to find solutions, by changing material and production techniques, instead of changing human behaviour. NEFFA is harnessing the power of textiles, technology and microbiology through use of advanced inks, electronic components such as solar, sensors and LEDs, as well as microorganisms, also blending ancient materials with cutting-edge technologies to create personalised garments for mass production.
Aniela is totally disrupting the fashion industry by rethinking about the whole supply chain. Her brand MycoTEX is changing the whole process of making garments; from producing the material to making custom-fit garments. She grows mycelium for a fully compostable textile, then uses 3D mould – eventually based on consumers’ body scans – to form it into the desired shape. This provides opportunities for new types of garment design. She is basically transitioning from 2D to 3D with software like Lectra’s 3D virtual prototyping, leading way to less wastage due to the custom-made garments.
Some of her clients include Solliance-TNO; IMEC-CMST; Universiteit Utrecht; Sioen; uHasselt; Elasta; ROCv and EDC/Jora Entertainment; Perfect Number and some of her funded projects include Dynamic skin – topography of our bodies translated into dynamic layers , which was funded by Creative Industries Fund NL; Chameleon mood scarf – adapting to the user’s mood and environment; Monitoring textile – bacteria detection textile for healthcare (concept); Medspitality – empowering patients / THE Port Hackathon CERN; Campus BIOTECH & HUG , listeria towel creating awareness for the Listeria Monocytogenes.
In Aniela’s early stages of her career, her experience with the commercial apparel design with companies such as Tommy Hilfiger exposed her to the major issues of the fashion supply chain and she decided to focus upon them. What started with the development of innovative and/or biological textiles in collaboration with universities and research institutes, soon turned into much more: the NEFFA (New Fashion Factory) manufacturing method, a holistic system that solves all these issues in one go.
“Using technology and microbiology, I try to improve or change the properties of textiles. For me, textile is an extension of the skin and I am interested in its multifunctional layers and how to apply those in textiles”- Aniela Hoitink
According to her, the future is about 3D scanning and storing data primarily for health, security and fashion. Based on these measurements, consumers can adapt a mould of the body and the mould will be used to create the personalised garment.
She is considered a pioneer in wearable technology, developing innovative and biological textiles with universities and institutes
In addition to her book Dynamic Skin, she has also been awarded numerous grants, honours and awards, including the Global Change Award in 2018 and the GEC Textile Award in 2022 for her research into wearable technology.
She has been named one of the Hello Tomorrow Deep Tech Pioneers of 2020 and one of the 100 most innovative women in the world.
Technology does link one to another use cases. Another example is of London-based Fifty-One Apparel founded by Louise Nicholson. Louise actually often heard about the symptoms of menopause and the hot flashes. After researching, she came across the data of National Institutes of Health which states that 1.3 million people in the United States begin to experience symptoms of menopause each year, usually characterised by feelings of intense heat known as hot flashes.
This gave her an idea to research more about the potential gap in the market which does not cater to this idea. Upon researching, she came across ‘outlast’, a material developed by NASA. Basically, the ‘outlast’ technology helps to regulate the astronaut’s body temperature. Usually, the fabric interprets the body’s heat, stores it and releases it back when the body begins to cool.
“Our clothes are not a medical remedy and we stress they do not cure, but rather alleviate the symptoms. The best endorsements are the customers who are coming back 2,3 and 4 times and I think that is the best indicator of how well our range has been received,”- Louise Nicholson.
On prototyping, she developed clothes with temperature-regulating properties that help in relieving menopausal discomfort like hot flashes for women. While exploring high-tech fabrics for regulating temperatures, she founded fabrics, which ignored the cold flashes that often follow hot flashes during menopause.
The initial products, a line of shirts in four styles, were first sold to consumers in London and later the company expanded to e-commerce, selling tops, bottoms and nightwear globally. It is further expanding its range of outlast-based products, including accessories like scarves, facemasks and turbans.
Louise Nicholson has a background in textile marketing and has been running a textile agency for the past 10 years.
With two decades in designing wearable technology, functional apparel and soft goods with smart textiles, Founder of Interwoven Design Group, Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman’s experience spans across as an industrial and fashion designer, researcher and professor at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. She is former design director at Nike, Champion and Fila, with background in performance apparel, product design and interior architecture. She is a pioneered researcher in design methodologies and smart materials. She is Founder of the Intelligent Materials Applied Research and Innovation (IMARI) Lab at Pratt and Interwoven Design Group, an interdisciplinary design practice specialising in smart textiles and functional apparel.
She is also the author of Inventing the future of fabrics, published many articles and speaks internationally on innovation, design and future. Furthermore, she has won grant funding from Intel, The NYC Media Lab COMBINE, Verizon Connected Futures and NASA. Her latest work includes the Apex exoskeleton suit by HeroWear and it’s for logistic workers that have to do repetitive lifting. One thing she introduced was the idea of modularity in the suit so it could cater to the wider range of body shapes and sizes. The Apex Exosuit was recognised with SPARK Platinum Design Award. Additionally, some of her latest projects include ‘BioWear’, a kinetic accessory that communicates the wearer’s emotions; ‘Remo Haptics’, a wearable sports training device; and the ‘Delta Glove’ by PureCarbon and lately, she has been also redesigning and re-developing Maimi Dolphins Cheer Squad uniforms. Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman was also named one of IDSA’s (Industrial Design Society of America) 20/20 for both her work promoting diversity in design.
Box (Will have more names)- Will provide to Peeyush sir directly from the conclusion.
Indian Researchers are the backbone of the smart wearables Industry
It’s very important to understand that business research helps to identity opportunities and threats and helps identify problems and using this information, products can be built around, therefore it’s not wrong to call research the ultimate backbone of the industry.
One such name is of Rashmi Thakur who is an Assistant Professor, NIFT & COO-Smart Wearable Systems Incubator. Her domain ranges to Protech textiles, Smart wearables, Process optimisation, AI-enabled Automation Protective Textiles, Activewear, Smart Wearables (E-Textiles), Product and Process Optimisation via Statistical and Computational Techniques, Non-woven Technology. She received PhD in Textile Technology from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi in March 2015. Her doctoral research is in the area of Fibrous Electret Air Filters. During her doctoral study, she was involved in research related to non-woven applications such as separation and purification, absorption, insulation, etc. Presently, she is Chief Operating Officer for Smart Wearable Systems Incubator, under NIFT Foundation for Design Innovation which aims at incubating business ideas in the field of textile-based smart wearables. Further, she specialises in product development in the area of technical textiles and process optimisation through statistical analysis. She has recently fallen for honing herself with skills related to Machine learning and IoT to come up with Smart Products and Processes.
Yet another woman who has made a significant contribution to the wearable clothing industry is Indian-based Researcher Deepti Gupta who is currently Professor at IIT Delhi’s Department of Textile Technology since 2012, has an impressive academic experience spanning over thirty-five years. She started her career as an Assistant Professor and has published more than 100 papers in both national and international journals. Her expertise lies in Surface Functionalisation of textiles, Eco-friendly finishing of textiles, Processing of natural fibres, Textile-Microbe interactions, Functional Clothing, Anthropometry and Garment Sizing. Additionally, Deepti is engaged in mentoring a start-up company involved in creating AI-enabled smart clothing. Notably, she belongs to the esteemed 2 per cent most cited scientists worldwide list compiled by Stanford University for Materials Science in 2020 and 2021. Additionally she is part of IIT Delhi’s Professorial Committee for School of Information Technology.
Some of her work interests span from eco-friendly finishing of textiles, antimicrobial finishes using chitosan, studies on natural dyes, design of protective gear for Indian motorcyclists, assistive/ therapeutic clothing, mamapod to physiogaming glove for rehabilitative compliance of autistic kids. She has also designed fabrics for summerwear uniforms of Indian Army soldiers, developed high-wicking property fabric and engineering pressure garments and many other topics. She also takes numerous workshops and is part of many R&D projects.
Challenging yet exciting
This shift has sparked a revolution in the fashion industry, with designers and manufacturers striving to develop creative and stylish products that cater to this expanding market – all backed by research and product launch until now. The list of pioneering women in the smart textile sector is endless. Pauline Van Dongen, Nancy Triburg, Maddy Maxes, Stacey Bur, Elina Nurrka, Neha Singh, Suzanne Lee, Neri Oxman are some names that have been at the forefront of the wearables industry. A notable common point in all the entrepreneurs is that they have been all early movers into the industry and were product visionaries when it came to amalgamation of fashion and technology. Even though it’s a positive spectrum of opportunity but no one truly knows where it will lead ; much like David Hasselhoff’s LED jacket from 1989 which was once considered ahead of its time but faded away quickly as well questioning the mass adoption, but for now it remains unknown as to whether the future 15 years down the line would be more of fashion tech or it will completely switch to skin tech or vision tech!