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New market for fashion brands: Making wearables wearable

As wearables gain momentum, developers are recognizing the need for fashionable appeal, leading to partnerships between technology companies and fashion brands.

A less appealing tech wearable suddenly becomes desirable after a well-known designer lends a magical touch. While some consumers are more focused on the technology, appearance means more to average consumers, and they will not adopt a wearable if it could wreck their style.

?Technology companies are going to push the limits on innovation and in some cases that will compromise the visual look of a certain product,? said Curtis Rose, senior vice president and director of technology innovation at Erwin Penland, Greenville. ?There are natural categories, such as eyewear, watches and bracelets, that make a lot of sense for fashion brands to take advantage of in the wearable industry.

?I think we will see more brands join the movement, whether it?s a brand that brings a product to the market by themselves or brands licensing or collaborating with an established product line. Incorporating Google Glass technology into a pair of Oakleys or Ray Bans is probably a lot more advantageous than those companies trying to go at it alone. 

?Success will ultimately always come down to what the consumer wants and how they are going to use these devices.?

Attractive collaborations
Consumers who prioritize style over technology are taking advantage of fashion and tech collaborations, such as fashion label Tory Burch?s jewelry applications for fitness tracking device company FitBit.

?What attracted me to Tory Burch for Fitbit is that it's a luxury lifestyle item first and a piece of technology second,? said Samantha Smith, COO at Fuzz ProductionsBrooklyn. ?That's what makes it truly wearable for me. I wore my Fitbit Flex regularly for a while, but ultimately kept forgetting to put it back on with the watch and jewelry I normally wear after it charged. 

?The Tory Burch Fitbit bracelet makes the wearable less of a separate step in my routine. It integrates the product into my behavior seamlessly and makes using it more intuitive.

?That's what technology should be: intuitive, accessible, and beautiful. That's how we build our apps, and I hold wearables to the same standard.?

Given fashion brands are established in the technology industry already, the integration is likely. Fashion labels Kate Spade and Marc Jacobs charge premium prices for their iPhone and iPad cases, and designer Jonathan Adler now carries backup iPhone chargers in different patterns. 

Kate Spade for iPhone

?Wearables will provide another avenue for brands to connect with consumers the same way they already do every time they use their phones or tablets, making the brand a true part of each consumer's daily life,? Ms. Smith said. ?It's almost inevitable that other fashion brands will foray into wearables.?

Then, there are smart watches. An upcoming release of the Motorola 360 smart watch will feature a design-first construction and one of first of its kind. Wearable tech developers are asking themselves whether consumers are going to want something more or less appealing to the human eye, and the answer is simple.

?Do consumers want to buy a Samsung watch or do they want to wear the Citizen-designed Samsung watch?? Mr. Rose said. ?I personally think it will be the latter.?

Tech vs. fashion
Wearables are furthering their reach at an exponential speed through smaller tech companies and their own designs and the attention they are getting from fashion brands. 

?You will see brands that feel like they can bring a product to the market by themselves,? Mr. Rose said. ?My guess is that we will see a mixed bag of success here. The level of investment to commit to this and do it right is extremely high.?

For fashion to be able to thrive in this market, there must be an offer that is seen as worthwhile by the consumer. 

?In many cases, the services that can be attached to these products is the part of the experience where some of these designer brands could fall short,? Mr. Rose said. ?Even technology brands struggle with it. An example is the MotoActv that has already sunset development on their consumer portal.?

Both sectors have the possibility to be successful and these collaborations have the potential to create a thriving market of their own.

?I feel these applications are extremely purposeful on all sides,? Mr. Rose said. ?They are able to extend brands that might not be technology-driven brands into a place where consumers want to see more variety and options. 

?I also think it brings a level of legitimacy to emerging technology companies that are looking to land a status-symbol kind of product. It really can help push that company to the next step of consumer adoption.?

The need for fashion
Fashionable wearable tech is a fairly new concept that is predicted to become mainstream, but it is also likely that the need for a fashionable appeal will still depend on the consumer.

?For widespread adoption, fashion appeal is an absolute,? Mr. Rose said. ?With other products that might not be as much of a status-symbol, consumers may be willing to give a little on what designer brand is wrapped around it. 

?For me, the original FitBit device was a very functional device that hid in my pocket. My next watch will likely need to have some fashion appeal to it because everyone will see it as part of my style.?

As wearables alone are becoming even more of a conventional accessory, lending these devices a fashionable appeal will be the next step for developers, and fashion brands should anticipate this call for help. Undoubtedly, these relationships will continue over the course of time, and fashion brands could use them to their advantage.

These partnerships could go a step further using an app to alert consumers when their favorite items go on sale through the wearable, much like the purpose of start-up tech company Ringly and its ring wearable (see story). 

With wearables and smartphones being tightly integrated, savvy fashions brands are likely to uncover other ways to fit their wearables offerings into an overall mobile marketing strategy. 

?Right now, wearable technology is still really new and mostly used by technology aficionados,? said Nathalie Reinelt, industry analyst at Aite Group, Phoenix. ?While this demographic is fine for early versions of the technology, companies will have to soften the aesthetics in order to appeal to a broader audience.

?Wearable technology has to first prove that it has legs to stand on with mainstream consumers. If there isn't a big enough market, many brands will pass.

?Apple, as an example, is a strong enough brand on its own that if they were to launch a wearable device, they would not necessarily need a fashion label in order to appeal to a mainstream consumer. Other wearable technology companies, however, may need to partner with fashion labels to get consumers' attention.?

Final Take
Caitlyn Bohannon, editorial assistant for Mobile Marketer, New York