Stylish Wearable Technology You’ll Actually Want to Wear

As the demand for personal tech hits fever pitch, Kate Wilkinson, reports on the race to design more stylish wearables

Future Models: Models wore first-generation GooGle Glasses on Diane Von Furstenberg's spring 2013 runway. DVF has designed five frame styles for Glass, available on Net-a-Porter
(Photo: Anthea Simms)

Future Models: Models wore first-generation Google Glasses on Diane Von Furstenberg’s spring 2013 runway. DVF has designed five frame styles for Glass, available on

IT’S EARLY EVENING AND I’m sprinting towards the bus terminal at Toronto’s Union Station. But as I finally close in on my ride, I get distracted by a vibration originating from my left wrist: my Fitbit seems to be having a small celebration. As it turns out, I’ve completed my first 10,000-step day—a big deal in Fitbitville. It was week one of my dive into the “quantified self” movement, a term that’s come into wider use recently thanks to a proliferation of wearable gadgets that track steps, heart rate, caloric intake, sleep quality and more.

My Fitbit most definitely activated my competitive streak—I found myself taking the stairs over the elevator, and extending my runs to hit more daily steps. There was just one problem: you’re supposed to wear it all the time. Although the company’s PR rep optimistically noted that the hue of the model she sent me was reminiscent of Radiant Orchid, Pantone’s much-hyped Color of the Year, I just wasn’t keen on sporting the clunky band outside of the gym.

I’m not the only one underwhelmed by the unfashionability of first-gen wearables. Stylish types I spoke to for this piece lamented the lack of options—“I would definitely appreciate something prettier being put out into the market,” says Sydney Wills, owner of Toronto boutique The Narwhal and a Jawbone UP devotee. An Elle.com editor went so far as to write of the Nike+ FuelBand that she “wouldn’t be caught dead with that ugly rubber thing.” That said, the FuelBand did appear on a lot of stylish wrists, including that of Vogue’s Chloe Malle, who outlined her devotion in a piece entitled “Band of Insiders: How the Nike+ FuelBand Became the A-list’s Chicest Accessory,” thus opening the fashion world’s eyes to the wearables game. (Surprisingly, months after this endorsement, it was reported that Nike would stop production on the FuelBand.)

Market researchers are now predicting Birkin-level demand for wearables. Deloitte estimates they’ll be a $3-billion USD market this year, while IDC Canada expects just under 8.5 million wearable tech units to be shipped into Canada between 2013 and 2018. One of IDC’s surveys found that approximately 18 percent of Canadians were interested in fitness-tracking devices; in the United States, Nielsen pegs adult interest at nearly 50 percent. Design is a crucial selling point—more than half of the Nielsen respondents said they’d be more likely to wear a wearable if it looked less cumbersome gadget, more chic accessory. Micah Cameron, a Fitbit fan and the women’s fashion director at Hudson’s Bay, is keeping a close watch. “Designers have the ability to push wearable technology to the forefront,” she says. And thus, the race to design a more stylish smart-thing is on.

First up, the Fitbit. In July, the company unveiled its collaboration with Tory Burch. “The challenge was to design versatile pieces that could house the tracking device and look chic enough for work or evenings,” says Melanie Chase, a product marketing manager for Fitbit. Two jewellery pieces—a brass pendant and a hinged bracelet— can house a Fitbit Flex tracker and feature the same geometric fretwork as on the preppy designer’s bags and flats, while a logoed version of the original fitness band will be available in navy and fuchsia come August 31.

Opening Ceremony, purveyor of cool for avant garde early adopters, is working with Intel to develop its own smart bracelet, to be sold at Barneys later this year. While details are scant, Opening Ceremony co-founders (and Kenzo creative directors) Carol Lim and Humberto Leon will reportedly design it themselves. Aside from this project, Intel has also launched a “Make It Wearable” competition, in which developers and designers create pieces of apparel-based technology.

Samsung, meanwhile, launched the Gear 2 smartwatch in April—one of the sexier models currently on the market—consisting of a square touchscreen watch face, available in three colours, tethered to a flat rubber wristband. It connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone and alerts the wearer of calls, texts, appointments and more.

The Samsung Gear Fit smartwatch—also launched in April—more resembles a fitness band with a narrow touchscreen. In addition to basic smartwatch functions, the Fit tracks heart rate, calories and exertion. Samsung has already paired with several designers on Gear Fit collabos; most recently, Swarovski designed a set of charms.

Google is also giving its wearable tech range a glittery makeover—in particular, the much maligned Google Glass. Now, five decidedly cooler Glass frames, designed by Diane Von Furstenberg, are hitting Net-a-Porter. And after entering an agreement with Luxottica, the world’s largest eyewear producer, Glass likely has its sights set on sportif collabos with Luxottica partner brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley.

Google has also been working with Motorola on the hotly anticipated Moto 360 smartwatch, which tech blogs suggest will be released in August. The Android-based wearable reportedly features a classic round watch face and leather band, and an interface with Google Hangouts.

Apple, long rumoured to have an iWatch in the works, is taking these hybrids a step further by actually hiring fashion executives. In recent months, it has lured VIPs from Burberry, Saint Laurent and LVMH; a device is rumoured to be unveiled in late fall.

With more designer wearables available in the near future—albeit most only whispered about at this point—stylish wrists are standing by. Cameron, for one, is optimistic about the marriage of fashion and tech. “You can create loyal brand followers,” she says, “by going beyond the realm of strictly functional pieces, and into a world where style and function can coexist.”

Four Wearables You’ll Actually Want To Wear

SAmsung Gear 2 smartwatch

Samsung Wear 2 smartwatch, $329, Future Shop

Tory Burch for Fitbit necklace, $189, Toryburch.com

DVF Made For Glass glasses (currently available in the US only, via Net-a-porter.com)

Motorola Moto 360 smartwatch, $268 (not yet available; visit Motorola.ca for more information)

 

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