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Self-Monitoring Through Smart Clothing: The Next Big Trend in the Sports and Fitness Industry

Post Smart Watches and Smart Glasses, Smart Clothing is emerging as the next big thing that fitness freaks are hooked onto. Until recently, interactive clothing or Smart Clothing as a product was struggling to enter the mass market. This is because it was considered as a bulky electronic device without much of value addition. However on account of the recent technological innovations such as improved conductive fibers, miniaturization of sensors and advancements in Nanotechnology, Smart Clothing is experiencing a strong demand especially from the sports and fitness segment.  Moreover, the development of sensors that are smaller in size, lighter , low in costs , use lesser power and can be readily embedded in clothing has enabled Smart Clothing that are truly wearable and exhibit dynamic functionalities.

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Smart Clothing is constituted from nanofibers and sensors. These wearable sensors  are integrated into the fabric & deliver information and feedback regarding the vital parameters that help to keep the body conditioned and fit. The clothing with microscopic sensors and wireless networks is sensitive enough to produce ECG-style data. Moreover, Smart Clothing is durable for washing and rugged use as it has water and wind resistant technology and consists of an anti-microbial fabric.

Sensors: Adding dynamism to Smart Clothing: Ultimately it’s all about the game of sensors, which are solely responsible for introducing dynamism to Smart Clothing. For fitness, Self-monitoring is 10 times more effective than monitoring with the help of a coach. These days’ athletes, coaches, fitness freaks have apparel options that can gather their workout performance information by using sensors embedded in the fabric. These sensors monitor and wirelessly transmit athletes’ heart rates, respiration rate temperature, thus providing them with real time biometrics. Throughout the session, athletes are able to track their personalized heart rate, measure their training goals, and obtain a detailed fitness report at the end of the workout that summarizes their activity and provides insights to maximize their performance. This helps in building athletes’ endurance through proper self-monitoring. Measuring biometrics such as temperature, heart rates etc. can also be done by using other wearable technologies such as Smart rings, Smart bands etc. but what gives smart clothing an edge is its ability to provide advanced functionalities. For instance, athlete is conscious about his hydration levels. Thus he/she might intermittently check for their body fluid content and avoid dehydration while exercising or engaging in sports.

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For runners and players, smart clothing can double up as their personal guide to avoid injuries. For instance, Smart Clothing gives useful information regarding the degree of movement within the joint, so that the players can avoid unnecessary jerks to their joints. For example a person playing badminton can even visualize the degrees of pronation and supination required for a particular shot thus eliminating the chances of injury at elbow. Runners can keep a track of their hip and knee joint flexion extension while running thus avoiding ligament sprain or muscle strain in the lower extremity specially knee joint which is vulnerable to injuries caused by hyperextension. Thus Smart Clothing as a product category is extremely efficacious as the real beauty of the technology lies in predicting the injury before it happens.

Additionally, the future will witness Smart Clothing with capabilities that extend beyond predicting and recording vital parameters. At present, the technology used in Smart Clothing is only effective for providing and monitoring feedback. Nevertheless, the ongoing R&D activities in this space suggest that the in the future, we will have access to smart clothing with therapeutic properties. For example, blue light frequency emitting Smart Clothing may alleviate the pain arising from muscle strain. Thus, our life will definitely become smarter and safer with all these technological advancements happening in the Smart Clothing space.

Big League names make an entry into the Smart clothing Business: Visualizing the scope and demand of the product and in a bid to capitalize over the market potential of Smart Clothing, companies in the sports and fitness industry have started playing smart by doing product variations with the help of different sensors. For example, major players are introducing products such as Smart Socks, Smart Soles, Smart Pajamas, Smart T-shirts, Smart Jackets, Smart Shorts etc. Major companies to watch out for in this smart game include AIQ’s Smart Clothing, Hexoskin, OMSignal, Footfalls and Heartbeats, Nike, Adidas, Electric foxy, Ralph Lauren, Sensoria and Athos. More and more sports companies in the big league are planning to replace their existing markets with the smart products. Further, these big league smart clothing companies have started initiating their marketing campaigns at the launch ceremonies of international games and are offering prelaunch discount offers. However, the future of technology oriented products rests more on their performance than on marketing gimmicks. Hence, Smart Clothing companies are playing hard to introduce more technological changes and lower prices so that the product appeals to masses. On the Whole, the Smart Clothing space has become extremely competitive. Given that firms from the big league are battling it out, it will be interesting to watch out for who captures the target market first as we all know the horse that finishes a neck ahead wins the race.

This blog is written by Lekha Gyanchandani, Sr Analyst with Dart Consulting.