Tech companies banking on wearables for the wrist better watch out for apparel. So-called smartwear is only just entering the race, but analysts see explosive growth for this category as wearables literally vie for consumers’ attention.
On Monday Montreal-based OMsignal switched on its app for iOS devices as it delivers the first batch of its biometric shirts for men who ordered them online last summer (a women’s line is said to be coming “soon”). The company aims to capitalize on its early mover advantage; trying to generate buzz by outfitting early adopters, athletes and influencers with its biometric workout top and undershirts.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by consumer reaction,” co-founder and CEO Stéphane Marceau told FoxNews.com. The company has sold thousands of the biometric, machine-washable shirts at $199 each (including the black box data recorder) to customers from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Australia, he added. “We haven’t had pushback on price point,” said Marceau. “We’re fortunate.”
OMsignal’s biometric smart wear tracks your heart rate, breathing, activity levels, calories burned, steps and a proprietary function known as your “push” - the intensity of your workout. The functionality allows enthusiasts to track their most sedentary or active moments during a day and includes a biometric test and exercises.
The secret sauce is in the shirt’s yarn, which features sensors that pick up currents from the heart and record your breathing. The sensors transmit the signals to a business card-sized black box that snaps onto the side of the compression shirt. The data is then sent via Bluetooth LE in real-time or when you pair with an iOS smart device (Android compatibility is forthcoming and a web-based dashboard may be added later).
Marceau says that the company actually pared down the options after getting feedback during beta testing that the technology had too many options and was confusing.
And while he would like for OMsignal to create discord in the wearables and athletic apparel market, Marceau is looking beyond athletes and weekend warriors to make a name for his company: “What we have is a platform,” he told FoxNews.com. “We’re the Lego blocks for smart clothing.”
“The CEO explained that the company has two “go to market” channels - direct to consumers and licensing to consumer apparel brands who want to offer smartwear, but don’t have the technological expertise to create it.
Ralph Lauren was the first company to license OMsignal apparel, slapping Polo logos on the biometric shirts for the ball boys it outfitted at the U.S. Open in August. Marcos Giron, the top collegiate singles player who made his Grand Slam debut at the tournament, wore the Polo Tech shirts in practice and tracked his biometric readings. The fashion label claimed it was the first time a global sporting event was used to launch a collection of wearable products.
Marceau wouldn’t say whether this partnership will continue or if others are in the offing, saying only that “we’re bullish on OMsignal as a platform enabling major brands and innovating a market.”
He added, “If you wear it, it is partly fashion. (Ralph Lauren) was clear; clothing is the most ubiquitous material because it gets the best signal. It’s the only wearable we’ve worn our entire life.”
Analysts say this type of white-label service may fuel expansion faster than trying to make a name in the competitive world of performance athletic gear dominated by household names such as Nike, adidas and Under Armour.
“If you can get an entrée with an established brand like Ralph Lauren, it certainly could help them,” notes Matt Powell, sports industry analyst with the NPD Group, adding, “Performance sportswear is one of the hottest segments in the market. More brands are putting greater emphasis on performance sportswear - it could give a brand not seen as athletic a little credibility.”
Powell says OMsignal can also gain traction as a brand with street cred in its own right, just as Under Armour grew, if athletes believe “it’s a performance story and gravitate towards it”.
Currently smart clothing sales barely register among wearables, but research firm Gartner sees explosive growth over the next two years, from just 10,000 units last year to a robust 26 million in 2016. Interestingly, it forecasts the gains at the expense of wristbands and chest straps.
Device Category 2013 2014 2015 2016
Smart Wristband 30 20 17 19
Sports Watch 14 18 21 24
Fitness monitor 18 20 12 15
Chest Strap 11 12.1 8 7.3
Smart Garment 0.01 0.1 10.1 26
Total Market 73.01 70.2 68.1 91.3
(Sales in millions of units)
In a recent note, Gartner wrote that, “the smart garment product category has the greatest potential for growth going forward because the category is emerging from the testing phase and smart shirts are available to athletes and coaches of professional teams.”
While it seems natural that athletes and coaches would want to closely monitor their conditioning and health, OMsignal executives joke that, much to the dismay of their children, the hometown Montreal Canadiens have not called about the shirts. Several of their NHL rivals have, however, approached the company.
Sports aside, NPD’s Powell notes the future growth for wearables may come largely from new applications in medicine and wellness - updating doctors on whether you take medication as prescribed and if there are any adverse side effects, or monitoring blood pressure.
The company would seem poised to cover an elastic market, after all it has the technology and financing to boot. OMsignal raised $10 million in a recent round of venture capital funding and Flextronics, which makes the black box, is a partner.
OMsignal CEO Marceau says that the firm is investigating medical markets, plus military and rescue personnel, but as a 40-person operation it is focusing first and foremost on targeting the affluent, active athlete or athletic apparel aficionado with a higher purpose: “The aspiration for the platform is that it underpins multiple products for fitness, wellness, and some day for medical. To live fitter, healthier and happier lives,” he said.