Is the Internet of Things (IoT) the new fashion disruptor? Just Style

Internet of Things disruption

We have seen the Internet of Things (IoT), not just in electronics, but also in the apparel industry. Forward-thinking companies that are eager to innovate and stay ahead of their competitors invest in smart clothing and textiles development.

Defined as “physical objects with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet or other communications networks”It is difficult to imagine the role IoT will play in clothing. Yet we’ve seen smart wearables, smart shoes and smart textiles developed in recent years, but the uptake is slow. Amazon, Auchan and Ikea are just a few of the IoT-savvy retailers and apparel companies that use it.

IoT Innovation Adoption

Nike Inc designed and launched a pair of self-lacing trainers that adapt to the shape of a wearer’s foot and can be controlled via a smartphone. The shoe is placed on the foot and a custom motor adjusts to it. Wearers can customise settings for when they’d like the shoe to loosen or tighten. This concept is based upon research that shows feet swell during sports.

The app allows users the ability to personalise LED colours for their shoes, each representing a level or tightness.

Cyrcadia Health has launched the iTBra, which alerts women to early signs of breast carcinoma. It can assess breast wellness by wearing the bra for up 24 hours. The bra measures the temperature of breast cancer cells and transmits this information to a real time database. A smartphone app alerts the user and their doctor if there is an abnormal reading.

IoT clothing seems to be a major focus on health. Sensoria Fitness has launched a line for workout gear that tracks performance and health and reports it to a smartphone app.

While Tommy Hilfiger has embedded IoT into the casual wear of its Tommy Jeans Xplore line. 

The user-controlled, colour-changing fabric ChroMorphous, which can be controlled by textiles, can change its colour in response to temperature changes.

IoT in supply chain

Global Data recently released a report that showed that 80% of respondents are female. ‘Internet of Things in Retail and Apparel’Retailers are also increasingly interested in technology that allows them to move items in their supply chain without human intervention.

“Automating the supply chain and minimizing labour can bring major efficiencies. This area is becoming important as retail sales increasingly bypass stores and wholesale and go directly to consumers,”The report is as follows.

“Smart shelves, cameras, and radio frequency identification (RFID) chips on products in stores or warehouses help update retail item inventory records instantly. They also enable faster coordination across retailers for inventory stock replenishment.”

According to the National Retail Federation, 8% of US consumer goods are returned each year. This is equivalent to $260bn. IoT can be used for diagnosing product issues in transit. This will significantly reduce the likelihood of returns and associated costs to retailers.

“Diagnosing supply chain problems remotely favours both retailers and customers as retailers can minimise cost and reduce the burden on their supply chains while keeping customers content,” GlobalData’s report reads.

Living Packets is an IoT delivery startup that packages items in bags with interior sensors and locks that monitor temperature, weight, humidity and shock to prevent damage. The sender and the company receive an alert if items are tampered with. To prevent cargo theft and visibility of inventory in transit, GPS tracking can also be used to track the fleet of products being transported by trucks.

Profiting from the retail shift

IoT has been easier to adopt in retail, with companies keen on capitalising on the shift to online shopping following the Covid-19 pandemic.

To maintain customer interest and improve retention, interactive web pages, apps and new product launches were accelerated by the pandemic. In reality, IoT adoption in retail has been accelerated in many ways.

Lululemon, a brand of athleticwear, is one such adopter. The retailer, which acquired fitness tech start-up Mirror in 2020, has placed the power of stock inventory management in its customers’ hands. Instead of asking a store associate for support, customers scan a barcode on the item’s tag with the Lululemon app. This redirects customers directly to the product page of the online store. It then runs real-time inventory, sorting by proximity, to check stock at all local stores.

GlobalData estimates that the global IoT retail market will be worth US$25.6bn by 2025. This is up from $19.3bn for 2020. It has grown at a compound annual rate (CAGR), of 5.8%.

Aptos’ vice president of retail innovation, Nikki Baird, told Just Style that they are seeing the highest demand for IoT in the omnichannel.

“From mid-2020 to mid-2022 our customers’ omnichannel businesses and the amount of revenue they were generating or buying from home to ship to store doubled in two years and at the same time the online business was growing outrageously high. There’s a lot of experimenting going on – that’s what we’re seeing from our customers.”

An industry that is not up to date?

However, IoT adoption is slower in retail than in other industries, as it is often adopted within the limits of retail supply chain analytics or personalisation. These technologies only make up a small percentage of the overall retail picture. IoT adoption has not been mainstreamed in clothing.

Edwin Keh (CEO, Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel) believes IoT has limited adoption.

“The main application that I see is with consumer facing applications. A lot of tech has been pushed into stores and interfaced with customers by the pandemic. These tools, as well as contactless purchasing in stores and customer service online, have all gained popularity in the past few years. Market turmoils have made many legacy regression analysis less accurate and poor predictors of future preferences. This has led to a lot more attention being paid to forward-looking tools in real time. IoT is the key enabler.

He explained: IoT is increasingly being used in supply chains to track production, improve transparency and reduce lead times. There are still many opportunities and work to be done. Supply chains are still behind the curve in adopting new tools. The big drivers here for future adoption are if IoT can accelerate deliveries, reduce inventory risks, increase agility, and drive down costs.”

Future of IoT in apparel and retail

The jury is still out on whether IoT has a future in retail and clothing.

Retailers in particular have found RFID to be a popular tool to monitor stock levels. However, Baird said that their customers remain divided on how important RFID should be.

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“There are the evangelists who say we didn’t think there was a business case but we did a trial and now we can’t go back to the time of not having the level of visibility that article tagging gives us. 

“The biggest barrier is not the tag costs, it’s the reader cost, especially in the place you need it the most which is in the store. You need full coverage – it’s not enough to have a few hand-helds.

“I thought there was a great business case for apparel with RFID but there is a slowness in terms of the take-off for that – it’s a paradigm shift in the way you think – retailers haven’t been very good at making that shift. 

“We’ll chip away at the nay-sayers and get there. But we’re talking about ten years before the shift really happens.” 

Despite this, GlobalData’s report suggests IoT is a technology trend in retail that is here to stay, particularly around M&A.

“There is an opportunity for major retail and apparel players to acquire key IoT software to bolster their position in the tech space,”It says.

TokenPay Swiss bought Naked Brand Group, an ecommerce platform for intimate and swimwear, in March 2019. KBS Fashion also purchased Tribe Private, which was worth an undisclosed sum.

GlobalData presents a forward-looking timeline of the future IoT in retail, apparel and other industries:

2022 – IoT-related supply chain and chip manufacturing will become more flexible and robust.

2023 – Industrial IoT connections will overtake consumer ones by 2023, according to GSMA.

2025 – Near ubiquitous connectivity for IoT devices lowers the cost of operation to below 1c per day. According to GSMA, the number of IoT devices will reach 25.1 billion. IoT is expected to be the driving force of semiconductor companies.

2030 – The use of AR and VR in IoT will be pervasive.

2035 – There will be one trillion IoT devices, according to predictions by Arm.

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