Barneys, Michael Kors among fashion brands eyeing wearables

Wearables are quickly extending beyond tech companies and fitness brands. Fashion houses are also sizing up the market and exploring ways to create wearables for a new breed of shopper.

Wearables rang up $475 million in sales during the last 12 months, according to the NPD Group, and awareness is growing fast: 52 percent of consumers said they had heard of wearable technology devices as of January.

"I expect the market to double in size over the next 12 months given the interest from consumers, the number of companies entering the space, and the fact that Apple and Google have yet to release hardware into the consumer market," Ben Arnold, a senior analyst at NPD told Women's Wear Daily.

And while much of this is driven by wearable fitness and activity trackers, it likely won't be long until that changes and chips become embedded into fabric, jewelry and accessories.

"Our thinking on wearables is that they should absolutely go much beyond the fitness and sports focus they have," Alyse Ildeniz, VP and general manager of Intel's New Devices Group, told WWD. Ildeniz predicts there will be 50 billion "intelligent things" in existence by 2020, including all the components of the connected home and Internet of Things.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) have all made clear their intentions to expand into the wearables market, but recent moves by Intel promise to move the wearables market forward substantially.

In January, Intel formed a partnership with Barneys New York and fashion label Opening Ceremony to create attractive wearable devices including a bracelet expected in-store by this holiday season. The technology company is also acting as a matchmaker of sorts, connecting more than 400 members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America with hardware and software developers.

Our shared vision is to accelerate wearable technology innovation and create products that both enhance peoples' lives and are desirable to wear," said Ildeniz at the time.

"One of the greatest opportunities for wearable technology as a concept to be successful is fairly simple—to design a beautiful accessory that our customers would desire," said Daniella Vitale, COO, Barneys. "It is exciting to be part of an elite group of brands to bring the reality of smart fashion to life."

Sixty U.S. fashion designers have offered feedback, and a June 3 event attracted brands such as Cartier, Chanel, Michael Kors and Tory Burch.

Diane Von Furstenberg's design for Google Glass is selling for $1,700 on Net-A-Porter and the online retailer will offer an exclusive collection of smart jewelry from Kovert in the fall. 

The key will be incorporating technology and creating wearable tech that offers useful features, not just "wow" products. Each must offer a unique attribute in keeping with the brand promise, but could provide a new way for retailers and designers to connect with shoppers and forge a new kind of loyalty.

For more:
-See this Barneys New York announcement 
-See this Women's Wear Daily story (subscription required)

Related stories:
Barneys' new app exclusively for iPad
Staples debuts connected home complete with wearables
How Google's smartwatches will boost retail sales
Amazon's wearable store gives category stamp of approval
Luxottica Group partners with Google Glass for eyewear distribution

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