The big trend for the latter part of the twenty-teens (that is, the decade in which we now find ourselves) will be wearable technology. This is already happening to a certain degree, of course: smartwatches are out in the marketplace (let's be honest, though. The reason that they haven't been heavily taken up is that Apple haven't released one yet) and heads-up displays like Google Glass are only going to be seen more on the streets. But, as the RFID chips that we already carry in our debit and credit cards become cheaper and easier to build, the era of smart clothing is getting closer all the time.
A fascinating article for Business Of Fashion shows us what we can expect to see in our clothes stores in the next ten years or so. If you still believe in privacy, it makes for a disturbing read. The ability for a shop to pluck our colour preferences, shoe size or loyalty to a brand from a connected mobile device is not that far away, and that data can as easily be embedded into a chip in our clothing. It remains to be seen whether the Nike Store would ever refuse access to someone with a history of shopping for Adidas clothing, but the main thrust of the article is pretty clear: the relationship between us, our shopping habits and the high street is about to become one heck of a lot more complicated.
In the light of the recent raid of millions of customer's data from American big box store Target, I think we need to stay informed about the way retailers are likely to use technology to "enhance the shopping experience." Information is power, after all. But I remain optimistic about smart clothing. For one thing, there's no reason why the flow of data can't go both ways.
I mentioned in a post last week that transparency is going to become a major trend in ethical fashion in 2014, and these new technologies are likely to become a major factor in allowing that to happen. Imagine you buy a jumper from Gap that has an embedded chip containing the tale of the journey it took to get to you. Scanning the chip would allow you to track where the textiles in the jumper came from, who wove it and where, and its carbon footprint. Perhaps there could even be links to website forums where you could chat to the workers directly.
In the same way that microchipping your pet is a common practice now, chipping your clothes could become the norm in ten years or so. That's bound to have a knock-on effect: if we become more interested in where our clothes come from and who makes them, we're more likely to be concerned and speak up if abuse comes to light in the system. The connection between us, our clothing, and the worldwide impact that it has can be strengthened by using technology that allows us to make those connections.
There's no reason to be afraid of the way the High Street is planning to use smart and embedded tech, as long as we're aware that the camera can face both ways, and that as they are watching us, we too can be watching them.