A Beginner's Guide to Investing in Smart Clothing
“Smart clothing” might not as mainstream as “smartphones” or “smart TVs,” but that could be about to change — some estimates suggest that the market could be worth $4 billion by 2030. Yet with everything in its infancy, it’s the perfect time for investors to consider getting involved.
What is smart clothing?
A smart device is essentially something that performs its usual function but can also communicate with other devices, usually by accessing data through the internet of things (IoT). For example, a smart TV can connect to apps like YouTube, Netflix, and Disney+ instead of just the usual channels.
The same logic applies to smart clothing — it contains integrated sensors or other technology that allows it to do something beyond keeping us warm or fashionable. We might not be able to create shoes that will walk you to the destination you enter into GoogleMaps quite yet, but clothing that tracks fitness levels of athletes or the health of pregnant women is currently in development.
Trends in smart clothing
It’s hard to get your head around smart clothing when it’s such a foreign idea to most of us. However, looking at a few of the trends will help you gain an appreciation of what smart clothing is really all about. Smart clothing has been made possible due to the developments in material science, which has created optical fibers and conductive polymers that clothing manufacturers can use alongside standard materials (like cotton) to create clothes capable of transmitting data.
We mentioned that sensors are pivotal for smart clothing — that’s because they allow garments to collect the data needed to tell us anything useful about ourselves or what we’re doing. This is particularly challenging considering clothing needs to be washed, but researchers are currently in the process of developing them — for instance, MIT scientists created shirts that can monitor vital signs.
The power of these sensors could be increased further by using AI to offer advice to users based on their activity. For example, by offering workout programs based on fitness levels and health conditions. The defense and healthcare sectors are where a lot of innovation is taking place right now due to the obvious applications, but private companies are also entering the ring.
How to invest in smart clothing
Smart clothing is still very much an emerging area, so to invest in it, you’ll need to look at which clothing companies are researching or developing smart clothing, and the firms that will be providing them the technologies outlined above that will play a role in it. Here are a few to look at.
Jabil (JBL) is a manufacturing services company based in the U.S. Although part of its business is focused on electronics manufacturing, it also has a Diversified Manufacturing Services (DMS) segment, which includes smart clothing. As early as 2015, Jabil acquired Clothing +, a Finnish company that develops textile-integrated biometric sensors for sports. Working together, they produced smart sports bras and t-shirts that contain sensors to track biometric data.
Meanwhile, Under Armor (UA) is a popular clothing brand in the U.S. thanks to its vast collection of athletic wear, footwear, and other accessories. The designer is leading the way when it comes to smart clothing, such as its Recovery range for absorbing heat from athletes’ bodies and turning it into far-infrared light (which helps muscles recover). Although it’s not using the IoT for its clothing, this is still an impressive feat.
Another possibility is DuPont (DD), which has made some considerable advances. It created smart garments for none other than FC Barcelona in early 2019 thanks to its signature Intexar technology, which uses electronic ink and film to make fabric suitable for different applications.
An alternative approach is to invest in the technology companies working alongside these clothing manufacturing firms. Some of this will come from the usual suspects. For instance, in 2019, Google (GOOGL) trialed using its Assistant along with Levi’s commuter trucker jacket, meaning that wearers could ask their jacket the same questions they’d usually ask their phone. But Google won’t be the only player here — IBM (IBM) and Amazon (AMZN) are also known AI leaders that could enter the space. Also, investing in a fund dedicated to high-tech stocks will expose you to other AI developers.
Time to get smart
It’s hard to imagine a future where we choose clothing based not just on practicality and style but also on how it can help us to optimize our life, but a few decades ago, people probably would have said the same thing about phones. Currently, the bulk of the innovation is concentrated in sectors like defense, military, and healthcare, but this could be about to change. In-the-know investors therefore have a unique opportunity here.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.