The article first appeared on Forbes.
Thought the $5.8 billion global wearable technology market was all about wristbands? Wrong.
Pauline Van Dongen is one of Europe’s leaders in the field and says the future is about so much more than your smartwatch.
Apple fans may be “stuck in a device paradigm”, but cutting-edge innovators are all about the potential of smart clothes, the designer explains.
“The next transition is to embed technology into textiles, like we do in our studio, and to look at the materials from a material and aesthetic point of view, not only from a functional perspective.”
Big brands are climbing on board
In Europe, fashion houses like Britain’s CuteCircuit and Berlin’s ElektroCouture have forged ahead of this curve. Now, big tech businesses have started taking note too (in recent years Google has made a smart jacket with Levi’s, while Samsung designed its own NFC suit).
And it’s Pauline Van Dongen’s studio in the Netherlands that’s breaking boundaries for some of the world’s most prominent brands.
It has worked with everyone from the $28.9 billion electronics giant Philips to fast-growing non-latex condom company Skyn, a line that belongs to the $600 million Lifestyles Healthcare—and many publically undisclosed brands too.
Van Dongen projects typically cost from €2,000 to €100,000 (around $2,500–$123,000), with many often being run at the studio at the same time.
“By creating these projects, we generate a lot of value, whether that's actual products partners can sell, insights into new materials and processes, or PR value,” says the designer.
As you might expect, some of Van Dongen’s many groundbreaking designs have sprung from partnerships with existing fashion innovators.
For example, last year, the studio worked with Italdenim, a sustainable jeans pioneer founded in 1974 in Arconate, a small village near Milan.
“I particularly wanted to work with denim fabric because it's a material that everyone can identify with - everyone has a piece of denim in their wardrobe,” Van Dongen says of the collaboration.
Motivated by a desire to make technology “more human” and “mindful”, the studio developed Issho: a jacket that uses senses if you’re constantly reaching for your phone, and gives a physical response back to the wearer.
“The jacket talks to you by giving you a gentle stroke on your upper back, inviting you to be more in the present moment,” Van Dongen explains.
The studio has also worked with sustainable Dutch fashion retailer Blue Loop Originals to create a solar-powered windbreaker. It’s today worn by tour guides of Germany’s Wadden Sea Society to help them stay charged and better assist their visitors.
“It invites you to go outside and be in the sunshine to harness your own energy,” says Van Dongen.
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