Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of articles talking about the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things (or IoT) consists of everyday “smart” devices that are connected to and through the web.  Through the web, these devices may also be connected to each other.  Through the use of applications, the IoT enables people to control, manage, and interact with their different devices; often through a single device  – think using an app on your iPhone to set your home security system or to track your heart rate on a Fitbit.  By connecting individual smart devices with the web and each other, the IoT has transformed the way people work and live.  But that transformative power is not without challenges for consumers and industries alike.  Reading these articles had me thinking about the connection between the IoT and fashion.

Of course, the IoT affects the fashion industry. Not only does the IoT impact the business side of fashion (think e-commerce, app based marketing, and consumer data tracking and usage), but the use of technology to create and connect wearables and “smart” apparel is growing.   A number of designers and brands are exploring ways that clothing and accessories can connect with the internet to enhance the wearer’s management of health and fitness, scheduling, messaging, and interaction with other people and the world at large. In short, the fashion in wearables and smart apparel has as much to do with its web connectivity and usage as its style and appearance.

Whether on a wearable device or woven into apparel, smart technology that collects and stores user data and is app driven through a connection with the web is part of the IoT and susceptible to all of the challenges that come with it.  Privacy and security are two of the most recognizable challenges in the IoT. People are often so excited to own and use the latest smart device or wearable that they don’t stop to consider the kinds of personal information the device may be collecting, storing, and sharing or whether they have sufficient control that data or its sale, publication, or disclosure to third parties. Further, aside from setting a password or code, most consumers don’t spend much time worrying about whether a connected device is secure from hackers or other threats – especially if the device is one they wear, hold, or use in their home where it seems to be somewhat insulated from those concerns.

In the context of fashion technology and its connection to and through the IoT, other issues and challenges include:

  • Determining who owns all or part of a wearer’s data.
  • Consent to use of data to track the wearer’s behavior and suggest other products or devices for purchase.
  • Liability for device malfunctions that put the wearer’s privacy or data security at risk.
  • A wearer’s lack of awareness of the enhanced capabilities of a wearable or smart apparel.
  • The ability of smart apparel or wearables to determine patterns, habits, and behaviors of wearers and expose vulnerabilities.
  • Types of encryption and other security features necessitated by the function of a smart garment or wearable.
  • Risks of having a piece of clothing or wearable be vulnerable to a hack that would threaten the health or personal safety of the wearer.
  • The utility and legality of consumer consent agreements – especially if an application or a device has the ability to automatically “consent” to transactions on behalf of the wearer because the wearer’s signature and credit card information are housed in the wearable.

One difficulty with resolving these issues and challenges is that existing laws may not readily address or allocate risks of using smart devices, clothing, or wearables that continually sense and track personal behaviors, biometrics, and other private data. But smart, forward-thinking fashion professionals will be aware of these challenges and work to resolve them during development, so that their smart fashion offers consumers a stylish, connected garment or wearable that minimizes  risks of being connected.