It takes a lot to build and maintain a brand, not least because what consumers want is constantly evolving. It is unsurprising that fashion brands are increasingly looking to technology to help give them a competitive edge and companies with shiny new tech products are often keen to partner with an already successful brand.

If you can't beat them, join them

Fashion and tech have not always been seen as natural partners (if you google images of techies, suffice it to say, the stereotype does not involve them wearing Prada) but fashion and technology are coming together in a variety of ways, one of the most high profile of which is wearables. Fashion products are changing to incorporate or even showcase emerging tech. Looking at it the other way around, consumers want good looks as well as high functionality in their tech. This is a potentially lucrative symbiosis made all the more appealing when it is accessorised by the power of data which is proving invaluable to help analyse consumer trends and capture real time activity (see our article for more on fashion and data).

Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion, believes that "the fashion industry has been very slow to adopt technology, however, there is a growing recognition of the major benefits of coming together with technology and emerging sectors" as demonstrated by the latest successful collaborations involving Apple and Hermès and, more recently, Balmain and Beats.

Captivating the consumer

As we know from Google Glass, people won't wear a product if they think it makes them look a bit daft, however innovative it may be. Only a perfect match of innovative technology and distinctive aesthetics will provide the right balance for desirable products.

Another pain point is getting the price right. Apple famously gets its customers to pay high prices based on its designs as much as the functionality of its products, but monetising fashion tech products has not always proved easy. Consumers are resistant to paying for something they see as a compromise between fashion and tech. Drinkwater says that "simply placing technology within a fashion context doesn't make it fashionable and much more co-creation is needed." The data captured through devices is meaningless to consumers without creative visuals, suggesting that the wider acceptance of fash-tech devices will ultimately be driven as much by fashion brands as by the developers of consumer tech.

Market entrants need to make sure they are clear about whether they want to develop their own brand or license a product to an existing one. Conversely, a luxury brand will have to consider whether their brand will be diluted or enhanced by incorporating new technology and whether they should develop the technology themselves, buy it in or obtain a licence.

Dressing up devices

The wearables market, which includes smart watches, glasses and health trackers, despite being in its infancy, is estimated to be worth a staggering $10 billion with forecasted growth to almost $17 billion by 2021 (CCS Insights).

Wearable devices are undoubtedly one of the fastest-growing categories in consumer electronics with companies constantly exploring opportunities to maintain this momentum. Despite the rise of smart clothing such as Google and Levis' Project Jacquard connected commuter jacket and the Back to the Future Part II self-lacing shoes designed by Nike (we're still waiting for the resizable jacket and hover boards that work!), predictions remain that the wearable market will be driven by watches and wristbands. IDC suggests that sales in smart watches will increase from 71.4 million in 2017, to 161 million in 2021, with sales in wristbands increasing from 47.6 million to 52.2 million in the same period.

Wearing your heart on your sleeve

Wearable tech offers advantages to consumers in many forms. For some, the ability to stay connected and be alerted to messages, incoming calls and emails without the need to use a phone, enables convenience through connectivity. For others, the tracking of data, health and habits provides unparalleled insights into performance, positively impacting our productivity and well-being.

Creating a product that is both technologically innovative, legally compliant and fashion forward requires innovative thinking at all levels. Although manufacturers have succeeded in generating widespread awareness and interest through the launch of cutting edge technology - the challenge now lies in creating experience.

Fitbit and Garmin have clearly found global success, but despite both companies posting double digit growth of device sales during 2016, reports suggest that long-term usage is still relatively low, with one-third of users abandoning these devices after less than six months. While the device itself must be designed to be desirable, if it does little more than quantify and measure, without providing any meaningful functionality, the novelty is likely to be short-lived. Drinkwater suggests that currently "devices do not provide enough value to consumers." He argues that '"a much wider discussion incorporating the internet of things and the ability to connect devices to an environment and people to places, whilst providing consumers with suggestions rather than just data" will provide this added value. Taking the next step and analysing the data in order to apply it more valuably through enhanced device capabilities is recognised as a means of improving user engagement over a sustained period.

While this is undoubtedly true, it brings up issues of security and trust, both of which have impacted on the expansion of the internet of things and are also a factor in wearables. Products which have highly sensitive functions, for example, clothing which delivers medication, are particularly vulnerable. This type of wearable may well fall into the sphere of medical device regulation and which side of the regulation you fall on is something which should be considered in the development stage.

Changes in consumer expectations, coupled with legal compliance pressures, are encouraging manufacturers to adapt devices aesthetically, physically and technically. The immediate access to useful information including location and biometric data provided by wearable devices places stringent obligations on manufacturers to comply with data protection legislation. In advance of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), effective as of May 2018, designers need to begin incorporating privacy by design into their products as this will become a requirement under the GDPR.

The increased awareness of the ability for information to be collected through wearable devices and shared with third parties has placed a greater emphasis on visible compliance by manufacturers. If wearable devices are to be trusted and utilised effectively then customer confidence is key. Although consumers are arguably willing to exchange their personal data for the benefits of round the clock connectivity and physical analysis, manufacturers are still responsible for finding a lawful basis for processing personal data. Where this involves securing consumer consent, they will need to ensure they meet the raised consent bar under the GDPR, part of which entails being transparent about how data will be used. Keeping data secure will also be vitally important and the potentially huge fines for data breaches, not to mention reputational damage, should be enough to focus the mind on compliance.

Conversely, consumers may also be expected to take an active role in the process by utilising certain privacy settings and controlling who, what, where and when their data can be accessed rather than taking a hands off approach and relying solely on device manufacturers. This will involve giving consumers the appropriate information and tools they need to make those decisions and changes.

Just because you can wear it, doesn't mean it's a good look…

Nobody doubts the potential in wearables but for it to be realised, there has to be harmony between looking good, working well and providing something people actually want and feel comfortable using. Compliance with data privacy, security and other legal requirements, is also essential to creating the next 'must have' fashion tech product.