Wearables Trends Turn to Smart Clothing

Smart Clothing Promises Unobtrusive Fitness Tracking, But Questions Remain About Its Long-Term Practicality

An array of fitness trackers were showcased at International CES 2014, with established and upcoming technology manufacturers alike (including Sony, LG, Toshiba, Garmin, Polar and Basis) announcing new devices and concepts. Most of the fitness trackers presented were designed to be worn on the wrist — a form that’s already enjoying a great deal of popularity. An increasing number of companies are entering this arena.

Beyond wrist-wear, I think clothing embedded with sensors is an attractive concept. Designs promise accurate activity and heart-rate monitoring alongside more advanced capabilities such as the ability to record breathing patterns. Innovators now have access to a range of low-cost microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) thanks to recent advancements in consumer electronics — these include accelerometers, gyroscopes and other sensors.

I’ve seen few concepts of smart clothing, and three companies in particular have caught my attention: Cityzen Sciences, OMsignal and Hexoskin.

Cityzen Sciences, a French start-up, showcased its smart fabric concept at CES 2014. The prototype top has an embedded accelerometer, heart-rate monitor, GPS and altimeter. Its fabric carries metrics to a small gateway device located at the back of the top which stores the data and later syncs with the user’s smartphone. A French cycling company has signed a deal with Cityzen Sciences and will begin selling a smart fabric shirt and cycling shorts in the second half of 2014, though prices haven’t been announced yet.


OMsignal‘s shirt has embedded sensors that transmit data to its accompanying device. As well as actigraphy (activity and sleep) and heart-rate monitoring, the shirt measures breathing rate and volume. The company raised $1 million in June 2013 through venture capital funding.


Hexoskin was launched as a project on Indiegogo in September 2013 and just over a month later it had raised $165,000 — $65,000 over its goal. Hexoskin is available for $399.00, with shipments starting in the first half of 2014.


Companies have overcome the major hurdle of making a fabric’s embedded sensors thin, flexible and comfortable to wear throughout the day, but questions have been raised about its long-term usage. Clothing with smart capabilities needs to withstand daily wear and tear as well as vigorous washing machine cycles. Unlike my Jawbone Up, I’d have to own more than one top as they’d need to be cleaned like any other undershirt. While you don’t have to buy the accompanying device each time, the Hexoskin shirt, for example, is $175 on its own — a price that might dissuade even the keenest advocates of smart clothing.