H&M wants smart clothes to compete with wearables from Apple and other consumer electronics brands
- Smart clothing has not taken off yet, but the Swedish fast fashion brand continues to look for killer applications that will win over sceptical buyers
- H&M’s chief technology officer wants it to design clothes that compete with electronic wearables, such as by telling you your heart rate or hydration level
Fast fashion brand H&M’s chief technology officer is trying to make smart clothing mainstream, at a time when clothing manufacturers are struggling with complex supply chains and environmental pressure.
Alan Boehme is examining how H&M’s clothes could monitor your heart rate or hydration levels, and how artificial intelligence could shrink H&M’s supply chain, potentially decreasing the company’s carbon footprint. In September, H&M couldn’t keep up with demand because of delays and disruptions of product flows.
The Swedish company’s tech focus comes at a crucial time for the clothing industry, as people increasingly move from shopping at bricks-and-mortar stores to shopping online and fast fashion brands come under fire for their often negative environmental impact.
Clothing companies have been experimenting with how to integrate technology into garments; these have so far struggled to gain meaningful sales. Levi’s produced a run of jackets with Google, which used Bluetooth in the cuffs to communicate with your smartphone, while Nadi X makes yoga gear that uses vibrations to improve your technique.
H&M partnered with fashion-tech company Boltware during the pandemic to create a denim jacket that can mimic a hug. Consumers were allowed to vote if the design would be developed, but demand was not strong enough to make the jacket available for sale.
In comparison wearables from giants such as Apple have boomed. Apple’s smartwatches have been one of its fastest growing products.
“All of the components are there,” Boehme said in an interview. “It’s the ability to uniquely put things together in patterns that we as individuals or as society have not yet done.”
Boehme, who worked as a technology innovation officer at Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola before he was hired by H&M in 2020, insists this technology is not far off.
The fashion industry faces an uphill battle on its climate claims. It was responsible for about 4 per cent of all greenhouses gases produced by humans in 2018, according to the non-profit Global Fashion Agenda. If the industry were a country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest emitter after China, the US, and India.