Wearables Watch: New Bedfellows

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“Wife Swap” is a network television series where selected women trade families in order to experience what life is like in the shoes of another for a limited period of time.   However, my cultural trend research indicates that we are actually witnessing the very early stages of a new, real-life trend that involves the swapping, if you will, of execs between the fashion and tech worlds. This seems to be taking place as both retail and tech companies attempt to draw upon and include various expertise in order to advance a new world where only the savvy hybrids will survive.  As I prepare to leaf through my mega September issue of “Vogue,” (a fall fashion kick-off ritual which I, like many fashionistas, adore) and check out the 2014 shows on-line; it seems fitting to ponder if we are watching a game-change  or an awkward step to a brave new product world.

I first began to think about this phenomenon in the spring of this year when I saw the coverage around the demise of Ron Johnson and his briefly lived tenure at JCPenney.  Known as the architect of Apple’s very successful showrooms-cum-retail-stores, Johnson seemed a magic maker who might be able to help turn things around at the rather stagnant and fearful JCPenney.  And the corporation couldn’t sign him up quite quickly enough!  However, Johnson’s vision and Penney’s clashed much like the digital thinker and the analog thinker do on news debates any given night on television.  Grasping for the cool, shiny wealth and prowess of the digital world, Penney’s seemed to forget that it did not subscribe to tech ideals like “experience” and “culture.”  Thus, the two parted ways, and like a half-dead dinosaur trying desperately to drag itself into the new era, the retail department store seems to continue its  uphill push toward increasing sales among customers who apparently only want their coupons leading to, what The Atlantic wrote in June:  “cheap prices and cheap workers-…the ultimate American shopping bargain,”….

However, even when looking at this trend from a luxury point of view, I still have yet to see success when it comes to the tech-to-fashion direction.  Although Ungaro’s general director, Marie Fournier, with whom I have corresponded before,  declined to comment for this piece of this nature,   one might say that Ungaro is another case of an older retail outlet seeking to up the ante with a tech infusion.  In 2005 Asim Abdullah, a wealthy tech entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley, bought the house of Ungaro, “intrigued by the notion of marketing luxury brands.”  (nytimes. com, 2010)  Unfortunately, this swapping of worlds has seemed to result in more or less of a failure, as well. 

Culture clashes again?

Perhaps.

 Abdullah’s wife was quoted as saying that in the tech world, her husband, like many hardly need to rely on intuition and vibes needed to create success in fashion retail.   Thus, might the old-skool find itself too steeped in its traditional ways and new-skool’s vast difference in skills be so different that such unions repel rather than attract?

But might the results differ when the reverse takes place, that is:  fashion-to-tech direction?   Apple has just scooped up a Levi’s executive.  In addition, the former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent has swapped Parisian luxury for that of Silicon Valley and rumor has it he’ll be collaborating on Apples wearables that will enable we neo-humans to do even more things in a single-bound but while looking sexy and chic, in the process.  It is now rumored that Samsung is also eyeing a few coveted names in fashion to assist in their competitive efforts to make tech the new black.

Perhaps execs involved in this manner of swap may have easier time integrating into tech given that the culture is undefined, open and experimental by nature. But quite possibly this situation is indicating an even greater overall reality, that is:  it’s about the rise of the new and the dying out of the old.    The new skool can’t necessarily resuscitate the old and dying, but  those flexible enough to embrace the new and run with it will surely entertain greater possibilities of success.

If so, it is quite fitting that Professor Josh Ackerman from MIT Sloan  is studying how consumers interact physically with products and what that does to their decision-making. Given that there is a new type of consumerism converging with new types of products, it is reasonable to suggest that a new type of executive management team of hybrids will be created.  “Tech companies will become more and more interested in the design space, and that’s due to a few reasons,” explains Ackerman.  “One of them is that as the tech changes and becomes more wearable and interactive, those devices become more a symbol how we see ourselves and how we project ourselves to others.”

He continues,  “Apple has been very much as the forefront of that via computers, but once those devices make contact with the body and become wearable, that is a very strong signal not only to others but ourselves that these (devices) are sort of reflective of the image we are putting out there.  We might not think about this as much about our computers, but once we start putting something on, whether Google Glasses or what have you, these things become signals and of course, the notion that we choose products that signal, this will amp up the importance of  design AND options.  Not to be taken lightly will be the ability to customize or personalize these items as well.  This ability will be extremely in-demand.” 

Other than myself,  I have not seen anyone address this tech-swap phenomenon just yet.  It’s early for everything, so the jury is still out, but I’d be willing to bet that this is only the beginning.  I actually don’t believe that the lions from luxury to tech will necessarily be the answer either.  It will be a completely new form of thinker who comes not from one world or another, but moves between both easily, every day.  Kinda “seamlessly” … like what you read right here.

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