What is the future of smart clothing in the workplace?

Smart clothing is the clothing of the future. By implementing nanotechnology within textiles, garments can be created that respond to stimuli such as pressure and temperature. Although in its infancy, smart clothing is becoming increasingly commonplace with the potential for huge benefits in the workplace.

The global smart clothing market is set to reach $5.3 billion by 2024, a huge increase from $1.6 billion in 2019.

Smart Clothing Market by Textile Type, Product Type (Upper Wear, Lower Wear, Innerwear, and Others), End-User Industry (Military & Defense, Sports & Fitness, Fashion & Entertainment, Healthcare), and Geography – Global Forecast to 2024, MarketsandMarketsℱ

What is smart clothing?

Smart clothing (also referred to as high tech clothing or e-textiles) is clothing that has been enhanced with technology to provide increased functionality beyond its traditional use. This can be achieved with the inclusion of interwoven circuitry, sensors and additional hardware.

Many leading brands have started innovating in this area. Sensoria smart socks can detect which part of the user’s feet endure the most pressure whilst walking or running, Ralph Lauren’s PoloTech t-shirts record fitness activity and recommend new workouts and the Neviano UV Protect swimsuit contains a waterproof sensor that warns the wearer when they have been in the sun for too long.

However, athletes are not alone in benefitting from smart clothing. Business professionals can enjoy the benefits of the Samsung NFC suit which lets the user unlock their phone, share business cards digitally and set gadgets to modes for the office and for driving. For loyal consumers, Tommy Hilfiger tech clothing tracks how often the product is worn and rewards customers according to time spend wearing the clothing.

As smart clothing becomes more popular with time, the uptake of this technology in the workplace is a trend that is likely to grow.

What are the benefits of wearing smart clothing in the workplace?

Smart clothing obtains data relating to the wearer that is then used to provide a customised experience for the user, often being shared with an application on a smart device. As smart clothing becomes increasingly commonplace in certain industries, such as in sports, the benefits that it can bring to other industries is increasingly apparent.

Improving health and safety– smart clothing can be worn to enhance worker’s capabilities by improving health and safety and in doing so, increasing productivity. For instance, “exosuits” are a wearable robotic technology that has been developed to help workers who undertake strenuous and repetitive tasks. By providing additional tension in response to movement, exosuits ensure that the physical strain of the work is alleviated and that the safety of the worker is prioritised. Without the strain of these physical tasks, workers are able to work safely for longer periods of time. This concept is built upon by HeroWear, a company that seek to make the exosuit less robotic and more integrated within uniforms and clothing. The goal is to expand the use of this technology to nurses who are undertaking physical tasks and white-collar workers who may struggle with being seated for long periods of time. 

Maximising productivity– Dutch designer, Anouk Wipprecht, creates “robot couture” and has developed dresses with sensors inbuilt; one with mechanical arms and the other that emits smoke when others encroach upon the wearer’s personal space. Both dresses promote social distancing and offer a concept that could be applied to clothing worn by employees in high-stress fields. This technology could be adapted to indicate to others when the worker is highly focused and does not want to be disturbed something that would be hugely beneficial to workplace productivity.
Increasing efficiency– smart clothing is ideal for increasing efficiency by helping workers to complete tasks more quickly and effectively. Touch-screen clothing is a prime example of this. Levis have created a denim trucker jacket that uses Google’s Jacquard software platform to create smart clothing that can tap or swipe to read and respond to messages and notifications without workers having to use a smartphone. Initially created for urban cyclists, this technology could be developed to benefit workers in other industries such as in manufacturing, transportation and logistics where workers may not have a smart phone at hand.

Reducing risks– smart clothing can be worn to eliminate external risks that may impact upon employee performance and safety. In the military, clothing embedded with IoT sensors, has been used to determine the presence and level of hazardous gases within the environment. This could be hugely advantageous to scientists working within a laboratory or for manufacturers dealing with hazardous materials.

Encouraging movement– in the same way that fitness trackers and watches may alert the user to encourage movement after long sedentary periods, clothing of the future may also be equipped with this technology. Ideal in office environments where workers spend large portions of their day at their desks, sensors could send notifications to an app to promote good posture and encourage movement. Wearable X offers this technology already in their yoga leggings with sensors sewn into the material and connected to an app. Users are then encouraged to stretch or to move to encourage proper alignment and posture. A simple extension of this technology would enable it suitable for office use.

Improving comfort– by offering a customised experience, smart clothing can be used to maximise employee comfort. When workers feel comfortable in the workplace this will lead to increased productivity and improved performance. An example of smart clothing that enhances comfort includes jumpers with integrated thermostat sensors that regulate temperature according to the wearer. An ideal technology for those attending sites, working outdoors or consistently on the move.

Wearable technologies such as smart watches, smart glasses, hearables, and exoskeletons can help company leaders navigate
 Challenges by augmenting workers’ physical and perceptual capabilities, amplifying their physical strength, lucidly conveying detailed task instructions as needed, facilitating virtual interactions, and alerting for hazards. All of this has the potential to significantly boost productivity and safety.

Deloitte, David Schatsky and Navya Kumar, “Workforce superpowers: Wearables are augmenting employees’ abilities

The opportunities and benefits that smart clothing offers could be hugely advantageous to a number of employees in a variety of work environments. This is an exciting area where innovations and progress is constantly being made and will continue to do so. The widespread adoption of smart clothing is still in its infancy with obstacles including the price of the technology, the accuracy of embedded sensors and concerns about battery life still posing a challenge. However, as smart clothing improves efficiency, increases productivity and enhances the lives of workers, solutions to these challenges will be found over time.

To find out more about the technology behind smart clothing, discover Distrelec’s Single Board Computing hub and explore the latest wearable projects from Arduino.

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