At next week’s U.S. Open tennis tournament, Ralph Lauren will be debuting a T-shirt developed in collaboration with Montreal-based wearable tech firm OMsignal, the first example of wearable tech to be road-tested by a mainstream fashion label.
“Everyone is exploring wearable tech watches and headbands and looking at cool sneakers,” David Lauren, executive vice president for advertising, marketing and corporate communications, and son of Ralph, told the New York Times. “We skipped to what we thought was new, which is apparel. We live in our clothes.”
The shirt, which will be worn by the ball-boys and girls scurrying quietly across the courts during the tournament, will be a form-fitting, black design with the Ralph Lauren pony logo printed across the front. The shirts are remarkable, though, mainly for their invisible components.
What spectators won’t be able to see is the technology, developed by OMsignal: a silver conductive thread woven into the fabric and connected to a removable data module, monitoring heart rate, breathing and stress levels.
The big obstacle for wearable tech until now has been its clunkiness, not only for peripherals like headbands, wristbands and eyewear such as Google Glass, but also for bulky looking sensors woven into shirts and jackets. Basically, they just look bad, even if they are functional, and have a long way to go before being embraced by mainstream fashion brands.
The collaboration between OMsignal and Ralph Lauren for the U.S. Open signals the beginning of a partnership likely to produce a marriage of clothing and technology that doesn’t make the wearer look like some kind of guinea pig participating in a scientific experiment.
And the OMsignal U.S. Open shirts are just the beginning for Ralph Lauren’s wearable tech line. The clothier plans to introduce next year a line of tech-enhanced dress shirts, complementary to the sensor-infused athletic wear.
In June, OMsignal raised $10 million in a round of financing led by Bessemer Venture Partners.
The partnership with Ralph Lauren is significant in that it represents a first-to-market milestone in the crowded field of wearable technology.
California-based company Athos is also developing shirts for monitoring wearers’ health stats, as is Sensoria Fitness.
Another Canadian company, Carre Technologies partnered with the Canadian Space Agency on a 45-day Antarctic expedition, using its Astroskin smart shirts to conduct a series of studies to monitor the effects of extreme conditions on people.
While qualifying rounds are already underway, the U.S. Open begins on Monday.