Last week the Tommy Hilfiger fashion house launched the Tommy Jeans Xplore collection in New York. It offers 29 items for men and women that, at first, second and third glance, all look perfectly ordinary. In the spirit of the times, the items are designed with oversized logos on the back and front, and are in dialogue with the aesthetics of the 1990s. But on the edges of the clothes, near the waist, an innocent-looking label is sewn in, containing a smart chip – some will say it’s too smart – that reports to the company when and where the piece is worn, and in exchange sends likes to the customer.
Aside from the good feeling they are meant to give the consumer, these likes are accumulated and exchanged for various rewards, including airline tickets, entry to Hilfiger shows during Fashion Week, theater tickets, $500 for a meal in a trendy restaurant, clothing and discounts on new items. The chip’s lifespan is two years, and from the moment it is connected to the app, in other words, from the moment that the label is scanned through it, there’s no need to recharge it, and you can launder the item as often as necessary, without any restrictions.
“When we buy an item of clothing, we have three different stages of experiencing a sense of reward,” explains Liron Slonimsky, 33, the founder and CEO of the Israeli company Awear Solutions, which is behind both the chip and the app, which are available for now only in the United States.
“The first is at the time of purchase, the second is the moment we cut off the label and make it ours, and the third is the moment when we put it on and leave the house with it. Afterwards the feeling disappears, and the next time you wear it, it’s just another item in your closet that goes with your jeans. The idea was to reduce the gap between the excitement about a new piece of clothing and the appearance of the new collection three months later, and to create a platform that will reward you every time you wear the item outside the house.”
Awear consists of Slonimsky and Oren Zomer: She’s a filmmaker with a strong affinity for science fiction, and he’s a high-tech expert. They began their career in the field five years ago, with a similar but different item, which led to frequent encounters with refusals, some polite and some less so. “In the days before Apple’s smart watch, there were quite a few investors who said, ‘Go back to writing science fiction,’” she recalls.
“At the beginning, we did a small pilot with Donna Karan, in which we embedded chips the size of a business card to the clothing. We invited 10 reporters from all over the world to an event in the Madison Avenue store, and they scanned the items from a distance so that they would appear on the smartphone screen. Although the reporters called us ‘the Shazam of fashion,’ and there was broad media coverage, in the test of results it didn’t work. The product failed.
“Like every entrepreneur, we were quite foolish and overly optimistic. Bluetooth was not at all trivial at the time and people didn’t really know how to operate it. It was naïve on our part to think that anyone would embed such large chips on all the items in the world.”
But the media coverage – about 400 articles in a single month – did nevertheless have an impact, opening doors for the two entrepreneurs to the offices of CEOs of leading fashion houses. “We were left with two options,” she continues, “to close the company or to understand what fashion brands really need.” They went for the second option.
“I did a character study, like a screenwriter. I asked them where it hurts when they look at their financial data, what their aspirations are. The weak point that came up repeatedly was the lack of brand loyalty among consumers aged 16 to 25. In the United States alone, this represents $150 billion in buying power. The members of Generation Z aren’t loyal to anything, and apparently not to brands either.”
With this understanding, Slonimsky began trying to understand where this generation’s loyalties do lie. “I went to New York University and questioned 150 female students. I checked which apps they use, who and what they follow on social media and which brands they like. I discovered that as far as they’re concerned, there’s no difference between Gucci and Prada or between Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger – it depends on what’s trendy at the moment. But there’s a certain loyalty to technological platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat, which provide an immediate reward in the form of likes from other users.”
We all simply want love. Or gifts.
“The prizes will change every month, incidentally, and in future they’ll be more experiential and less physical,” says Slonimsky.
Any item can entitle the wearer to 160 points a day, and for the really big prizes you have to accumulate an average of about 10,000 points. Of course having a number of items in the closet can accelerate the process. The points can also be accumulated by means of a game resembling Pokemon Go, in which you collect branded hearts that are scattered in strategic places – in other words, cool and bustling places all over the United States.
“The idea is to create visibility in the right places, in other words in real life, and not necessarily on Instagram,” notes Slonimsky, who sees her product as an aid to the next generation of social media influencers. “Today the fashion house sends items to influential women with lots of followers so that they’ll write posts that gets lots of likes, and in return invite them to Fashion Week and similar events. As Liron, I can take my picture in a T-shirt from today till tomorrow, and nothing will happen. This collection actually turns every customer into a potential ambassador for the brand, into a new type of infuencer, even if they don’t have 100,000 followers on Instagram.”
And what happens if I put the shirt into a bag and wear something else?
“If the shirt is in a bag you can deceive us once, but in the end we’ll learn the pattern, we’ll get a warning about it and we’ll see that it’s improbable. It’s like when people changed their [GPS location] definitions, and then grabbed Pokemons from the living room.”
Have you encountered fears about data collection?
“We haven’t heard fears from customers, but we have heard them from journalists. Our end customers are young people who aren’t concerned about privacy. The question is, why we’re asking for data about their location, and the answer is – in order to know that people are really leaving the house with the item. That’s all. I give my location data to Uber when I need a taxi, I sent Fitbit data about my heartbeats and body temperature, because I’m interested in monitoring my medical parameters and getting a sports regimen that suits me. A customer who doesn’t want to participate can refrain from turning on the item, and you can also turn it on and change your mind.”
That’s not entirely comforting
“No malicious use is made of the information. We simply use it to understand who’s wearing the items to the more popular places, and on that basis we release the prizes. Another use we make of the information is for sales promotion. If I see, for example, that a customer wears a T-shirt to cool places and another customer wears the same t-shirt mainly on flights, I’ll know how to offer each of them additional items that are appropriate for them. I’ll suggest a jeans jacket to the former and a sweatshirt to the latter, for example. It’s no different from any brand-name members’ club that wants to know your birthday, for example, It’s just the we’re interested in knowing where you hang out.”
Other 'smart' fashion
Slonimsky and Zomer aren’t the first to combine fashion with technology. In the past decade, there has been an emphasis with athletic apparel on including such functions as navigation, pulse and counting steps. Among other things, the sports brand Under Armour has launched a smart shirt that measures biometric parameters, and Nike has running shoes that count steps.
A more fashionable experiment by the Levi’s denim brand and Google was launched last autumn – a smart jeans jacket called Jacquard, which is designed for cyclists, and includes a chip in the sleeve that responds to hand gestures, helps with navigation and includes some of the control functions of the Apple smart watch. It’s true that the Tommy Hilfiger-Awear collection really doesn’t consist of the first smart clothes on earth – but they’re certainly the most fashionable.