Reframing the Design Brief: A Discussion on the Future of Wearable Technology with Cindy Blais of Funktional Wearables

Cindy Blais

          A woman of many talents, Cindy Blias has brought fashionable fitness tracker accessories to the mainstream market. In 2014, she launched Funktional Wearables, a growing line of affordable on-trend jewelry pieces that conceal fitness trackers.

   
  
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  Popular product at  www.  funktionalwearables  .com     
  
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   On competing in the affordable price category, Blais exxplained,     “I always just wanted to make jewelry that I would wear, at prices that I think are fair. With how quickly technology changes, people should be reluctant to spend designer dollars on jewelry that might be obsolete in a year.”          
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Popular product at www.funktionalwearables.com

On competing in the affordable price category, Blais exxplained,

“I always just wanted to make jewelry that I would wear, at prices that I think are fair. With how quickly technology changes, people should be reluctant to spend designer dollars on jewelry that might be obsolete in a year.” 

 

   
  
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   I asked Blais for her advice about online retail platforms to young designers and entrepreneurs about online retail platforms trying to break into the wearable tech world. She responded,          ”Every channel has its wonderful quirks and individual personalities. Amazon drives the most sales but also takes the most from those sales, for instance. Some advice - don’t get discouraged. There are seemingly never-ending obstacles, but it’s incredibly rewarding and fulfilling work.”           
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I asked Blais for her advice about online retail platforms to young designers and entrepreneurs about online retail platforms trying to break into the wearable tech world. She responded,

 

”Every channel has its wonderful quirks and individual personalities. Amazon drives the most sales but also takes the most from those sales, for instance. Some advice - don’t get discouraged. There are seemingly never-ending obstacles, but it’s incredibly rewarding and fulfilling work.”

  With a background instructing Zumba and selling related retail at her own boutique, Cindy is definitely a fitness enthusiast. When she noticed all of the fitness trackers appearing in the gym she taught at, she became curious about the technology. She explained, “Functional Wearables began a few months after getting my own Fitbit and realizing that I didn’t like the way that it worked when I dressed up.” She loved that the Fitbit complemented her passion for fitness, but felt disappointed that the tracker did not look great with many of her favorite outfits. Taking matters into her own hands, she began creating jewelry that concealed her tracker and fit her personal style. A few jewelry pieces on Etsy grew to a full-blown production and retail company, Funktional Wearables. Demand for attractive ways to wear fitness trackers became high.

 Wide variety of styles available at  www.  funktionalwearables  .com

Wide variety of styles available at www.funktionalwearables.com

In order for users to get the most functionality out of wearable technology, they need to wear them regularly. Cindy explains, “Fitness trackers provide accountability, awareness, social support, and keep fitness top of mind for their users. Competition with others, or even personally, also can serve as a very powerful motivator.” To that end, personal electronics must become emotionally and ergonomically designed with empathy for a person’s lifestyle. If people do not want to wear fitness tracker on nights and weekends, they may miss out on some of the major benefits from the tool. In this way Funktional Wearables helps users wear their fitness trackers more consistently. Herein lies the genius of Cindy’s Funktional Wearables. Cindy and her interchangeable accessories showcase that the marriage between tech, fitness and fashion is a happy one.  

   
  
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     On customers and the community of people around wearable technology, she added,          “I love my customers - they tend to be incredibly supportive and loyal. Especially from Etsy! We’ve been so busy making product that we haven’t gotten too involved with the wearable tech community at large, but we plan to in the future.”

On customers and the community of people around wearable technology, she added,

 

“I love my customers - they tend to be incredibly supportive and loyal. Especially from Etsy! We’ve been so busy making product that we haven’t gotten too involved with the wearable tech community at large, but we plan to in the future.”

High Tech Apparel vs. Wearable Technology

Consider the words “wearable technology” to mean “technology one can wear,” a phrase which evokes mental images of gadgets and circuits which focus on the technology a user can somehow strap on, not the role of the product in a user’s life. Designing wearable technology defines what a device is capable of, not the sensitive real-estate on the human body that it occupies.

The contrasting phrase “high-tech apparel” emphasizes the fashion element of the product. Apparel and accessories represent an expression of a user’s identity and personal taste. Designing high-tech apparel focuses on integrating technology into clothing and accessories a user would want to wear anyway. Many people change outfits and accessories daily, which means that high-tech apparel must be engineered and designed to change its appearance frequently. This design constraint lends itself towards modular and mutable designs. Interchanging skins and encasements for the primary technology driving a device is an ideal solution for the personal and dynamic nature of High-Tech Apparel.

Funktionable Wearables apparel allows users to dress up their technology differently every day if they choose, a major benefit of the interchangeable nature of Funktional Wearables’ jewelry designs. Cindy elaborated, “I wanted to have an interchangeable line because we have found that our customers are often upgrading to new models of trackers as they come out, and we wanted to give them the flexibility without having to buy new jewelry every time.” Many shoppers update their wardrobes with new fashions and styles seasonally but may purchase new electronics once every few years. Interchangeable accessories allow users to remain contemporary stylistically, without a device upgrade. 

For now there are still many design limitations to integrating technology into our fashion and home goods. Reasonably, the computing and engineering constraints hold some fashion labels back from producing wearable tech. Imagine shoppers buying a heart rate monitor in an Anthropology or Fossil store mostly because they want in their wardrobe. The future of fashion will host a variety of high-tech apparel and accessories for it inside of retail stores. Products will compete based on both aesthetics and computing features. It is only a matte of time and creativity before the major obstacles to this reality are overcome.

According to Cindy, “The biggest design limitations are around size - people want sleek and light, but we are beholden to the underlying size of the tracker itself.” In an economy and industry evolving at an exponentially accelerating rate, these limitations may evaporate into the ether within the next two years.

 

   
  
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     According to Blais, “almost all of our products are still finished by hand in person, in San Diego. I advise young entrepreneurs to start by hand as I did, and cautiously enter into the mass manufacturing world only when you’re ready and understand your market and your product at a very deep level.” 

According to Blais, “almost all of our products are still finished by hand in person, in San Diego. I advise young entrepreneurs to start by hand as I did, and cautiously enter into the mass manufacturing world only when you’re ready and understand your market and your product at a very deep level.” 

Coded Couture

     The blending of handmade and digital technologies is taking new and exciting turns through the world of 3D modeling and rapid prototyping processes. Avant- garde fashion designers like Iris Van Herpen Hussein Chayalan, and Anouk Wipprecht have blended high math algorithms with 3D printing and computing in combination with hand-crafted techniques to create outlandish poetic artifacts for the runway.  Funktional Wearables makes a more accessible product with digital fabrication methods. According to Cindy,” Every piece of jewelry and the underlying tracking technology exists as a 3D model first. These are then paired with existing models of the trackers and various arm sizes to optimize fit, look and comfort.” Without such technologies the line may not have been able to expand so vastly so quickly, but rapid prototyping and design has changed the playing field for entrepreneurs and fashionistas alike.

Blais predicts a “convergence of technology and fashion.”  The product and job market are both going to have to change. She believes, “fashion designers are going to have to think more and more like engineers, as the industries merge into one. And in the same right, wearables technology manufacturers are going to put increasing focus on the fashion of their devices, to make devices more appealing for every day use.”

She asserts, “a lot of wearable tech manufacturers still think of fashion as an afterthought, but it needs to be embedded into the design process to broaden its appeal to a larger customer base.” If this designer is right, this is good and bad news for creatives. In this fast-paced and outsourced economy, design professionals are often challenged to be a jack of all trades. Asking them to be engineers, too, may mean more education and time to become qualified to work in the future fashion and tech space. On the other hand, more emphasis on design in personal computing and electronics means more jobs for creatives with fashion and product design backgrounds.