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A model walks the runway at the Digital Clutch Design reveal by HP and Vivienne Tam. Arun Nevader / Getty Images for HP
A model walks the runway at the Digital Clutch Design reveal by HP and Vivienne Tam. Arun Nevader / Getty Images for HP

Fashion for technology hits retail

In days gone by, payday or a windfall would signal a trip to the shops for a new outfit. But today's must-have item is likely to be a gadget or app.

As the founder and chief executive of Fubu urban apparel, as well as a celebrity judge on the television show Shark Tank, Daymond John scrutinises plenty of business plans and offers many entrepreneurs advice about surviving in the competitive world of commerce.

But, he says, now his own sector is undergoing a major shift as it struggles to compete against a growing rival: technology.

"Technology has killed my industry," says Mr John.

"When you and I got a cheque from working, or an allowance, we'd buy the new little outfit for the week or the month," adds Mr John.

"Now kids, these days, get their cheque and they've got a cell phone bill, they lost their charger, they've downloaded 17 apps and have Netflix or need the iPad 19 and new Bluetooth."

In one survey conducted in the United States, teenagers were given the choice to select one item they most wanted to buy or have purchased for them last year. Thirteen per cent said they would prefer a computer, while 12 per cent selected a mobile phone.

Just 9 per cent noted they would want to buy a new pair of shoes - the same portion who said they would prefer to buy a new book-and only 7 per cent picked a pair of jeans, according to data from the NPD Group, the market research firm that conducted the survey.

"With the realities of the information age, teens have access to many forms of communication, challenging brands and retailers with developing strategies to drive awareness," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group.

The seemingly constant release of new gadgets has certainly transfixed a new generation of tech-buyers.

Every time Apple's latest tablet gets released, some young shoppers inevitably line up for hours to pick up the device in person. Others scour the Web for sites that might guarantee a new Samsung smartphone or videogame console from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo.

Of course, tech manufacturers seem to sprinkle the public launch dates for today's most popular devices strategically throughout the year.

"From certain points, the consumer electronic industry is not unlike the fashion industry," says Tim Tang, a technology analyst with IDC, a market research firm.

"There is typically a spring collection, and an [autumn] collection. Some buy designers, some buy off-the-peg, some even 'rent the runway'."

Mr Tang is not kidding about renting electronics.

In recent years, online businesses around the world such as Rent the Runway, Fashion Hire and Lending Luxury have cropped up and offered designer dresses, jewellery and handbags for short-term rental rates. Similarly, ventures such as RentSmart in Australia and rentacomputer, which has locations in 1,500 cities worldwide, have created agreements for people who want to loan devices such as laptops, digital cameras, televisions and tablets.

The technology industry has also turned to the fashion world for inspiration when it comes to designing certain devices. Dell, for instance, tapped the expertise of the designer Vivienne Tam a few years ago. Before one Fashion Week in New York City, Ms Tam debuted purse-like netbooks from Hewlett-Packard the models clutched in their hands as they strutted down the catwalk. Each laptop featured bright peonies or butterflies on its lid.

More recently, Bluetooth headsets have been marketed as fashionable accessories, even as some in the haute couture industry have been putt off by that particular image.

Then there is the growing category of so-called wearable computing devices, which includes high-tech glasses and fitness-tracking wristbands such as the Nike+ FuelBand or Jawbone's Up.

"The FuelBand from Nike looks like one of the Livestrong [charity] bands," says Steve Koenig, the director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group.

"That's a good way of blending the technology with fashion and function. I think that's a path to broader adoption."

Mr Koenig also notes smart watches may become the next big "it" thing in tech, thanks to its fashionable twist.

"The Pebble is an interesting mash up with fashion and technology in a practical format: a watch," he says.

But with what might seem like an excessive amount of offerings, could the tech sector see a backlash similar to the one occurring in parts of the fashion industry?

The segment of clothing makers that caters to young urban men has become full of "copycat" companies, Mr John says.

He argues this has pushed too many options into the market for consumers and that choice fatigue has set in. "It's not of interest anymore," he says. "The kid has now gone back to the basics: 'I want a pair of Levi's and a T-shirt'".

Yet, at the same time, the accessories market for this group of customers is booming. "Things that move are accessories," says Mr John. "He'll buy 15 different colours of belt, 19 G-Shock watches, a couple of different hats-and a basic pair of jeans and a T-shirt."

In some ways, Mr John's strategy for fighting tech companies for a larger share of consumer spend seems to boil down to an old adage: if you can't beat them, join them.

That is why he is why has been looking to leverage his Fubu brand while licensing it out to other companies, such as the manufacturers of trainers and even the makers of headphones.

"The kids would be all over that," says Mr John.

 

business@thenational.ae

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