It might seem that Apple has wearable tech all sewn up in 2018, but it's actually a great time for innovative ideas in this space.
Whether it's Indian startup Leaf Wearables recently winning the Women's Safety XPrize of $1 million at a ceremony in New York City, or the EU's ongoing Wear Sustain competition aimed at promoting sustainable fashion and fashion tech, there's a lot of investment, mentoring and support if you know where to apply.
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Another EU initiative to look out for is the WORTH Partnership Project. Its second call for applications is open now until 24 October 2018, and up for grabs is €10,000 seed money per project, as well as coaching in product development, branding, intellectual property and product positioning and all-important connections with tech, creative and manufacturing companies.
It's part of the EU's COSME programme, which stands for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, and the idea is to boost the fashion and lifestyle industries in Europe.
What WORTH is looking for
Money will be awarded to design-driven products and collaborations between fashion designers, tech startups and manufacturing industries with interest in both traditional and digital craftsmanship.
The project, as its name suggest, is all about partnerships, so if you're a designer teaming up with a tech company or a maker working with a lab, that's all good. But if you're looking to partner up, that's OK too, as the WORTH Partnership Project can help you find one and you can browse options as part of the application process.
"We are looking for new and disruptive ideas with a high component of design focused on fashion/textile, furniture, footwear, jewellery, fur/leather and accessories," says Korina Molla, project manager for WORTH.
"Fashion tech and wearables are more and more present in our lives for making it easier. Elements such as smartwatches are now being introduced and there is a growing demand of wearables in garments (mainly for sports, health, assisting living and ageing people), jewellery and accessories like bags."
It's pretty straightforward to apply. You'll need a preliminary business plan, a dossier of sketches and drawings, portfolios for the applicants and a video for your project.
Smart jewellery success
To get a sense of your chances, the first WORTH Partnership Project call in 2017 had 100 proposals, of which 41 shortlisted projects pitched to a jury who ultimately awarded funding and support to 25 projects. Over the total of the four years of the project, COSME is planning to help a total of 150 projects.
One 2017 winner was Eni Jewellery, which also acts as a nice example of the emphasis being placed on collaboration across industries and countries. Eni Jewellery is a contemporary jewellery brand based in the UK founded by Eleni Koumara.
She is partnering with ID Labs, a tech company based in the Netherlands, and the Moldovan leather accessory brand Estradi on a project to make cases and housings for a wearable camera for partially sighted and blind people. The aim is to design accessories that can be worn as a necklace or clipped onto the wearer's clothing.
"The project is now up and running according the plan," says Molla. "They are now defining the specifications and Eni is working on the design."
Other winning projects from the first call include Dynaback, a non-invasive device to monitor the curvature of the spine (Bulgaria and Spain); a smart life jacket for watersports fans (Greece and Germany); Connextile, a wearable for stroke rehabilitation and Spellbound, a range of colour-changing clothing for kids (Estonia and the Netherlands).
There was also a smart dress prototype called Unlimited by 1, which works with an AR app to change what the dress looks like (Slovenia, Belgium and Ukraine) and the Skarabeos 2.0 alarm-protected bag (Austria and Germany). So it's a real mix of functions and disciplines and not all the winning projects had a strict tech element.
To find out more details for the WORTH Partnership Project's second call and be in with a shot at the funding and coaching, apply here.