There's a video currently doing the rounds (mostly on Australian news sites) of Billie Whitehouse, co-founder and CEO of Wearable Experiments, a fashion tech startup based out of Sydney, appearing on Shark Tank. If you don't know the show, it's basically a program where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a panel of potential investors. The equivalent in the UK is Dragon's Den.
Whitehouse was on the show seeking $1.8 million for a stake in her company and in the hope of luring in investors to part with their cash, she demoed the Nadi X smart yoga pants, which we tested earlier this year. Wearable Experiments also now has a new men's collection, which has just hit Kickstarter.
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To summarise happened in the pitch, Whitehouse didn't get the investment she wanted and it included a rather awkward exchange with one of the investors who called rubbish on the tech behind the smart yoga pants. Just saying 'it's a software' and 'it's machine learning' that makes them work to someone that has a background in tech was not going to cut it.
Despite getting the thumbs down, Whitehouse said it isn't going to stop her growing her fashion tech startup
We should point out that these shows can be heavily edited and participants usually spend hours filming, with the more entertaining (or in this case awkward) moments reserved for broadcast. So in reality, this reality TV doesn't always give us the full story. Ultimately though, Whitehouse was called out and she struggled to provide a convincing argument that she knew what she was talking about when it came to exactly how her product helps people with their yoga form.
Despite getting the thumbs down from investors, a defiant Whitehouse said it wasn't going to stop her growing her fashion and smart clothing startup and I for one applaud her defiance not to be deterred by the knock back.
I don't know how many more times I can take reading the analyst reports telling me that this 'smart clothing explosion' is just around the corner. I hoped, more than believed, that Levi's and Google's smart jacket for cycling commuters could help spark that explosion or at least spark more interest in the space. But the first Jacquard garment has come and gone and while Google is still rolling out improvements to make it more useful, it still feels like a testbed as opposed to something that would ever have universal appeal. I'm currently testing a smart shirt designed for fitness tracking, and while it's early days into that testing, I can already anticipate some of the issues I experienced with near identical setups.
So I have definitely have time for what Wearable Experiments is striving to achieve with its approach to connected clothing. We've covered the startup's exploration of what can be achieved from the early days including its Alert Shirt concept, which was designed to connect spectators at a sports event to events out on the pitch, on the court or on the field. There was, of course, that air of scepticism whether these concepts or ideas would ever be more than just that, but then something did go beyond that and it ended up being the Nadi X smart yoga pants.
The motion and haptic sensor-laden leggings promised to tap into one of the most popular fitness-based activities in the world for both men and women. Now I can't personally vouch for the tech or how well it works, because I haven't tested it.
One of our regular contributors, Becca Caddy has tried out the smart pants though and I think it's fair to say that her experience was mixed. She had a lot of good things and not so good things to say and she also raised the issue of price, which continues to be a stumbling block for smart clothing adoption. But the overall sense I got from her experience was that Wearable Experiments is doing more than most startups to suggest smart clothing can be the real deal right now, not in five or ten years time.
I've already had friends who are big yoga fans asking me about the Nadi X yoga pants
It's that old adage of good wearables needing to offer a solution to a problem and as someone that has done yoga, I know that getting that kind of assistance would be welcomed inside or outside of a class. I've already had a couple of friends who are big yoga fans who have asked me about the Nadi X yoga pants and that's probably the first time I've had intrigue from non-tech geeks about wearables outside of the ones you wear on your wrist or in your ears.
What I'm trying to say here is that smart clothing needs people like Billie Whitehouse to continue trying to innovate in this space but also getting those wearables out there for people test. Crowdfunding is a great way to do this and while the latest collection of Nadi X smart yoga pants hasn't reached its goal yet (it's still early days), I'm confident this is one campaign that will do that.
It still feels like we are some way from people wearing connected gear in the same way that more people freely walk around with an Apple Watch on their wrists or AirPods in their ears. But building smart clothing with a purpose that can tap into users on a global scale is what needs to happen and Wearable Experiments can definitely play its part in that. Let's just hope that the experience with the Sharks is something Whitehouse can brush off and we will still those smart yoga pants ship.