Milan Fashion Week and Fashion Law Trends: E-textile and Smart Clothing – How Your Clothes Can Improve Your Life

As we already discovered during pandemic, technology has been an effective way out for fashion brands to advertise and sell products in a historical period that has limited the shopping physical experience.

In fact, innovative technology within the fashion industry is more apparent than ever. From updating retail experiences, to wearable technology like smartwatches and sunglasses, technology and innovation are continuously inspiring and influencing trends and fashions.

In particular, the new trend is to combine tech and fashion in order to enhance clothes and items with innovative functionalities that – thanks to technology – allow to surpass the traditional use and make clothes and items smart. The use of advanced textiles with interwoven circuitry, or the implementation of sensors and additional hardware, as well as the possibility to connect to a device using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi are only a few examples of how clothes can get smart.

In certain cases, traditional fabrics and fibers are combined with electronics to collect and transfer data on heat, light, movement, and other local conditions where clothes are worn through the use of electronic sensors. This is the case of electronically integrated textiles – or e-textiles – which embed electronic components by weaving them together with the fabric components or bonding or sewing the circuitry printed onto a non-textile material to the surface of a traditional textile.

To empower clothes with technology, adding functionalities beyond their traditional use, fashion designers and tech engineers need to mix and match their capabilities with the aim to enhance people’s life. Actually, wearing smart clothes, people can access navigation, music, telephone and sports sharing apps, as well as stay up to date on weather and traffic, or track the heartbeat, monitor emotions and even pay for shopping via gestures, without grabbing a phone, but keeping it in the pocket.

If Pizza Hut has already experimented limited-edition smart shoes that enable you to order pizza, brands like Nike – with its “Nike Adapt Shoes” – and Sensoria have created accessorizes and sportswear that are able to detect information relating to the posture, health conditions and your performance during the workout and send this data to a dedicated app, using performance analytics. Under Armour’s Athlete Recovery Sleepwear, instead, absorbs your heat while releasing infrared light to increase sleep quality and improve muscle recovery.

Also, Ralph Lauren “PoloTech t-shirts” allow the connection to a smartphone app, recording fitness activity and recommending new workouts to the wearer, while Tommy Hilfiger “Tommy Jeans Xplore” connect to the company’s iOS app thanks to Bluetooth built-in smart tags in order to track product usage and provide prizes and unique experiences to users on the basis of time spent wearing them.

Even Samsung is going big on smart clothing: in fact, it has already made a smart business suit that can exchange digital business cards, unlock the smartphones, and interact with other devices, and shown off its “Body Compass workout shirt”, which monitors biometric data, as well as a golf shirt that includes weather and UV rating monitoring.

The last act of this generation of clothes is Levi’s Trucker Jacket with Jacquard by Google. In particular, Levi’s has inserted certain functionalities of Google assistant in order to allow you to interact with your smartphone, navigate maps as well as play your favorite playlist by making pre-set gestures on the jacket’s cuff.

However, fashion brands that want to create their stylish connected garment shall consider a lot of legal issues and requirements before launching their e-textile and smart clothing collection into the marketplace.

First of all, fashion brands shall face regulatory requirements on the manufacturing and sale of electronic products (e.g., labelling recycling, product safety, storage and transportation) in addition to those related to the textile products.

Also, the level of service and the related warranties for consumers, together with the management of an adequate after-sales support to handle faulty products, disruptions, and related returns and refunds are critical aspects to consider in the creation of smart clothes.

Furthermore, in such a tech clothing product, data are considered as the new black. As e-textile and smart clothing products are electronic devices designed to communicate with connected devices and the user’s body, they are empowered by a variety of sensors that collect the user’s personal data, including biometrics, such as the body parameters during a fitness activity (e.g., temperature and heart rate).

To this end, fashion brands addressing innovative products to European customers have to deal with the requirements provided for by the EU Regulation on the protection of personal data (the so called “GDPR”) and the deriving national adequacy laws. In particular, they shall consider carefully which kind of data to collect in order to respect the principles and requirements set forth in the GDPR.

For instance, fashion houses shall collect and process ‒ for the time strictly necessary ‒ only personal data required for the purposes of the processing pursuant to the minimization principle provided for in article 5 of the GDPR. Furthermore, when companies process individuals’ personal data, they are required to transparently provide them with information and details about the processing of personal data carried on, guaranteeing individuals specific rights and freedoms according to articles 13-21 of the GDPR (such as, for instance, the right to access to data, the right to be forgotten, the right to data portability, etc.).

Furthermore, where the e-textiles and smart clothing process biometric data, meaning information resulting from specific technical processing relating to the physical, physiological or behavioral characteristics of an individual, which allow or confirm the unique identification of such individual, then additional safeguards are required by the applicable data protection laws. In this case, in fact, fashion brands must collect a specific consent and adopt additional security measures – both from a technical and organizational perspective – to lawfully process data, including the drafting of a Data Protection Impact Assessment according to article 35 of the GDPR. Also, eventual aggregation and anonymization procedures on data collected from smart clothes are per se data processing activities, needing a specific legal basis for the processing.

In addition to the general principles above, fashion houses shall also consider any specific requirement under the applicable national laws. In particular, fashion brands selling their garments all around the world shall have the ability to deal with multiple jurisdictions with different obligations to comply with, also having various implications on the business.

However, even though the use of technology in clothes entails lots of legal obligations to comply with, people only look forward to being hip, wearing trendy clothes sensor-embedded and connected, which monitor their heart beats, health conditions, stress levels, or remember appointments, alert on to dos, allow to listen to music or surf the net with a dose of style and fashion.

This is why now brands keep on combining tech and fashion and fill their runways with clothes which can heat up, cool down, change color or even size themselves, playing around with the concept of wearable, smart clothing and connected garments.

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