The fashion world is discovering technology integration into clothing with e-textile and smart clothing, raising new legal issues for this market.
As we have already discovered during the pandemic, technology has been an effective way for fashion brands to advertise and sell products in a historical period that has limited the possibility of shopping in physical stores. The advent of technology and innovation within the fashion industry is, in fact, more evident today than ever before. Technology and innovation continually inspire and influence trends and fashions, from new sales methods and techniques, including online, to wearable technology such as smartwatches and smart glasses.
A new trend is to combine technology and fashion to enhance clothes and garments with innovative features that – thanks to technology – allow them to go beyond traditional use and make garments smart. The use of advanced fabrics with woven circuits, the implementation of additional sensors and hardware, as well as the ability to connect to a device via Bluetooth or wi-fi are just a few examples of how clothes can become smart.
Specifically, in some cases, traditional fabrics and fibres are combined with electronics to collect and transfer – through electronic sensors – data and information about heat, light, movement and other conditions of the environment in which the clothes are worn. This is the case with electronically integrated textiles – or e-textiles – which incorporate electronic components by weaving them together with fabric yarn or glueing or stitching circuitry on a non-textile material to the surface of traditional fabric.
To empower clothes with technology, adding functionality that allows clothes to go beyond their traditional use, designers and engineers must combine their skills to improve people’s lives. In fact, by wearing smart clothes, people can access their smartphones and related apps, they can navigate, stay up-to-date on weather and traffic, listen to music, as well as collect data on their sports activity, track their heart rate, or even monitor their emotions and even pay for groceries with gestures, just by keeping their smartphones in their pockets.
If Pizza Hut has already experimented with limited edition smart shoes that allow you to order pizza, brands such as Nike – with its Nike Adapt Shoes – and Sensoria have created sports apparel and accessories that can detect information about posture, health conditions and performance during a workout and send the data on the analysis of the performance obtained to a particular application. On the other hand, under Armour’s Athlete Recovery Sleepwear absorbs the wearer’s heat by releasing infrared light to increase sleep quality and improve muscle recovery.
Still, Ralph Lauren’s PoloTech t-shirts allow the wearer to connect to a smartphone app that can record motor activity to suggest new workouts, while Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy Jeans Xplore connect to the brand’s iOS app thanks to integrated Bluetooth smart tags to track product usage and reward users who wear them with unique experiences.
Samsung has also decided to dive into the world of e-textiles: in fact, it has already made a smart men’s suit that can exchange digital business cards, unlock your smartphone and interact with other devices. With the new Body Compass workout shirt, on the other hand, Samsung allows the wearer’s biometric data to be monitored. At the same time, for golf lovers, Samsung has also created a shirt that adapts to weather conditions and UV rays.
The latest act of this new generation of smart clothes is the iconic Trucker Jacket by Levi’s with integrated Google Jacquard. Specifically, Levi’s has incorporated some Google Assistant functionality into its outerwear to allow the wearer to interact with their smartphone, navigate maps and play their favourite playlist by mimicking preset gestures on the jacket’s cuff.
However, before launching their collection of e-textiles and smart clothing on the market, fashion houses that decide to create a smart garment must consider several data protection issues and regulatory requirements applicable to these new objects of desire.
First and foremost, in addition to textile manufacturing regulations, fashion brands need to check what regulatory requirements apply to the production and sale of electronic products (e.g., regarding labelling, recycling, product safety, etc.).
Moreover, in terms of consumer protection, legal issues related to product warranty and the need to have adequate after-sales support to manage possible defective products, returns and refunds are critical aspects to consider when deciding to invest in smart clothing garments.
Finally, one of the legal issues relevant to the creation and operation of smart clothing garments is the one inherent to the processing of personal data collected through such devices with the consequential data protection issues. E-textiles and smart clothes are to be considered electronic devices to all intents and purposes, designed to communicate with other connected devices and with the body of the wearer and, for this reason, enhanced by a multitude of sensors that collect personal data, including biometric ones, such as body parameters during physical activity (for example, temperature and heart rate).
Therefore, brands targeting their innovative products at European customers must contend with the requirements of the GDPR, as well as any resulting national compliance laws. To this end, it is always advisable to carefully consider what kind of data to collect to comply with the principles and requirements outlined in the GDPR.
Fashion houses are required to collect and process – for the time strictly necessary – only the personal data necessary to achieve the purposes of the processing, in compliance with the principle of minimization set out in Article 5 of the GDPR. Not only that, when fashion companies collect and process personal data, they are required – by the principle of transparency – to provide data subjects with information on the personal data processing carried out, guaranteeing data subjects the rights and freedoms outlined in Articles 13-21 of the GDPR (such as, by way of example, the right to access the data, the right to be forgotten, the right to portability, etc.).
In addition to the above, where e-textiles and smart clothes process biometric data – i.e., information relating to an individual’s physical, physiological or behavioural characteristics that allow for the unique identification of that individual – fashion brands must adopt additional safeguards. Indeed, in this case, they are required to collect specific consent and take additional security measures – both from a technical and organizational perspective – to legitimately process the data, including drafting an impact assessment on the rights and freedoms of data subjects according to Article 35 of the GDPR. In addition, any processes for aggregating and anonymizing data collected through smart heads are, in themselves, data processing activities that require a specific legal basis for processing.
However, even though the use of technology to create smart clothes implies many legal obligations to comply with, people want nothing more than to be fashionable by wearing smart clothes connected via sensors that can monitor their heartbeats, health conditions, stress levels, or remind them of appointments and things to do, listen to music or surf the web with a good dose of style.
Here’s why fashion houses continue to combine technology and fashion and fill the catwalks with clothes that can heat up, cool down, change colour or even size, playing with the concept of wearable, smart and connected clothing.
On a similar topic, you can read the article “Is the retail sector ready for the new legal issues of Internet of Things revolution?“