Smart Apparel to Drive Wearables Market Growth by 2021

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Smart apparel will be the leading wearables category over the next four years.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, the overall wearables market, including clothing, is expected to return to strong growth after a slow year.

New vendors, along with retail outlets, will boost global wearable device shipments from 102.4 million in 2016 to 237.5 million in 2021, a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.3%. Clothing specifically, should reach a CAGR of 76.6% from 2016 to 2021, as consumers demand more stylish wearable products.

“Tech companies will be forced to step up their game and offer a wider selection of sizes, materials and designs to appeal to a broader audience. We also expect more tech vendors to partner with fashion brands for their creativity, and equally important, their distribution network,” IDC Mobile Device Trackers senior research analyst Jitesh Ubrani said. “In doing so, wearables will be made available to a previously unaware audience—one that frequents fashion outlets over tech outlets.”

Last year, smart apparel shipments only totaled 1.3 million, which was considerably low compared to other wearables categories, including watches (49.2 million) and wrist bands (48.7 million). Smart apparel also only held 1.2% of the total wearables market share in 2016.

While fashion and technology continue to blur with new innovations, the wearables market will cater to new consumers, including trendsetters, over the next four years. As developments continue to boost garment capabilities, IDC predicts that smart apparel shipments will increase to 22.3 million in 2021. Further, clothing is projected to increase its wearables market share to 9.4% in the same year.

Wearables categories, including smart apparel, will also diversify options during this time. IDC Wearables team research manager Ramon T. Llamas said smart apparel could be created to track athletic performance, while some earwear could be focused on providing real-time language translation.

“In both cases the wearable is not taking a one-size fits all approach, and instead concentrates on specific solutions for specific use cases,” Llamas said.

In the meantime, smart apparel continues to gain momentum in the wearables market, as consumers use these tech-infused, yet stylish garments to improve their lifestyle needs.


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