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Why ‘wearable tech fashion’ won’t always be short for WTF

Smartwatches aren’t the only bit of fashion that’s going high tech: From workout gear to evening wear, from t-shirts and tank tops to handbags and hats, designers are finally getting the word. Tech and fashion needn’t be exclusive things.

“The technology has evolved to a point where it can now be synthesized with clothing. It wasn’t wearable six months ago in ways that it is today,” explains David Lauren, son of fashion icon Ralph Lauren and vice president at the clothing giant. “The goal now is to merge it into all kinds of clothing. It will be mind-blowing five years from now,” he told the Guardian recently.

Incredible advances in materials and a clear interest from consumers in clothes that do more than simply hide our bodies are leading the design industry — and Digital Trends will be there to help you find the best of the best in this wild new world.

“The goal now is to merge it into all kinds of clothing. It will be mind-blowing five years from now.”

In partnership with Nike, Intel, Google, and Project Runway, Digital Trends is proud to present FashioNXT’s second annual Wearable Technology Fashion Competition. The design that wins this competition — and ultimately breaks through in an increasingly crowded space — will at last bring fashion, style, and elegance together in a complete package, making a must-have for the wearable tech world.

Last year’s competition saw a diverse collection of ideas, from beautiful handbags designed to charge smartphones to stylish bracelets to dedicated gadgets for swimmers, runners, and more. The winning entry was dubbed “The Killers Suit,” by 20-year-old Pratt industrial design student Dillon Chen.

His design responds to the sound of the band and its fans, using microphones to detect sound level and quality, then emitting lights that change and pulse in response. His garment would be made of OLEDs and controlled by an Arduino microcontroller. Chen, a fan of the band he named the entry after, said he was inspired after a recent concert.

“I thought about the concerts I’ve been to. I’m a big fan of The Killers,” Chen told me last year. “I saw them last year at the Barclays Center and they were so great — I just thought, what would Brandon Flowers wear on stage? What would bring a new dimension to the music or live experience?”

Designs we’ve seen in the last year and a half have ranged from simple elegance such as the Belabeat Leaf to the nifty-I-guess (I’m looking at you, Intel MICA) to the downright ugly. But don’t take my word for it.

“So much of what we’re seeing is super meh,” said Third Wave Fashion founder and technologist Liza Kindred at a South by Southwest talk earlier this year. “One of the things we’re seeing is awful rubber bracelets and are really in our junk drawers. One of the other tropes I see is ‘slap a screen on it.’ I’ve seen screens on hats, belts, wrists.”

Think you can do better? So do I.

So send your latest idea to the contest, which is accepting submissions through September 1. Submissions must include a 200-word description and conceptual drawings or sketches — and feel free to dazzle us with one-minute video of your inspiration. Winning devices will be judged by an all-star panel during Fashion Week in Portland:

  • Nick Mokey, Managing Editor of Digital Trends
  • Seth Aaron, Fashion Designer and Winner of Project Runway
  • Shiho Fukuhara, Creative Director at Google
  • Matt Rhoades, Global Design Leader at Nike
  • Mark Francis, Venture Lead, New Business Initiative at Intel
  • Amanda Parks, Wearable Tech Lead at Manufacture NY
  • Todd Harple, Wearable Experience Strategist at Intel
  • Jason Mayden, Design Fellow at Stanford University’s Hasso Platner Institute of Design

The winner will receive $500 in cash, a free exhibit at the 2016 FashioNXT show, and unending praise and thank yous from long-suffering consumers around the globe. Don’t delay — sign up today!