The Next Big Streetwear Brand is a Wearable Tech One

The biggest observation from Benjamin Males, CEO and co-founder of new fashion and technology brand TwentyFour15, which launched at London Fashion Week this past weekend, is that no one asked how it worked.

“It was a room full of Gen Z consumers, and they all just accepted it existed,” he explains. “This new generation don’t see sci-fi as sci-fi, they see it as a prototype for the future. This consumer we’re going after – they’re not technologically insecure, and the launch proved that – they’ve grown up in a world with ubiquitous internet and smart devices; they have this tech in their DNA.”

TwentyFour15 is a line of app-connected, fibre optic, color-changing apparel. Males refers to is as a “fashion brand for the digital generation with technology in its DNA”, but what it’s also about is wearable tech moving beyond fitness devices and into popular culture by way of a youth-focused streetwear brand.

In a literal sense, that means t-shirts, a backpack and a bomber jacket (to start with) that are connected via bluetooth to an app that controls the LED lights otherwise embedded in them. Initially, the functionality is kept simple – there’s a color wheel to shift the shade of the lights and a music feature that lets the user sync them so they also animate to the beat.

The potential longer-term, however, is much wider. The key here is that TwentyFour15 is powered by XO, the agency behind well-known wearable technology feats of the past including Lady Gaga’s flying dress and Richard Nicoll’s light-up Tinkerbell dress.

What Males and his co-founder Nancy Tilbury are trying to do now, is shift that business into a platform that sits behind a new consumer-facing streetwear brand. They refer to it as a “digital haberdashery” in terms of the varying functionalities and features it’ll be able to offer.

Males suggests ideas such as using the connected garments to offer “easter eggs” to music fans who come together physically in a space for instance – enabling them to unlock new features by virtue of being at a certain gig or event. Or even enabling a music artist to swipe a button within the XO app to send her heartbeat to her fans for just a second.

“Once you have something that has an API and products and users, then you can do all sorts of magic,” he explains. “It is a fresh approach to wearable tech which is more about emotion and connectivity and truer to fashion.”

The next version of the app will offer the ability for users to create groups to start facilitating this sort of thing, for instance, with the aim of turning it into a “digital, physical social media platform” over time.

Again, the crucial focus is that this is for a Generation Z consumer – for those born after 1995 – who are expecting the things that they wear to be connected to the things they love, Males notes.

The London Fashion Week launch is part of a bid to prove that there’s appetite for this from these shoppers while the company seeks investment. Each of the aforementioned items – which were just a sample of the full collection shown – are now available online for them to register their interest as a result. They enter their email address for now, and will then be contacted when the item becomes available. The aim is to ship in the first half of 2018.

Of course, such a model gives the XO team not only a database of interested parties but also a form of validation that this thing has traction.

It’s also not an unusual methodology in the fashion industry. TwentyFour15 is tapping into a streetwear mentality not just in its aesthetic, but also in the nature of the merchandise “drops” it will deliver once it’s gathered a sense of appetite. That makes it a much more viable business model for a small company than the more traditional wholesale route. It enables them to manage manufacturing risk.

But Males also compares this idea to thinking like a tech company. “With streetwear, you’re putting out a limited run of product to test the market, and you’re getting it into early adopters hands to help you do that. It’s very similar to a Silicon Valley hardware company beta testing their new products. The way those two worlds have mixed up has given us a huge opportunity to try something in the market.”