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Designers making clothes that fit the iPod's style: Follow the iPod
[July 19, 2006]

Designers making clothes that fit the iPod's style: Follow the iPod


(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Jul. 19--Clothing is now another iPod accessory, with all kinds of apparel being made to accommodate Apple's popular music player.

The new racks of iPod-friendly MP gear range from jackets with special wiring, to jeans with joysticks in a hip pocket, to slacks, T-shirts, belts and underwear with special pockets.

And although there are plenty of specialty players offering iPod clothing designs, big brand names such as Nike and Columbia Sportswear are also getting into it.

The idea of tech-friendly clothing is not new, but now there is a growing balance of form and function with a heavy emphasis on looking good and not just wiring up what you're wearing.

"If it's not good-looking, no one is going to buy it," said Scott Jordan, president of SCOTTeVEST, which helped pioneer the industry in 2001 with a multi-pocketed vest with conduits for cell phone wires, music players and other gadgets. "It's a matter of being able to carry the two to three devices you want without looking like a geek."



Apple has sold more than 50 million iPods since launching the player in 2001, spawning an $850 million accessory market ranging from carrying cases to rechargers to noise-canceling ear buds.

Clothing company executives say their stylings are the next logical step. If an iPod is an important part of your daily routine, it's a good idea to make sure it won't slip out of your pocket when you're getting out of your car.


"It isn't traditional clothing, and it's not a traditional computer product," said Jim Haviland, chief experience officer for Cleveland-based Koyono, which sells a line of wired activewear jackets with built-in iPod controls.

"The original idea was to create clothing with the technical specs and pocketing for someone with a busy, active lifestyle," Haviland said. "There was also the goal of cloning the concept of a woman's little black dress . . . into a coat you could wear anywhere. Something that can handle as much of your life as possible."

Threads with a technology twist no longer means a pocket protector for a scientific calculator.

For example, the initial SCOTTeVEST, which looked similar to a fishing vest, has evolved into a line of branded gear the company calls Technology Enabled Clothing that includes jackets, pants, shorts, shirts, hats -- and hoodies for the youngsters. The designs have pockets with magnetic enclosures to keep gadgets from slipping out, pockets within pockets and even solar panels that can recharge digital music players and other consumer electronics with USB ports.

Technology enthusiasts were the first buyers of these types of clothes, but over the years the audience has grown to include business travelers, commuters, students and even undercover law enforcement.

"The Secret Service found out about us as a way to keep their equipment out of sight when they are in the field," Jordan said. "Being able to tuck away your gadgets is a good idea no matter what you do for a living."

Jordan noted that some of the firm's latest designs, dubbed Version 4.0, are more subtle in blending technology with fashion. For example, the company's SeV performance T-shirt ($30-$35) lets the wearer carry an iPod or cell phone in a dedicated pocket near the shoulder with a channel that carries the ear bud cords through the collar where they emerge. The shirt is made of material designed to draw moisture away from the body, and it has a weight-management system with a pocket that holds devices so they don't shift. The pocket is lined with a fabric that helps it hold its shape and avoid chaffing, and the garment also has a hidden loop to manage ear bud wires.

"I think people want a fairly simple solution and a cost-effective one," Jordan said. "It has evolved from the geek to the business traveler to the youth market through the iPod. We have decided to remain device-neutral."

Other products, like the $230 SEV Tactical 4.0 jacket, are more complex. The breathable but waterproof jacket comes with 40 compartments, internal channels to run cords underneath the lining for electronics (including iPods), and side-seam zippers.

"Most recently we've seen tremendous growth from the iPod market," Jordan said. "It's a huge opportunity for us -- you need a way to carry them, and there isn't a way to conveniently carry and use your iPod."

Several companies are specifically targeting the iPod market exclusively, including Koyono.

For example, the company's BlackCoat series ($200 to $300) has an iPod control panel in the lining made of a washable "smart fabric" called Elektex from a company called Eleksen.

Plug an iPod into the coat using the included connecting cord, zip the player into its dedicated pocket and tap the controls on the fabric panel to move through songs or tweak the volume. The system makes all of the controls on the front of an iPod accessible without rummaging into the pockets, Haviland said.

"We looked to include controls for other gadgets as well, but the iPod seemed like the best place to start," he said. "Our view is: 'What can we do to bring the price down and make it accessible to more people, especially the urban user?' "

Nike gets in the game

Nike and Apple announced a partnership in May to create a line of products called Nike+iPod, which includes a wireless system that lets some footwear communicate with an iPod nano.

Nate Tobecksen, a Nike spokesman, said the $30 Nike+iPod Sport Kit tracks a runner's time, distance and calories burned, storing the data on an iPod and giving real-time audio updates.

A sensor in the shoe recognizes each step and sends information wirelessly to the iPod's receiver. The data can be saved to computer so runners can keep track of their progress, and real-time audio updates are pumped through headphones. The shoes that can easily accommodate the running sensor cost $80 to $100, Tobecksen said.

Nike is promoting the kit, which went on sale late last week, with online community features and digital content that includes ways for runners to share their progress with friends and download playlists with the favorite songs from famous athletes.

Nike will also begin selling men's and women's iPod-oriented athletic gear, ranging from $50 shorts to $140 jackets, beginning in October.

"People are running with music, and people are running with nanos," Tobecksen said. "We wanted to seamlessly integrate that with apparel."

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