Fashion items that speak to us-literally

by Emily Scardino

Some technology-based apparel innovations are, simply put, just plain cool. Nifty high-tech clothing applications are shifting downmarket from specialty stores thanks to decreased production costs and increased consumer interest.

Gap has recently launched two affordable high-tech jackets for boys. Early this year the company introduced a windbreaker with "gadget gloves" conceptualized by a 10-year-old boy, Nathan Tung, who won Wild Planet's annual Kid Inventor Challenge contest. The jacket retails for $49.50 with attached gloves featuring six tools, including signal lights.

Gap had teamed up with Wild Planet previously for another tech item: the Hoodio. It launched during holiday 2004 at $68, featuring a radio and removable speakers concealed in the jacket's hood.

"Wearable technology is the latest innovation in the apparel, electronic and toy industries and we're excited to be at the forefront of this trend by partnering with Wild Planet," said Mark Breitbard, vp at GapKids.

Other items are still out of reach for the masses, such as Button's Bluetooth Motorola snowboarding jacket featuring a wired-in phone and MP3 player launching next fall. Nyx illuminated clothing is another high-end line. Wearers can upload customized messages that are displayed on flexible, waterproof panels. Though the concept has applications from industrial to everyday use, it will take a while to hit Wal-Mart.

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"The garment industry's pricing structure is traditionally very low versus electronics, where, when new technology is introduced, you pay for it," said Nyx ceo Dr. John Bell.

Bell believes a moderately priced version of his jackets will soon be viable due to high-volume overseas sourcing, which could reduce costs by about 50%.

Whatever the technology, customers are willing to pay for it--but at the right price.