Experts apparently agree: Fitness wearables are now a fashion statement

By Jonah Comstock
04:45 am

JONAH_COMSTOCK_HEADSHOTOver the past two years, there have been a few efforts to make activity trackers more like jewelry.

The Misfit Shine's market strategy turns on the simple elegance of the device, and Misfit CEO Sonny Vu has said many times that invisibility and fashion are the two options for making a wearable device catch on.

BodyMedia -- whose armband device is the most-data-intensive, but also the most clinical-looking tracker out there -- previewed a shiny fashion-forward armband at CES in January.

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When Vogue magazine calls the Nike FuelBand "the A-list's chicest accessory," though, that's something else entirely.

Yes, in the famous fashion magazine's mammoth September issue, social editor Chloe Malle chronicled the rise of the FuelBand, also giving lip-service to the Fitbit, Jawbone's UP and BodyMedia's armband. Malle explains how the device works, and waxes poetic on the addictive nature of Nike Fuel, but she also defends her thesis that fitness trackers have really caught on among the fashion elite.

"In fashion circles, the FuelBand reigns supreme," she writes. "It all began when Serena Williams strode onto Centre Court last year at Wimbledon sporting one next to her magenta sweatband. Was this the new tennis bracelet? Since then, they've started popping up on chic wrists all over town: Shala Monroque's got quite the tour of Paris at the recent couture collections; Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis has mixed hers into a medley of thin gold bangles, a Victorian locket chain, and an Aurelie Bidermann gold torque bracelet. Even Kanye's wearing one! Right next to his Cartier Love cuff."

Lest we think only Nike has captured the hearts of celebrities, in May a gossip site caught Ryan Reynolds with a Fitbit Flex. That same month Gwyneth Paltrow told the Daily Mail the Jawbone UP was the secret to her fitness successes.

Somehow, while the mobile health insiders were debating whether activity trackers would ever move beyond data-heads and fitness freaks, the changing winds of fashion took a hold of the activity trackers all on their own. In seeking to make a jewelry-like tracker, developers may have underestimated the current "Geek is Chic" culture, where gadgets don't have to look like jewelry to be worn like jewelry. In fact, TechCrunch wrote a whole report on the techie theme pervading Vogue's September issue.

Making page 696 of Vogue is a big step for mobile health and for the Quantified Self movement; it's about as promising a benchmark for cultural visibility as I can imagine. But it's definitely not time for the activity tracker makers to celebrate. If fashion is anything, it's fickle, and a craze or a fad is the last thing the Nike FuelBand should want to be.

The goal for health-minded startups is still real, healthy behavior change: to build a bracelet that won't just be worn for the fall season, but year after year.


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