The author of this postDaria Morozova – participated in the development of an idea of the wearable that H&M has developed into a prototype

Gentle, passionate, soothing, friendly, flirty… This is what touch can be like. Touch is believed to be one of the basic human needs that expresses a wide range of feelings. Touch is a very intimate gesture that can tell more than words, and most people prefer to control who can touch them and who should keep a distance.

Speaking of a distance, with COVID-19 keeping people apart, we are limited in our physical contacts, and regardless the solutions offered by multiple platforms, the touch experience is something many of us have been missing. In this context, a new haptic device “Wearable Love” by H&M that promises to overcome boundaries and to let us “send” and “receive” touching as easily as messages via social media looks up-to-date. Let’s have a closer look. 

Wearable Love is a jacket equipped with flexible sensor-like elements in the shoulder area. These elements are controlled through a mobile application via which the selected users send signals to the sensors when the jacket owner wears it. The transmitted signals define how much the in-built tactile elements vibrate thus mimicking touch sensation. A unique code goes with each jacket, and only those who have access to the code can use the app. By sharing the code, the user of the jacket selects who can virtually “hug” and “touch” them.    

The idea of this wearable project was developed during a hackathon by the Do School in Berlin in June 2019 (more on this here https://wearabletech.home.blog/2019/09/08/hm-considers-a-wearable-apparel/). The H&M Lab, a digital portal operating exclusively in Germany, started a campaign to test if the market is ready for such a wearable.

An original idea developed in the Do School. The author participated in the hackathon and made the picture of a presentation of the original idea

In a nutshell, H&M reaches people out through social media with a question if they would be interested in owning and/or using such a jacket. Basic information and a video commercial are available here http://wearable.love.hmlab.de/index-en.html

A model by H&M Lab. The purple scheme indicates where the sensors are located. Picture from http://wearable.love.hmlab.de/index-en.html

Taken that no price range for the Wearable Love jacket is provided, and that many wearable projects (including those by large fashion houses) have failed, the prospects of the projects are yet unclear. H&M gives no details on the price range of Wearable Love, though it might be a crucial factor for many customers. In addition, what kind of information will H&M app require, and how will the company ensure protection of the sensitive data? And, most importantly, how similar to real touch are sensations provided by Wearable Love? These are touchy issues.

The tactile element that imitates touch has been developed by the German start-up called Bolware. This element consists of a puck and a base, has a battery life of up to two weeks and can be removed from the jacket and charged. Pictures by H&M Lab.

The app model for sending and controlling “touches”. The jacket and the app connect through Bluetooth. Picture from http://wearable.love.hmlab.de/index-en.html

On the positive side, H&M promises customization of the “touch”, meaning that the user sets intensity and durability of hugs sent by different individuals. This is logical, taken than your lover and Mom touch you differently (ahem).

Perhaps the most appealing thing about the Wearable Love project, at least in my view, is that it can provide greater freedom to people who are shy and reserved to express their feelings openly. In some cases, this jacket might be a secure option for LGBTQ people who are discriminated in certain countries and communities. If this idea resonates with the audience, chances are Wearable Love won’t lose its relevance after corona related restrictions are over.

From H&M perspective, the project might draw new customers, as it is not just the jacket’s owner, but also their circle who becomes involved by using the app, and these people do not necessarily shop at H&M. Also, if the test campaign runs successfully, there is possibility for including new models of the jackets, or perhaps even other types of clothes in the future.  

On a larger scale, the project could fit into an ongoing debate on intimacy and borders within interpersonal relationships as Wearable Love can, to a certain degree, empower the user by letting decide who can touch them and in what way.

A slogan from H&M campaign of the Wearable Love project. Picture from http://wearable.love.hmlab.de/index-en.html

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