Imagine a world where people are encased in an individual "bodynet," a wireless, apparel-based computer network that lets them make phone calls, check e-mail, watch TV, listen to music and pay bills as they walk down the street.
But that began changing this fall when a Finnish clothing company, Reima, became the first European firm to launch a full line of technically enabled apparel. Its first product is the Smart 3305, a ski parka with a detachable body belt (which can be bought separately) that allows the wearer to make a one-way GSM call by pulling a tag and talking into a shoulder microphone. "You can compare it to a walkie-talkie, which is also one-way communication but with limited range," says managing director Pentti Hurmerinta. "This has global range." Reima is targeting mountain climbers, skiers and hikers by marketing the unit as safety gear. Other potential customers include ski schools, emergency rescue teams and companies that employ outdoor crews, like construction firms.
Early next year, Reima will bring out a second version that offers two-way wireless phone calls, as well as an undershirt that can monitor the wearer's pulse. Also on tap for next fall: a fabric "pocket" with a built-in web browser that can be worn on a shirt or jacket. Its display screen slides out from the pocket, and the browser makes a wap connection to the Internet.
Smart Clothing technology doesn't come cheap: the belt retails for around $300, the jacket for $310. Reima hopes to sell 500 of the belt/jacket ensembles this year at sportswear shops and 4,500 of the belts through mobile phone stores. The company projects sales of 30,000 items next year, with the belt alone accounting for 90% of the market.