Game changers

A new decade is upon us, looking back at the past 10 years I think it’s hard to have imagined where we are today. Sure it’s not all robots and hover boards, not quite yet anyway, but it’s a long way from what was predicted. 

I remember getting my first iPhone, I’ve got to admit, I was skeptical about Apple’s ability to create a phone. Back in 2007 Nokia reigned supreme in the world of mobile handsets. Ok there were other players but Nokia had almost total dominance of the market, they brought out the cool new tech that you really wanted – N96 anyone?

I’ve been using Apple products since the early 90’s, so I’ve seen the good (G5 towers) and bad (G3 blue and whites) and lots of other things too. In fact I was one of the first people to buy an iPod, Gen 1 and still love it to this day. It revolutionised how and where I could listen to my music collection, with a vast library of content on tap whenever I wanted it.

Let me get back to the phone, like I said I was skeptical then I watched a few videos on YouTube, saw what this thing could do and I was clear, that was now the phone for me. Apple completely reinvented the medium when the iPhone was released, it has become an intrinsic part of our everyday lives, whether you’re on iOS or Android, there’s no denying the impact this phone has had on us all.

With the advances in what your phone could do – web browsing, email and countless other productivity apps, gaming, photography, videos and a music player is still in there as well, there had to be some significant increases in the platforms that they run on. I’m talking about major infrastructure and the levels of connectivity that first gave us 3G, then 4G and now 5G. The data that flies in and out of your phone everyday way exceeds what the old blue and white Apple G3 could have handled, something that I think really highlights just how powerful our phones have become.

But all this power and constant access has brought with it a lot of problems. Today a phone is so many things to so many people it’s scary, it’s highly addictive and there’s real moves a foot to simplify things back, give us all some breathing space, make life simpler again. Why am I telling you this? Well about 2 years ago I started DressCode Shirts. There were a number of reasons for this new venture but one thing that really struck me was the way our tech is trapped inside our phones and other devices. A private little bubble, all cozy and warm with exclusive VIP access for one. That just didn’t feel right to me. People are naturally sociable, we are meant to talk to one another, interact face to face, not screen to screen, message to message. We’re supposed to gesture and express ourselves, it’s how we’ve evolved and how we have survived, but it feels like some of this natural ability is being sucked out of us by technology.

So we set about expressing tech in surface patterns, creating innovative designs that connected with peoples human and tech values, creating a special place where the two were warmly embraced, celebrated and reflected back to the outside world. There was a huge element of pride, personal pride for sure, as a designer there’s no greater reward than seeing your clothes being worn by others. But it goes deeper than that, expressing the pride of being involved in cutting edge technology, showing friends and family that this is your passion, and doing it with style, it’s chic geek. 

Earlier this year I met a group of people developing wearable tech, it was something that had long been on my personal radar and it felt like there was a connection to be developed under the DressCode brand. Again I was skeptical, I’d seen the big tech companies showboat this sort of stuff several times before. Sure it grabs the headlines, but there’s no real big picture, game changer piece being considered, it’s all about showing off, something new, something different. As I’ve said above, I believe we are way past saturation when it comes to personal technology so I was torn…I love tech and expressing it in the shirt designs but should we take that to the next level? Or were we in danger of overstepping the mark?

Sitting with the DressCode team we started to take a long hard look at the wearable and smart clothing markets, looking at what businesses were producing and how people were using them. Was there something that we could do in this space that would be a game changer? Something that would stick in the same way Apple had achieved with the iPhone. As tasks go it was enormous, but I’m a great believer in aiming high, I’ve spent much of my career boxing above my perceived weight and I was ready for a new challenge.

So we amber lighted the wearable project, unsure as to whether there was something we could do? One thing I was sure about was the approach, there was only one way to find out, jump in, try it and see what happens. I’m not one for doing things by halves, so we went in big, both feet and found ourselves waist deep in a world we knew nothing about. We had some really whacky ideas about what a smart shirt could do. 99.9% of the ideas were so gimmicky I’m loathed to speak of them as they were just that, something that would be fun once or twice and then, like so many wearables, would fall by the wayside, forgotten and unloved.

We refocused and thought about the working day, an environment where technology is omnipresent, bringing unbelievable levels of distraction into our personal space, professional and private lives. Was there something that we could do in this space that would be meaningful and could it be a game changer?

The world of payments has evolved a lot over the past decade. Contactless has become the norm and you can even pay for things using your phone. But is that really something that you want to do? Does it feel natural? Everyone in the office felt that there was something about it that just didn’t feel right. It’s just not human, it feels weird and we don’t want to advertise to the world which phone we’re carrying around. After a few days reflection we realized that we’d found our place, somewhere that we could bring a human centred piece of functionality into our shirts using NFC technology.

We already had great data about our customers, all 4 of our customer persona’s over indexed for wearables, proof and validation for what we were doing didn’t get much better than that, so the light went to green and we were off.

Enter our first steps into the world of payments. Like a toddler learning to walk, we were all over the place. This sector has gone through massive transformation over the past decade. The established models have been turned on their heads, technology has innovated processes at incredible speed and peoples expectations have been raised higher and higher.

The most basic of research quickly shows you that there’s 3 main players in this industry. Equally quickly was the realisation that getting an audience with any of them was nigh on impossible. After all we are a tiny start-up and the barriers to entry all carried significant financial costs. Undeterred we looked around to see who else operated in this space and after kissing several frogs we found our Prince and Princess.

We found two companies who are both incredibly well versed in this space. Their experience and knowledge of the payment systems is nothing short of incredible. It was a genuine coming together of like-minded people, people with vision, people who shared our beliefs about human centred design. Taking the best payment tech and integrating it in ways that feel natural to people.

So began a late spring/early summer of tests and trials as we looked at what the NFC technology could do, and more importantly how we could house that within a shirt. It was during this time that the CashCuff was born. We feel that there is something incredibly reassuring about having cash on hand at all times. Putting your wrist on a contactless payment portal also creates a connection with another person. You’re looking at them, engaged, sharing the enjoyment of the purchase not staring down into your screen or fumbling around to find your card – which is always either right at the bottom of your bag or appears to have magically welded itself to your wallet, refusing to come out until you heave with such force that there’s a light shower of plastic cards cascading down around you.

We have tried really hard to make the CashCuff as simple and straight forward for people to use. The pay forward principle minimises any financial exposure to the user. The process of using it, we really do believe is a much more natural experience, it’s certainly a talking point, I’ve yet to buy anything CashCuff that didn’t evoke a response from the person serving me. Managing the CashCuff is really simple as well. So the big question…Is it a game changer? It is a very big question and we’re only just starting this chapter of the DressCode journey, we are confident about the future, the speed and growth in the adoption of wearable payment solutions but ultimately time (and people) will tell.

Watch the CashCuff in action on the BBC.

Watch our interview with That's TV, learn more about the CashCuff

Check out the CashCuff range here.