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Interview with John Dargan, Jabil Circuit senior vice-president and CEO of Clothing+

Adrian Wilson talks to Jabil Circuit senior vice-president and now CEO of Clothing+ about plans to move the market for textile electronics to an entirely new level.

7th December 2015

Innovation in Textiles
 |  UK

Medical/Hygiene, Sports/​Outdoor, Clothing/​Footwear

John Dargan is a Jabil Circuit senior vice-president and now CEO of Clothing+. © Clothing+ Adrian Wilson talks to John Dargan,  Jabil Circuit senior vice-president and now CEO of Clothing+ about plans to move the market for textile electronics – in the first instance for health monitoring – to an entirely new level.

AW: Can you tell us a bit about Jabil Circuit?

JD: We are headquartered in Florida, and now have over 180,000 employees worldwide and sales in 2014 of over $18 billion. Jabil is a global supplier of services to electronics and technology companies in a broad range of industries. Our customers span healthcare, life sciences, clean technology, instrumentation, defence, aerospace, automotive, computing, storage, consumer products, networking and telecommunications. We are the third largest contract manufacturer in the world.

AW: So what led to the acquisition of Clothing+?

JD: My role as senior vice-president for strategic development at Jabil is to identify new growth areas for the company and look at megatrends and examine what the company could do in specific spaces. The interest was initially prompted by considering the problems posed by a growing ageing population worldwide. The cost of medical treatment and everything that goes around it led to our scrutiny of wearables and on-body devices and the whole field of connected health. That’s when we came across this really interesting little company in Finland. They had developed good IP and had more than ten years of experience in manufacturing these products. What they were beginning to see was a much bigger pool of expectation around opportunities with a range of textile-related garments. But the company was pretty small and didn’t have an appetite for finding new funding for growth. As a result, they were much better positioned to sell the business. Clothing+ is a design services company, which fits very well with Jabil, which is also not a product company but a provider of services. So we closed the deal and have subsequently been looking at the market and positioning for growth.

AW: Clothing+ has been an innovator with this technology, hasn’t it?

JD: Yes, it was initially spun off from Reima, a Finnish company that makes highly technical kids outerwear, about 13 years ago. The development of textile-based wearables was a broad vision back then – the company was playing in the area with heart rate monitoring straps long before others. It has subsequently helped major brands, including adidas, Garmin, Salomon and Philips, achieve first-to-market status with highly differentiated smart textile products. It has already shipped more than fifty million units to date.

AW: So what have you subsequently decided about moving the company, and this market for wearable electronics, forward?

JD:  Initially, we’re building a new factory in Suzhou in China, to which we can add new manufacturing technology through our understanding of upgrading via automation. And while Clothing+ is in Finland, 80% of its customer base is in the USA so we’re also adding engineers in the US.

AW: And now you’ve introduced the first new product, Peak+? What’s different about it?

JD: Building an integrated textile heart rate monitoring solution today requires very different competencies and capabilities, which often turn into a guessing game between multiple vendors trying to piece it all together. With Peak+, we’re offering a strong competitive advantage with a unique, custom solution that provides easy entry into the high-growth wearables market. Our aim is to take the time and risk out of smart garment development. Throughout each step of the highly customisable design and development process, regular testing takes place to ensure accurate measurement collection.

AW: What does Peak+ consist of?

JD: It integrates Clothing+ textile electronics with a Suunto wireless transmitter that transfers accurate measurement data collected from garment sensors to a smartphone app, providing easy access to tracked heart rate monitoring (HRM) data. Added to this, is Firstbeat’s research-based, patented analytics of HRM data which deliver deep insight and actionable feedback into stress, recovery and the effects of physical training. Jabil brings the scale to leverage-in buying power and other parental advantages to accelerate their position. Our broad industry design, manufacturing and supply chain expertise, along with an established global footprint means we have the ability to bring quality products to market quickly and reliably.

AW: How did you select the companies to partner with?

JD: We really think these companies offer the best of what’s out there right now. Sunnto is without doubt the best in the business and First Beat adds very sophisticated algorithms that are the result of 20 years of research in medical applications and can translate into really useful lifestyle information.

Peak+ integrates Clothing+ textile electronics with a Suunto wireless transmitter that transfers accurate measurement data collected from garment sensors to a smartphone app. © Clothing+

AW: How big do you think this market can become?

JD: There are a lot of differing forecasts, but what they all conclude is that fitness and well being will rapidly become a volume business. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to customers in core markets and there are some very big garment brands – especially in active wear – who find the technical landscape somewhat bewildering. They know they should be in this market but are not sure how they should go about entering it. Brands know it represents a powerful opportunity to revolutionise the way they engage with their customers. Facebook and cell phone apps already demonstrate the desire of consumers to connect with one another and the community. With e-textile solutions, brands have an unprecedented chance to create a relationship with their customers – and gather important data and customer insight that would never exist in the case of an ordinary bra or shirt – capturing the interest and attention of the consumer and ultimately reinforcing brand loyalty. That’s an opportunity that no brand should miss.

We think we know what the major brands want and we’ll talk about what this could mean for them. They want to change their relationship with consumers from being simply a brand to being a lifestyle partner and are a little jealous of smaller brands who may already be achieving this and offering broader engagement. They need a cleaner route into it, which is what we aim to provide. Beyond this, as the fitness and wellbeing HRM market grows, we’re aware that applications in healthcare could be much more valuable because they’re about achieving much bigger savings in time and money for hospitals globally. It’s back to that megatrend of an ageing population. We’re currently involved in a number of patient monitoring projects that are highly promising.

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