Despite the initial eye-rolling at Levi's and Google's connected jean jacket fashion and tech aren't necessarily a match made in hell. After all, things change seemingly every second in fashion, with what I believe is the fifty-nine-hundredth time I've heard that bell-bottom jeans are coming back in style. So today's belly-laugh may be something that you'll see on the street and desperately try and pretend you weren't laughing at. Or you'll see the world of technology change what you wear in more subtle ways.

Though the painfully-named athleisure industry has had its fair share of derision, it's posed to become a $80-$100B by 2020. Brands like Lululemon have achieved remarkable staying power (by making their clothes adaptable to numerous environments - you can dress them up or down and they are comfortable either way--and in some cases simply make you feel like you're buying success at the gym. Whatever the reason for its success, people's athletic wear has become a booming market where other parts of the clothing industry have faltered. Unsurprisingly, this has led technology to try and build small or large aspects of tech into people's clothing.

Lunya, a Los Angeles-based fashion company, sees an industry built around functional, high tech sleepwear. Ashley Merrill, founder and CEO, created the brand for women emphasize comfort, function, and style for lifestyles that are increasingly versatile and, for better or for worse, tech-oriented--so bring in the techies to help. "We are not fashion people; we are tech people solving a fashion problem," says Merrill. The company uses many terms you'd heard yelled unironically in a startup - agile systems with scrum meetings, short sprint cycles, constant feedback loops, except they're making clothing.

Positioning sleepwear isn't exactly the easiest thing in a market dominated by most people's perceptions that "naked or pajamas are just fine," but Merrill sees the space as a huge opportunity. This isn't the most ridiculous idea, either, with the company Sheex growing rapidly with their sleepwear and sheets built to leave you less overheated (or cold) overnight. Thus the idea of multi-purpose clothing that emphasizes comfort without sacrificing style (though who is watching you in bed is quite beyond me) is a gold standard that companies are yet to meet at scale.

The Need

With everyone chasing this space, just as everyone did when designer jeans took off in the 50's and 60's, Lunya is focused on solving the problem of the increasingly discerning customer and the clothes they sleep in.

"As people move towards more casual options and spending more time in the home (thank you, Netflix and Postmates) Lunya's focus on sleepwear innovation, comfort, and style is a long overdue development," says Merrill. The company recently launched their Meneya line, a collection using Celliant--a technical fiber that Lunya claims uses infrared energy to increase circulation and regulate body temperature while you sleep. While it's difficult to independently check these claims without me fully suiting up in sleepwear, I can only imagine that they don't mean to suggest there's an infrared conductor inside the sheets. "Technical design means addressing everything from the types of stitches used where, to creative ways to structure a waistband so it doesn't ride up, pockets for functionality, to integrating technology directly into our product," the founder says.

Lean Sleep Management

"Fashion brands have a tendency to throw a lot of options against a wall to see if they stick with wholesalers," said Merrill. Since we need to invest heavily into each style, we want each one to be a winner so we invest way more time and energy upfront with the intention of making each one a gem."

They are also a service business, which offers a real (if not necessarily fun) opportunity for feedback, combining with tech's ability to heckle you on Twitter with complaints. That being said, the company, reflecting Everlane and Bonobos, is looking to succeed through similar straight-to-consumer, high-touch point online communication. They're in the right place for a profit, too, with lingerie estimated as a $9 billion dollar industry, composed predominantly of lingerie brands with large-format stores selling related clothing, such as shapewear and swimwear. In essence, they've got a potential market to tear into.

It'll be interesting to see if someone can turn sleepwear into a multi-billion industry. Anyone laughing at Lunya's chances, though, should probably think back to when many would have said "wait, what's Lululemon?"

Published on: Jun 30, 2016
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