Pierre-Alexandre Fournier and Jean-François Roy co-founded Hexoskin in 2006, initially conceptualized for the production of personalized medical devices for biometric data. After experimenting with several devices and conducting study designs, they realized that in order to monitor, gather, upload, and store health data of vital signs (such as heart-rate, blood pressure, temperature, blood oxygen, breathing rate and volume, and breathing patterns) to track health patterns and eventually develop online health services, they needed an object that covers the upper body, and designed their first biometric shirt in 2010.
Initially it was marketed locally to researchers, health and fitness professionals, but the goal was to expand to mass production. When conceptualizing the design of the biometric shirt, they consulted fashion designers and Cegep Marie Victorin about pattern-making and fabrics. They hired Julie Morin-Dumais, a Mile End swimwear designer, imported synthetic fabrics from an eco-friendly producer in Northern Italy, cut and assembled the shirts in Montréal. The technical components of the shirt include electrocardiogram sensors (ECG) and breathing sensors that send the information through a small string device they invented and patented to a recording and transmitting device that has blue tooth, USB, 4GB of memory, two processors and sensors, and syncs it with a mobile app for IOS and Android.
Eventually the goal is to expand the clothing lines for different applications and contexts. “We want to do fashion,” Fournier explained, “we want to introduce different colours, accessories, we want to have different garments that are not electronic so that people can match styles.” The branding of the product has always been focused on health, with positive associations with performance, rather than disease or serious health conditions. Most of their clients include athletes, professional trainers, sports organizations, health researchers, and other digital health companies. Their first major contract was with the Canadian Space Agency for astronaut training and for future use in the International Space Station. As Fournier noted, “basically they told us, we are going to Mars, you have to design us a wearable-sensor-health-system.”
Hexoskin biometric shirts are currently available for men and women, including a long-sleeve winter shirt that can monitor cardiac, respiratory, and activity data including steps, calorie burn, heartrate, and sleep. Additionally, it can also monitor cadence, heartrate recovery, breathing rate (RPM), minute ventilation (L/min), activity intensity, and peak acceleration. The shirts are made of machine-washable fabric that is quick to dry, breathable, lightweight, anti-odor, chlorine resistant, and provides UV protection. A special Bluetooth module plugs into the shirt which provides 14+ hours of battery life for multiple workouts and 150+ hours of standalone recording that pairs free apps designed for smart phones and tablets. Hexoskin also features an open API, free to researchers and third-party software and hardware developers. In June 2014, Hexoskin was presented at the Consumer Electronics (CE) Week in New York, known as the Fashion Week for technology that showcases the best, most sophisticated FashionWare designs and includes a live runway fashion show.
While the “quantified self” movement is a global trend, Montréal plays a key role in this innovation boom because of its diversified economy, its many universities, and its former manufacturing history.
As Fournier pointed out, “There is a lot of talent in Montréal. There are four universities with four good engineering faculties. In most American cities there is one university and some community colleges. There are a lot of people doing bio-medical research here, bio-tech, pharmaceutical, we have a clothing and textile industry, or we used to. The building we’re in was built 45 years ago just for the fashion industry. It used to be called Place de la Mode and you can still see the marks from letters above the entrance. There are no more clothing companies here, it’s mostly office space. But 40 years ago it was the building for textile manufacturing. So we have good labour, manufacturing capacity. We make the shirts and assemble the electronics in Montréal.”