Yes, you read that headline right. Strapped for cash and obviously desperate, the United States Postal Service is launching a new line of "'smart apparel,' — also known as wearable electronics." The mailmen-turned-fashionistas will call the new line Rain Heat & Snow, first for men and later for women, and while it's unclear exactly how smart the apparel gets, reports suggest that you'll be able to plug your iPod into your new Postal Service jacket. The agency's licensing manager, Steven Mills, says that the new line "will put the Postal Service on the cutting edge of functional fashion." Which is basically true. When was the last time you plugged your iPod into your jacket? That said, when was the last time you used an iPod? Or the U.S. Postal Service?
It's hard to not to give the old USPS a slow clap for this one. It would be one thing if the Postal Service wanted to sell some t-shirts and Dad ties with pictures of stamps on them — they actually tried that back in the 80s, and it didn't work — but it sounds like they're actually going after serious outerwear brands like North Face and Burton Snowboards with this one. It's unclear if the Postal Service can keep up, though. Burton, for one, has a head start, since it partnered with Motorola and released a Bluetooth-enabled snowboarding jacket with a matching, headphone studded beanie back in 2005. The geeks at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) loved it, called it "space age." The Postal Service, by contrast, opted not to take the fancy brand-name strategy, instead teaming up with the Cleveland-based Wahconah Group. You might know them from their Legends line of men's clothing, but you probably don't.
The big question remains: Will it work? The Postal Service lost $16 billion last year and plans to halt Saturday mail service in an attempt to cut costs and dig itself out of debt. Unfortunately, the drastic measure will cut 22,000 jobs, but it will only save the agency $2 billion a year. Suffice it to say that the Postal Service needed to get creative with their revenue streams — and you can't get much more creative than cyborg jackets. After all, the new ad campaign last year didn't work, and the Simpson's stamp venture definitely didn't work. So why not get into the outdoor gear business? If anybody knows anything about being outside, it's those letter carriers, right? You know the riff: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
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Here's a little bit of encouraging news. Other companies have tried the apparel route in the past, albeit without the whole sexy wearable electronics angle. Apple released its own clothing line in 1986, and look at where the company is now!
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