Technology giant Google has come a long way in the realm of fashion tech. After learning the hard way that you can’t just collaborate with a designer once to give a tech invention trendy status, the company has devoted significant resources into getting right the blend of fashion and technology.
A testament to that commitment was last year’s announcement of Project Jacquard in partnership with clothing company Levi’s. To recap, Project Jacquard makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms, thus enabling everyday objects such as clothes or furniture to be transformed into interactive surfaces.
At its annual I/O conference last week, Google and Levi’s shared progress of the project and announced their first interactive item – the Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket.
“This is going to be absolutely game-changing for fashion design.”
“I am so fascinated by this project, and I'm really excited to see what Google creates. Through the utilization of conductive threads, it will be possible to create textiles that can recognize computation interfaces, opening up countless opportunities for further development of fashion tech,” said fashion tech designer Alexis Walsh when we reached out for a comment on the project. “This is going to be absolutely game-changing for fashion design.”
HOW IT WORKS
The fabric includes conductive yarns, made of a combination of natural yarns and metallic alloys. The jacket includes a detachable smart tag, which makes it possible to function. While the tag needs to be removed to charge or when the wearer needs to wash the jacket, the actual fabric of the garment is completely washable. Google and Levi’s have tried and tested the garment to ensure consumers can treat the smart clothing the same way they treat all their other clothes (read: it’s easy to take off and throw in the wash without worrying about its functionality).
Designed with urban cyclists in mind, the jacket enables wearers to perform tasks like changing music, blocking or answering calls and accessing navigation information with touch interactivity. This means that people can tap, swipe or hold on the left cuff of the sleeve to fulfill those tasks instead of pulling their phone while cycling. The smart jacket is connected to the cloud, as it comes with a mobile app where users can manage other software that will work with it.
"It feels like the first time we have really progressed in this space and a step closer to what futurists are seeking to achieve."
“Riding a bike a lot myself I see great potential in the smart Commuter Jacket. The level of integration of the electronics in textile seems of high quality and allows for a great variety of uses. I am excited to see it coming to the market and I am curious to see whether consumers will want to integrate it in their lives,” shared with us textile and technology designer Eef Lubbers.
Nik Thakkar, Creative Director at luxury menswear design label Ada+Nik also echoed the excitement: “When I saw the full details about Google's Project Jacquard in collaboration with Levi's - and as someone who has been experimenting with wearable tech - I have to admit I became a bit emotional! It feels like the first time we have really progressed in this space and a step closer to what futurists are seeking to achieve. It's a really enlightening and positive development that is aesthetically pleasing. I cannot wait to try it myself!”
WHY IT MATTERS
Let us take a step back here. Surely a smart jacket that lets you perform simple functions is not the most ground-breaking thing we’ve seen in the realm of fashion tech and wearables. There’s the futuristic dresses of eveyone’s favourite fashion tech darling Anouk Wipprecht that create veils of smoke or ‘attack you’ if you get too close to the wearer. There’s also the insanely beautiful 3D-printed skeleton dresses and sky-high heels of Iris van Herpen. So why is a good, ol’ denim jacket causing a stir in the fashiontech community?
"It's not necessarily the functionality that's impactful, but more so that the garment is produced using Levi's existing supply chain."
Hint: It’s all in the supply chain and manufacturing at scale. Jacquard components are cost-efficient to produce, and the yarns and fabrics can be manufactured with standard equipment used in mills around the world. One loom can generate as many different textile designs as there are people on the planet. Jacquard allowed Levi’s innovation team to design and produce connected, interactive denim garments that are indistinguishable from the brand's traditional clothing. They remain the iconic garments symbolic to the brand, but are enhanced with digital functionality.
“I think that Levi's new commuter jacket is tremendously exciting. It's not necessarily the functionality that's impactful, but more so that the garment is produced using Levi's existing supply chain,” said fashion technologist Maddy Maxey of The Crated when we reached out for comment. “This sort of seamless integration is exactly what we need to see the smart apparel space grow and expand. Kudos to Levi's for being so innovative and being willing to take on the Herculean task of introducing smart garments into a more traditional apparel business.”
The Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket is set to go to market for both men and women in spring 2017 in selected US cities, before broader release in Europe and Asia later in the year.
This is not only a testament of the scale of the project from both partners but also evidence that they are betting on this in the long-term. Sharing her opinion on the announcement fashion tech designer Birce Ozkan said: “I hope this kind of collaborations will encourage other fashion brands to accept the inevitable role of technology in our future garments. More collaborations like this will hopefully create both fashionable and functional garments. It’s a win-win for both fashion and technology fields.”
The collaboration should indeed make both fashion and technology companies pay attention to this growing field. As Lisa Lang, founder of Elektro Couture, shared with us: “This is a great way to show fashiontech is becoming a very serious business consideration. It’s not only about digital strategy anymore. It’s about real design, real products, stories and purpose. I think this will shake up the competition a lot,” said Lang, explaining that her studio received a lot of requests from both design and technology companies that enquire how to make such products happen.
“I think it is great to see two companies from two totally different companies to work together and work on an actual ready-to-wear product. That's how fashiontech works,” said Lang but expressed concerned about the jacket’s unisex appeal. “I still think it’s more sporty and male-orientated. I'm convinced that the real big market will be the female-orientated market but this will be a bit more complex to crack.”
Still, this is a tremendous step for the community. Jacquard is a blank canvas for the fashion industry. Designers can use it as they would any fabric, adding new layers of functionality to their designs, without having to learn about electronics. Developers will be able to connect existing apps and services to Jacquard-enabled clothes and create new features specifically for the platform.
Connected clothes offer new possibilities for interacting with services, devices, and environments. With such great potential, Google will be looking at doing more Jacquard-related projects. The tech giant has said that it’s seeking opportunities to work with new partners. Beyond the initial collaboration with Levi’s, Google will be exploring athletics, formal workwear, enterprise garments and the luxury market.