Making Clothes For The Future
Love your Levi’s? They’re about to get much smarter…
Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects division unveiled Project Jacquard last week at its annual IO developer’s conference. With this unveiling, Google didn’t just announce a whimsical technology – it revealed a new way of making material that already has its first launch partner, Levi Strauss, on-board and preparing for launch.
Project Jacquard is the codename for fabrics woven with Google’s new touch-enabled conductive yarns that can turn a specific area into a touchpad. While the prototype demos at Google IO were still that, Levi’s Vice President and Head of Global Product Innovation Paul Dillinger was on hand to talk more about teaming up with Google, the vision behind Jacquard and what we can expect from our first touch-enabled denim clothes.
TechRadar: How did this partnership between Google and Levi’s come about?
Paul Dillenger: There’s obviously an intuitive connection between these companies: Bay Area, iconic brands, global scope. But, [project lead] Ivan [Poupyrev]’s boss and my boss had dinner, and it emerged out of a natural conversation.
TR: Does Project Jacquard change the game for the concept of “wearable” technology?
PD: What makes this proposition so unique and so compelling is the value in the deployment of the apparel as a platform. And that we’re not relying on fashion designers to be the creators of technology gadgets, but to be the integrators of this platform. [We do this by] allowing the development community to bring their creativity to bear, and to really become co-creators.
TR: Has Project Jacquard required Levi’s to rethink clothing designs to adapt them for this next-generation wearable?
PD: I think what the team at ATAP has done exceptionally well is that they have designed [Project Jacquard] so that it can be easily deployed. It’s not the easiest thing, it certainly isn’t, but it doesn’t require new vendors. The mills that are doing this are mills that are already in our source base. The factories that will be making these are factories that are in our source base. What it will require is a new skill set on the part of the designer. First of all, agility. There are certain accommodations that have to be made as the garment is designed, and new challenges emerge [during production]. A conventional process that fixes a sketch, locks it in Illustrator, sends it to a factory, goodbye, and see it in nine months in the store? That doesn’t work anymore. The process requires deep engagement with the supply chain as we create. So now there’s a requisite malleability, a deference to the peculiarities of this particular material, that hasn’t been part of the design process heretofore.
The second thing is it will then force the designer to weigh the opportunity to deliver useful value and emotional durability in the clothing against the technical challenges of this deployment and this requisite agility.
TR: What does it mean to you as a company to have think about how to integrate electronics into a garment?
Sustainability is a passion of mine. Also, regulatory [concerns] around the integration of consumer electronics into apparel are a very serious consideration for a brand that distributes globally and needs to be mindful of each region’s regulatory constraints in this space. All of that has been taken into account. We have a strict, non-negotiable restricted substances list, so no component that we might consider potentially harmful will get anywhere near this garment. We are working with the fundamental elements that have always been persistent in a pair of Levi’s; they’ve just in new forms. There’s nothing that’s going to be problematic here; there’s only opportunity.
When Can You Wear Project Jacquard?
TR: Do you see Project Jacquard as something that’s going to be accessible from the outset to the mass market? Or will the first Jacquard garments be targeted as a niche product to start?
PD: We are designing this product for people who love the brand already. We’re not dabbling in this space and going after some outrageous markup. This is a modest premium; it’s not prohibitive.
TR: Do you see you Levi’s coming up with the applications that go with the garment, where it will be all about Levi’s branded apps? Or will other apps be able to connect to the garment? Or will it be a combination of both?
PD: A combination of both, I believe, will be the right answer. We can’t proceed and go through all of this rigamarole without knowing that upon purchase, there’s going to be a useful application that’s going to deliver a seriously valuable opportunity. We already know what [our consumers] need and want. We’re going to go out with a very focused suite of applications developed in conjunction with the team you see here now [at Google IO]. But from there, this is a platform and we really need the community of developers to quickly take it up and start riffing on this. That’s what’s going to accelerate the deployment broadly. The more excitement we can generate with that community, the more broadly we can apply it, get excitement going, and get to scale and volume quickly.
TR: When you speak about volume, are you talking about Levi’s only or are you seeing something bigger brewing for fashion?
PD: The intention is that this is then going to go beyond Levi’s, and that this is going to become the norm for the expectation of what a garment can do. That’s what I hope to see for the industry; that it helps redefine our relationship with clothes, and what we perceive as a value in clothing.
TR: Are you working with Google to learn the new language of developers, and to determine what the shape of our new clothing will look like?
PD: We are. [We’re now] proofing the form through the supply chain, and there are tandem workstreams that are around unlocking that tight group of applications for us. The next stage after that is for Google to work on creating that kit, and creating access to the form and its opportunities by explaining what gestures, what states of motion, and what forms of feedback are available, so those parameters can be shared out. They’re going to be new and different, and they may feel constrained in some cases. They also may feel like a tremendous [opportunity] in others. And it’s going to require a fairly open mind on the part of the developer community.
TR: Do you foresee garments being multipurpose, or having controls for specific needs?
PD: The fundamental nature of the garment’s form will cue applications, those applications will relate to gestures that appropriate to the garments that you’ll wear. So it will be an exciting unveil when all of that comes together.
TR: When can we expect to see the first Project Jacquard-enabled garments?
PD: This is fashion, so we talk about the spring season and the fall season. Spring 2016 will be an opportunity for us to bring product to influencers and testers and developers, to work out the kinks and vet and validate. And then the consumer will get their hands on it in the backhalf of the [year].
-Melissa Perenson, Tech Radar