Levi’s is the first: the oldest denim brand on the planet launches a commercial, cool and attractive fashion jacket with smart technology.
It’s the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket. The denim jacket contains the Project Jacquard technology by Google ATAP and will be in stores from Spring 2017. With this launch, Levi’s positions itself as the first fashion brand to fully integrate electronics in commercial fashion. The jacket has a conductive cuff with wifi button, functioning as a touch screen for the smartphone. I talked to Paul Dillinger, Vice President Global Product Innovation, about the ins-and-outs of this brand new jacket.
Why did you team up with Google for Project Jacquard?
The most important point is that the Google technology is a fabulous solution, but it needs a brand that comes to the table with an actual problem. We offered that ‘problem’; how to control your smartphone safely on the bike.
Is this a limited edition ‘marketing’ jacket to generate publicity for Levi’s or will we all be able to enjoy a smart bike ride in Spring?
This is a real collection product, we will produce it on a pretty large scale. Not hundreds of thousands, but surely enough to supply our most important stores and a few special pop-ups. We will offer a men’s and a women’s jacket.
Why did you decide to integrate the technology in a jacket?
It could go anywhere but we really wanted it to be useful. So we talked to our friends, the friends of the brand who are cyclists too and who would normally wear our product. There’s not a jeans that they will wear several times a week, but about 70% of them said that they did have one jacket that they’d wear three or more times a week. And since we wanted to put it in a place where it would get the most use, we went for the jacket.
Why not develop a cool denim patch that could go on any denim product?
That wouldn’t be as magical. If we would only think about the easiest way, it wouldn’t push us to the next level. At the end of the day, we would still have a gadget, ending up in your sock drawer. The magic for us was to really integrate it into a garment, a garment that people really love. I think it’s a cool looking jacket; you want this to be part of your closet.
Fashiontech is a new area in fashion and often contains complicated technology. How to sell this new type of products to the Levi’s customer?
Our Commuter assortment has always been about delivering functional performance value to the urban cyclist. This jacket is an extension of the exact same values that we’ve already been marketing, so there isn’t a big change in how to talk to our consumer. The real challenge is to convince people that this is not a precious or fragile product. You can wear it and wash it like a normal jacket. And the app is pretty simple to explain; plug it in, pull up the power, that’s it.
How do you see wearables in daily fashion in the next few years?
The opportunity for wearable technology is vast. However, you should focus on what’s right for your brand and what’s right for your consumers, otherwise they don’t have a reason to go after it. We had the opportunity to place it within our Commuter collection and by doing so, we could give the wearable technology a real sense of purpose, instead of make it into a gadget for gadget sake. This is technology for the sake of a better ride.
Is this piece of technology now finished and ready to use in all other items of Levi’s?
Yes, and we’re excited about it. We’re supposed to beta test it in Fall and after that, with the initial commercial launch, we will see which features people will love and use the most. Then it goes into the open development; developers can get a hold of this technology and may start writing their own abilities. We thought of values for the commuter jacket, but some crazy other values will undoubtedly surface. We may use those and put them into another form, into jeans, shirts or accessories. So the next phase is going to emerge organically.
How do you manufacture this product when compared with the production of the ‘regular’ jackets?
The mill that is weaving this fabric with the interactive textile, is the same mill that is weaving denim for the normal Commuter series; they even use the same looms. The technology was designed to be easily integrated into the mill base that we already have. The woven fabric then goes to the same factory that’s already making the Commuter 511 indigo blue jeans. All we added is a new set of capabilities at the factory level, but the jacket is first and foremost a garment being made by a garment manufacturer, they don’t have to fabricate a piece of electronics.
The technology is in the cuff, how does the weave look like?
What you’re not seeing is the inside, where the active yarns are not fully integrated into the weave, they are loose. When the sleeve shape is cut, we can cut through these floating yarns and then the cut ends can be collected, secured and pulled into what becomes the connection point. Thats the new weave that had to be developed; it’s clearly visible in the making of the yarn video.
Do you have exclusive user rights for this technology or can other fashion brands jump on board as well?
We’re Google’s first partner in this but we do think that we can only get maximum value out of this technology when other brands are coming to the table as well, with different solutions for their consumers. So we’re excited to see what they will come up with. It’s good for all of us when consumers start using this technology for more than just this one Levi’s product.
You will start selling the jacket from Spring 2017 but have already announced it world wide. Aren’t you afraid another brand will beat you to it?
I know how long and how hard we’ve been working on this, so I don’t think that will happen. Anyone who wants to join should do so, but I am sure we will still be the first to put it on the market.