When Tech Meets Fashion: Google and Levi's Join Forces on a “Connected” Tech Jacket
By: Christina Ho, Intern
Google is collaborating with the iconic clothing company, Levi’s, to launch a “connected” smart jacket. These jackets are part of Levi’s Commuter collection and are aimed at urban cyclists, allowing consumers to control music, answer phone calls, access navigation and more. Originating in the Bay Area, Levi’s rose to fame during the Gold Rush. This seems like a bold partnership for Levi’s since it has always been known as an rich cultural icon. It’s sturdy denim fabric has been the core of its brand since it first introduced its blue jeans in 1873. Involving technology in apparel is a very forward-thinking and modern move for Levi’s which I think definitely contrasts with its previous brand image.
A little background into the story – Google introduced Project Jacquard, an interactive textiles project intended to combine garments with a digital functionality. At Google’s I/O conference last week, Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) research unit provided updates on their latest partnership with Levi’s.
This jacket will involve weaving in multi-touch sensors within the garment making it a wearable computing device. To make this functionality possible, a Jacquard tag is embedded in the jacket’s sleeve. It is a detachable tag that can be pulled out and charged via USB. The tag takes advantage of the jacket’s buttonhole in order to connect with the LED, haptics, battery and the woven sensor in the garment. The platform comes with a mobile application that connects your smart clothes to the cloud. Consumers will be able to use the apps that work with the connected garment – functions like calls, Google Maps, and Spotify. During a demo event, the company showed how running your fingers up and down the cuff would control music volume. TechCrunch claimed that there is a trivial stiffness on the cuff where the sensors are placed, causing a slight bulge. This is a concern for attractiveness and comfort of the jacket. We have yet to wait for the pricing information. The jacket will be made publicly available in spring 2017.
I think the biggest challenge with this project is the inherent tension to connect the practical implementation of technology and garments: technology is fragile while garments are not. The company claims that you can use the jacket like any other article of clothing – wash, iron, and fold. I would imagine that you would need to detach the tag when you throw it in the washer. The question is – would you ruin the tag if you forget to unplug it from the jacket?
Nevertheless, this is a innovative idea for urban cyclists, especially in New York City. Fussing with your phone can lead to dangerous consequences while cycling in the midst of traffic. Levi’s Commuter jacket allows cyclists to be able to simply touch the jacket’s cuff to control different functions without having to take out a phone. This partnership allows Google to successfully expand its product market into the fashion and textile industry (with its smartwatch line), allowing it to reach famous clothing brands. This project could also be huge implications for what our clothing will be able to do in the future. A lot of things rely on fabric beyond clothing such as seats, carpets, toys, etc. – could this be the beginning of an unimaginative world?