Imagine wearing a computer in the form of a jacket. Now, it is possible.
“When somebody calls you, your jacket vibrates and gives you lights and [you] know somebody is calling you,” said Ivan Poupyrev, who manages the Google’s Project Jacquard, a digital platform for smart clothing.
Project Jacquard formed a partnership with Levi’s to create the first Jacquard enabled garment in the form of Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket. What makes the jacket “smart” includes washable technology, created by Google, woven into the cuff of the jacket.
“These are highly conductive fibers, which are very strong and can be used in standard denim-weaving process,” said Poupyrev.
A tap on the cuff can also provide navigation and play music when paired with a mobile phone, headphones and a small piece of removable hardware, called a snap tag, that attaches to the cuff.
“You get the most important features of the phone without taking your eyes off the road,” said Paul Dillinger, vice president of global product innovation for Levi Strauss & Co.
The Levi’s jacket is just one step to smarter clothing.
“Do they want to make shoes? Do they want to make bags? Do they want to make trousers?” Poupyrev explained, “The platform [is] being designed so that this technology can be applied to any type of garment. Right now, it’s Levi’s but right now, we’re very actively working with other partners in the apparel industry and try to help to make their products connected.”
That means designers need to be increasingly tech savvy.
“Fashion designers in the future are going to have to think about their craft differently. So, it’s not just sketching and pattern making and draping and drafting. It’s going to involve use case development and being a participant in cladding an app and becoming an industrial designer and figuring out what you want these components to look like.” Dillinger added, “What we found out is engineers and designers are kind of the same thing. They just use very different languages.”
New patterns and materials
From the functionality of clothes to how they are made, computing power is reshaping fashion. Designers can create structures and patterns that have never existed before current technology.
“Designers now have a new set of tools to actually design things they could never design before. We can use computational tools to make patterns and formats that we could not do individually, because they were too mathematically and technically complicated. So, we’re using algorithms to help us facilitate design,” said Syuzi Pakhchyan whose job is to envision the future as experience design lead at the innovation firm, BCG Digital Ventures.
New technologies are also being used to make bioengineered fabrics made with yeast cells in a lab. The company, Bolt Threads, is developing fabrics made out of spider silk.
“We take the DNA out of spiders, put it in yeast, grow it in a big tank like brewing beer or wine and then purify the material, the polymer and spin it into fibers so it’s a very deep technology that’s required many years to develop,” Dan Widmaier, chief executive officer and co-founder of Bolt Threads.
The company Modern Meadow grows leather from yeast cells.
“We engineer them to produce collagen which is the same natural protein that you find in your skin or an animal skin, and then we really grow billions of those cells, make a lot of collagen, purify it and then assemble it into whatever kinds of materials, the brands, the designers that we’re working with would like to see,” explained Suzanne Lee chief creative officer of Modern Meadow.
She said these bioengineered materials are more sustainable and can be described as both natural and man-made.
“So, we’re really bringing both of those fields together to create a new material revolution. The best of nature with the best of design and engineering,” said Lee
What’s hot and what’s not
Technology is also disrupting fashion trends.The prevalence of social media means it is not just the designers who decide what is the latest trendy styles in fashion.
“Fashion has been democratized. A lot of fashion is being made by influencers with zero design experience,” said Pakhchyan.
Replacing trend forecasters, artificial intelligence can now collect data from social media and the web to give designers insight on public preferences.
“This is actually I think changing the role of the designer. Cause now, you have all this information so what are you going to do with this information?” said Pakhchyan.
How clothes are marketed and sold are also increasingly dependent on technology. If a consumer has shopped on a website once, that data is collected to entice the user to buy other products through personalization.
“When I connect online with a brand, they know me. I feel like they know me. They know who I am, they know what I like, they know what I want,” said Pakhchyan.
The Levi’s smart jacket can also be purchased online. The price tag: $350.