In partnership with Levi's, Google is making a smart garment you may actually want to wear. On the heels of their partnership announcement last year, Google and denim mainstay, Levi's, unveiled the first piece of "connected clothing" powered with Jacquard by Google technology: a Levi’s trucker jacket made specifically for commuting bikers.
Woven into one of the sleeves is a very subtle patch of conductive fibers that lets you tap or swipe across its surface and access a series of customizable commands, from silencing calls to checking Google Maps for directions. The conductive fibers that power Jacquard are compatible with any commercial loom, which means that any designer of textile-based products will easily be able to incorporate the technology into their wares. In other words: clothing is just the beginning.
The technical components of the jacket are twofold. The metal-based conductive fibers are fully washable and sewed into the denim, and a button-sized piece of removable hardware called the “smart tag” (pictured below) allows the jacket to connect to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. Gesture controls and specific functions can be customized with the help of a companion app.
Per Bloomberg: "Among the tasks the jacket can perform: offering up suggestions for nearby coffee shops (or other types of venues), providing an ETA to your destination, and changing tracks on your playlist. All of the info is conveyed by audio, so you're not distracted by screens. By next spring, Google will release further details on battery specs and whether smart tags can be interchanged between garments; those logistics and the jacket's price are still in the works."
Maybe more important than what the Commuter Trucker jacket, which will be available as part of Levi’s Spring 2017 collection in stores and online, can actually do is what Google seems to be catching onto here. It is something that many fashion brands that have attempted to expand into smart garments and accessories are sorely missing, the exact thing that keeps consumers from responding en mass to tech-infused fashion: a general lack of wearability. Few designers have been able to marry form and function in a way that is deemed appealing or dare I say ... fashionable.
Take Iris van Herpen, for instance. The young Dutch designer, who shows both couture and now, ready-to-wear collections in Paris, likely has the firmest handle on tech-infused fashion. Her designs are striking. The 3D printed skeleton dress that model Liu Wen wore in the designer’s show one season comes to mind automatically, as do the rock-crystal formation heel-less platforms she showed for F/W 2015. Van Herpen’s most boundary-pushing creations – the standout pieces in any given collection – are certainly not lacking the fashion element. But they’re prohibitively expensive and they are just not wearable.
Then there are garments and accessories that lack the appeal of non-tech fashion items. Google's own attempts at glasses (remember them?) are a good example of what can go wrong. Technically impressive, the glasses were simply not "fashionable." As Yelp co-founder, David Galbraith, wrote not too long ago, "Tech influencers are very important for Internet services or a device such as the iPhone, but for things we wear, the things which tend to be based on the past, futurists with no particular requirement for fashion sensibility are not necessarily the best predictors of success. Looking futuristic is cool if you are a spaceman but not for hanging out in Williamsburg."
With this in mind, the jacket - with its modestly visible technical elements - stands a chance of holding its own in the market, which, like it or not, fashion-tech brands, consists of consumers who not only want to feel cool but want to look cool, too.