Over the last century clothing has been designed less to meet individual and societal needs, and more for aesthetic value – form over function. However, technology and fashion are developing together rapidly to change that. Wearable tech is appearing on our wrists, in our pockets, within our shoes, and woven into our clothing’s fabric – and all of them hoping to make our lives easier. Plus, as global resource scarcity increases and manufacturing’s impact becomes more apparent, sustainable functionality grows increasingly necessary.
Levi’s is pushing the envelope on both fronts and leading the pack, recently announcing the techy Levi’s® Commuter™ x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket and making ongoing ethical efforts via Levi’s Social and Environmental Sustainability group. We spoke to Paul Dillinger, Levi’s Vice President of Innovation about the group he leads, how his brand is leading the pack through innovation, and where he sees both the brand and the industry heading.
Levi’s recently unveiled at Google I/O the – Levi’s® Commuter™ x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket – can you tell us more about this?
The Levi’s® Commuter™ x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket is our latest innovation and the first ever smart garment with Jacquard by Google technology woven in.
The denim jacket is enhanced with a unique denim fabric that becomes responsive to touch, like the surface of your smartphone. With simple gestures, like a brush or a tap on the sleeve, the jacket allows cyclists to control their mobile experience and connect to a variety of services including maps, music, and calls.
The digital connectivity is provided through a smart tag that houses all the necessary electronics, and apart from this detachable tag, the whole interactive garment is washable and durable like regular denim. It will be available in Spring 2017.
Tell us about your wider work for Levi’s Social and Environmental Sustainability group. Do you see regular, consumer fashion ever being sustainable?
I lead product innovation for Levi Strauss & Co., which includes sustainable product innovations.
I definitely see an opportunity for regular, consumer fashion to be more sustainable. We’re seeing the start of this in the marketplace now, and I expect it will continue to grow as a new generation of consumers who are more aware of what goes into making the products they purchase gain ever more buying power.
Chart how Levi’s has developed into a sustainable brand. Where has it come from and where next has it got to go?
We have a long history of both social and environmental sustainability. From implementing the first worker safety regulations in 1991 to creating the industry’s first Water Recycling & Reuse standard. The next step is pushing ourselves to design more sustainable products that are still durable and valuable.
The most important step a company can take is to make an investment in knowledge. We have used science and data to measure the impact of our business across each lifecycle phase of our products. This is how we’re finding practical solutions.
You led the development of the Wellthread collection, working with the Aspen Institute. Explain its main innovations, what they mean and why they are important.
Conventional strategies for sustainable design have relied on the recalibration of a single material or process, explained with a short message such as: “This product is made with Organic Cotton.”
Although efforts like this are important, they also create a false sense of success. The apparel supply chain is incredibly complex, and opportunities for improvement exist at every stage, the industry’s greatest challenges will require us to embrace the complexity of the whole process.
Wellthread incorporates sustainability into every aspect of the design and development process. The end results are more responsible products for both the people who wear them and the planet. Wellthread products use Water<Less™ fabric, which saves more than 65 percent of the water employed in the dye process. All elements of the product are made from cotton to allow for total recyclability of the product. Lastly, the products are all produced in factories that participate in our Worker Well-being initiative, which provides life improvement programs to the workers who make our products.
From Wellthread, through your innovative work with Evrnu and the groundbreaking project with Google’s Jacquard and the Levi’s Commuter trucker jacket, is Levi’s the most forward-thinking fashion brand you’ve ever worked with?
Yes. Without a doubt. The fashion industry often prioritizes the urgent over the important and we, as designers, often focus on the next season and fail to consider the next generation.
Levi’s, though, is thoughtful and reflective. We look at last season’s sell-through data as well as last season’s environmental impact. We invest in a deep relationship with friends and fans of the brand and we partner with our manufacturers and invest in programs that improve the lives and communities of the people who make our product. We also work on advanced materials and technology solutions that will future-proof our supply chain and deliver useful value in five or ten years.
The Levi’s Commuter collection has only been around for five years, yet it has consistently remained Levi’s most recognized collection, according to Levi’s themselves. Why do you think this is?
The Levi’s brand has always been about purpose-driven design and creating products that meet a consumer need. Our Levi’s Commuter line is the pinnacle of Levi’s Performance innovation and continues to solve real world problems.
For Fall 2016, we’ve expanded on comfort, coverage, and durability through strong stretch fabrics, water and dirt repellency, reflectivity, and thoughtful design details to help you ride your bike – day or night, rain or shine. When someone wearing a piece from the Commuter Collection is on their bike, and they discover one of these useful design features, they have an “Ah-ha” moment. That kind of experience creates a lasting, loyal relationship between the consumer and the brand.
We’re seeing labels releasing dedicated lines and collections specifically aimed at urban, ‘everyday’ cycling. How big is the playing field and what makes Levi’s stand out from the rest of them?
Innovation is in our DNA. We offer our fans lifestyle solutions through function, utility, and purpose. Staying true to our heritage, while innovating for the future.
The Commuter Collection isn’t just an assortment of clothes designed for cyclists. The Commuter jeans are, first and foremost, a pair of Levi’s. We’ve simply taken some of the “hero” pieces that you already know and love, and added a few thoughtful design features that can help you out when you’re on your bike. When you put on a pair of the Commuter 511 fit you don’t look like you’re wearing bike “gear,” you just feel like you’re wearing your favorite jeans.
For more information on Levi’s, visit levis.com.
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