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Smart Apparel Evolution: The Levi's/Google Smart Jacket

Everyday apparel is about to get a bit smarter.

Over the last couple years, innovative brands, especially in athletics wear, have intensified efforts to develop comfortable smart apparel. And now, collaboration between Levi’s and Google is extending that effort beyond sportswear to a fashion piece – a denim jacket, in particular.

Most basically, smart apparel is teched-up clothing that can monitor and record information about your physical condition. That definition has been expanding of late to clothes that can possibly offer other benefits too, from body temperature moderation to device control.

The latter feature is a key element of the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket. Designed especially for urban bike commuters, the jacket features technology that allows wearers to control their mobile experience and connect to a variety of services, such as music or maps, directly from the jacket, with the help of an electronics-infused smart tag.

Made of dark blue denim, the stylish jacket is the brainchild of a collaboration between Levi’s and Google’s Project Jacquard, an innovation initiative that involves unobtrusively embedding sensors and feedback devices in fabrics and clothing, thereby making garments digitally interactive.

“Using conductive yarns, bespoke touch and gesture-sensitive areas can be woven at precise locations, anywhere on the textile, making the yarn strong enough to be woven on any industrial loom,” reads an explanation on the Project Jacquard website. “Alternatively, sensor grids can be woven throughout the textile, creating large, interactive surfaces.”

As the jacket testifies to, all that technology can happen without sacrificing fashion. Obviously the jacket won’t be for everyone. But it may be a bellwether that smart apparel options are not only set to expand in athletic wear, but also in fashion too.

Regardless, sales of smart apparel on the whole are expected to increase. IDC, a global provider of market intelligence, predicts that smart apparel will go from accounting for 1.3% of total shipments within the wearable technology market in 2016 to 9.4% in 2021 – an ascent that will occur as total shipments of smart wearables (including watches and wristbands) increase 18.3% during the five-year period. With the rise of apparel, smart “wearables will be made available to a previously unaware audience – one that frequents fashion outlets over tech outlets,” says Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers.

Certainly, smart apparel isn’t poised to take over the promotional products space tomorrow. But some industry suppliers already believe that the tech-tastic clothes will make their way to the industry, presenting new sales opportunities in categories that range from workwear and wellness, to teams and education.

“I do see smart apparel/wearable tech entering our space,” says Danny Tsai, vice president of merchandising at Top 40 supplier Tri-Mountain (asi/92125). “As far as what type of innovation, it can be anything from measuring and tracking an activity, making you more visible, or keeping your body temperature regulated. The affordability of it will decide how soon we see it in our industry.”