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Project Jacquard Developers Discuss the Future of Smart Fabric

Though people are still marveling over the novelty of the Apple Watch, the wearable tech industry is not slowing down, and the next innovation on the horizon is Project Jacquard, the “smart” textile developed by Google ATAP and Levi’s.

At Fashion Tech Forum in New York City on Thursday, Allison Johnson, founder of San Francisco-based advertising company West, led a discussion with Ivan Poupyrev, technical program lead at Google ATAP and Paul Dillinger, vice president, head of global product innovation and premium collection design at Levi Strauss and Co.

The Project Jacquard fabric is designed to look and function like normal cloth, but with conductive threads incorporated. The fabric is washable and the consumer shouldn’t have to feel like she has to be precious with the fabric, Dillinger said.

An important use for the technology is to remove people’s devices from social interactions. “We allow access to the best of the digital world but without ever having to take your phone out,” Dillinger said. He added it could also be helpful to allow drivers or bikers to access directions more safely.

Wearable apparel also opens up a whole new field of users and interactivity, moving beyond the audience for a smartwatch or a fit-band. “Not everyone wants to put a piece of plastic on their body, but everybody wears a jacket, everybody wears clothes,” Poupyrev said.

Johnson asked Dillinger about the sustainability of Project Jacquard, given that sustainability plays such a large role for the jeansmaker. Dillinger stated that often the question for brands is whether to make a customer pay more for sustainable items, based on moral reasons rather than value. With fast fashion, people want to pay less and less. However, Dillinger said, “This is the value that will unlock that race to the bottom. This makes it a race to the top. For a modest premium we are giving something wholly new.” He added, “This gives the consumer not a moral argument about sustainability, but a legitimate value.”

Dillinger hopes that people will hold onto their Project Jacquard clothes longer and treat them better, ultimately finding a new route toward sustainability.