Don't get lost, get directions from your jeans

PARIS • A young man in a white T-shirt pulls on a dark blue denim trucker jacket, tucks his smartphone into an inside pocket and puts in-ear headphones in his right ear.

He mounts a bicycle. Riding through the streets of San Francisco, he occasionally taps or swipes his right hand over the left cuff of his jacket, as the directions he is listening to continually pop up on the screen of this advertisement.

It is an ad from US jeans maker Levi Strauss for Project Jacquard, an initiative with Google that the companies started two years ago for so-called "smart" denim.

The future of the popular fabric was also the focus at a recent international fashion fair in Paris.

The event featured many wearable innovations such as a waterproof jacket with sunscreen bands and a cable in the pocket to recharge a mobile phone, or jeans that keep your body temperature stable.

Once mainly the purview of athletic gear - with moisture-wicking shirts and trousers and then clothing that can track motion, heart rate and body temperature - the new trend for fashion designers is to take everyday clothes and transform them using new technology.

Spinali works bluetooth sensors into the waistband of jeans.
Spinali works bluetooth sensors into the waistband of jeans. PHOTO: SPINALI DESIGN/INSTAGRAM

Clothing made from specially woven fabric and touting touchscreen control capabilities can be designed in such a way to visually stand out or go unnoticed, depending on designers' wishes.

French-based fashion company Spinali Design, for example, has created jeans that can give wearers directions without them having to whip out their mobile device at every intersection.

Through Bluetooth sensors stitched into the jeans' waistband, the smartphone stays out of sight.

"You put a destination in... (and) sensors will vibrate right if you need to turn right, left if you need to turn left," Spinali innovation director Romain Spinali told Agence France-Presse.

In 2015, the company designed a bikini that tells women when it is time to apply more sun screen.

The two-piece retails for €149 (S$229) and comes with a small detachable ultraviolet sensor that, through a smartphone or tablet, sends a "sun screen alert" when the skin needs more protective cream.

The detector is calibrated to the wearer's skin type and how much of a tan she wants, and is "virtually devoid of any radiation", Spinali said.

The Spinali jeans, made in France, cost €150 and also have e-mail notification capabilities.

"They will vibrate differently depending on whether the message received is from your family, your friends or work," Spinali said.

Google and Levi expect to release their denim jacket this year. It will cost US$350 (S$494), due in part to its interactive fabric that lets the wearer order products online.

Other international fashion companies have also jumped on the "smart" denim bandwagon.

Brazilian company Vicunha has designed denims that will keep the wearer's core temperature stable.

American designer Cone Denim has blended its denims with technical textile fibres from equipment used on motorcycles - to better tout the sturdiness of its clothes.

But these companies recognise that there has to be more to "smart" jeans than just fashion sense and connected capabilities.

"The consumer demands greater traceability and ecology, especially when it comes to denim because it is a product that is a bit controversial," said Ms Marion Foret, fashion products chief for Premiere Vision Paris, which organises trade shows.

Denim is a product "that doesn't always carry the best reputation so textile makers are forced to use more ecological processes", she added, such as making denims with organic or traceable cotton, cleaning denims without water and using dyes that will not pollute the land.

In keeping with that trend, Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Wongen makes denims using fabrics from used and worn jeans.

Others seek to keep consumers better informed like Pakistani manufacturer Artistic Fabric Mills, which developed an application to retrace the history of the jeans.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'Don't get lost, get directions from your jeans'. Print Edition | Subscribe