970x546-EyeonInnovationEye on Innovation | Levi’s Paul Dillinger Leads Future of Design with Google’s Project Jacquard, the Conductive Textiles Technology

*Editor’s Note: On the heels of New York Fashion Week, and coming into the AXIS Show, we highlight a story focused on textile innovation with Levi’s VP of Global Product Innovation, Paul Dillinger. Project Jacquard was released by Google last year, weaving technology into fabric and transforming everyday objects, like clothes, into interactive surfaces. 

At a recent talk on driving innovation, Guy Kawasaki, former Apple marketing executive, said the following: Innovation can never happen at the level you are currently operating on. Something must change.

Perhaps this is the type of thinking every business in our space should tap into as they look toward developing and designing what’s next.

In September, Google unveiled yet another advancement, Project Jacquard, which has been defined as the next step in wearable technology. Utilizing a new system for weaving technology into fabric by creating conductive yarn, the initiative incorporates touch and gesture interactivity into any textile made using standard, industrial looms. Everyday objects such as clothes and furniture can be transformed into interactive surfaces. With Levi’s on board as its pioneer partner, Google is moving forward aggressively—expect to see the introduction of conductive textiles in one of Levi’s 2016 apparel collections, according to Paul Dillinger, who is leading the charge behind this project at the brand level.

“I believe that the meaning of clothing and our understanding of its value and place in our lives is about to change,” Dillinger says. “As advanced technologies begin to weave themselves into our clothing, we have an opportunity to re-write the relationship with the objects that we buy and wear.”

As Vice President of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss & Co., Dillinger has played a role in leading the company’s social and environmental sustainability group, and the development of its Wellthread collection, which considers every aspect of production, from where materials are sourced to how they are manufactured. Hailing from a more-than-20-year career as designer at fashion houses in New York and the first Fulbright Scholar in the field of fashion design in Milan, Dillinger sees conductive textiles and utilizing wearable technology as the next frontier—one that will form a whole new industry, and with it a myriad of new possibilities.

“I believe that the meaning of clothing and our understanding of its value and place in our lives is about to change,” Dillinger says. “As advanced technologies begin to weave themselves into our clothing, we have an opportunity to re-write the relationship with the objects that we buy and wear.”

Imagine that clothing can become a host platform for useful new digital applications, he reasons.  The “seasonal novelty” of what brands can fashion would be delivered through the reconfiguration of new apps, rather than the purchase of a new physical garment.

“Thinking about this type of future can be uncomfortable for designers,” he says. “It will require designers to cultivate new skills and be daring as they imagine their role in the creation of a new industry. “

With that in mind, we asked Dillinger to weigh in on how he views creativity, the design process, and the future of apparel.

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Paul Dillinger, Vice President of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss & Co.

HOW DID YOUR WORK IN NEW YORK AND MILAN INFLUENCE YOU, AND SHAPE YOUR DESIGN STYLE? WHAT ARE SOME KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THESE EXPERIENCES?

Both Milan and New York are richly textured cultural landscapes.  You find inspiration everywhere you look in both cities.

For me, Milan was about learning a more refined, research-based design process. There was an expectation that every design decision be carefully considered and informed by that season’s visual and text-based research. The process was less deferential to consumer micro-trends and much more considerate of cultural macro-trends.

Working in New York, the design process often takes on the characteristics of a dynamic negotiation.  The design, merchandising and production functions have competing goals—beauty & quality, profitability, price-point, delivery, etc. There’s a healthy tension between these functions, and learning to navigate the industry landscape outside of the design studio is an important feature of the design function in New York.

 

HAVE YOU SEEN DESIGN EVOLVE OVER THE YEARS? WHAT’S NEXT?

Although my own process hasn’t necessarily changed, the places that I look for inspiration and information have become more diverse and the pace of the process has sped up. The concept creation process used to include traveling for inspiration, going to far away museums or libraries, discovering treasures in old bookstores or secret flea markets.

 

HOW DO YOU APPROACH YOUR WORK IN A WAY THAT ALLOWS YOU TO CREATE SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAN WHAT’S OUT THERE?

The needs of our consumers are constantly changing.  Trying to stay focused on new needs or new opportunities to resolve existing needs is the best way to ignite creative energy.

Project Jacquard

Project Jacquard

WHAT IS IT ABOUT PROJECT JACQUARD THAT YOU THINK OFFERS THE MOST POTENTIAL TO RESHAPE THE WAY THE INDUSTRY THINKS ABOUT APPAREL? DO YOU THINK THIS WILL BE A GAME CHANGER?

With Jacquard, we are looking at how we can provide access to the most important features of our phone in a way that enables us to maintain eye contact with the person across the table from us. We all have these clothes on so let’s use these surfaces to help facilitate face-to-face interactions. If we have a whole bunch of people who love Levi’s anyways, let’s use that as a platform to inspire re-engagement with the world around us.

Project Jacquard

Project Jacquard

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN PROJECT JACQUARD?

Just as the Levi’s copper rivet reinvented work wear for miners during the gold rush, innovation today must confront the new challenges of our hyper-digital world. Both brands bring something very special to the table. The Levi’s brand brings deep knowledge and understanding of apparel, our consumers, and what they value. Google brings advanced knowledge of the technologies, platforms and digital systems needed to make wearables a viable possibility.

Being that we are both international and global companies based in San Francisco, we share a similar energy based around this idea of pioneering. The opportunity for us to collaborate really just made sense.

 

DO YOU ENVISIONLEVI’S ROLE IN THE PROJECT EVOLVING AS YOU CONTINUE TO DEVELOP THIS TECHNOLOGY?

As the wearable tech category continues to expand, wearable/smart textiles have begun to emerge more as a topic of conversation. We can imagine that clothing can do a lot more than just help carry our phones, and Jacquard integration can help enable a range of new functionality in the future.

Project Jacquard

Project Jacquard

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