Paul Dillinger (Levi's): "To be relevant, technology must be useful"
Levi’s is taking charge of connected textiles with the presentation of its 'Commuter' jacket. Paul Dillinger, vice president of Levi Strauss & Co in charge of product innovation on a global level - explains his vision for this development.
Fashionmag.com : You’ve announced your first connected garment for spring 2017. Why have you chosen to develop this project with a 'commuter' jacket?
Paul Dillinger: More than any other item in our closet, we choose our jackets – our outer layer – to serve a specific, useful purpose: a raincoat, a windbreaker, a dinner jacket. We wanted the integration of interactive technology to be just as useful, to form a necessary function.
FM : Does that mean this kind of smart technology merged with textile needs a special purpose to be relevant?
PD : Yes, to be relevant the technology must be useful. But, that purpose can not be so prescriptive that it has only one useful function. This isn’t a tool to do one specific job, this is a platform that allows the wearer to select and configure the abilities and applications that are most valuable for their daily life.
FM : What will the price of this jacket be, compared to a classic one?
PD : We have not yet finalized the price. Consumers can expect to pay a premium for this innovation, but it will be within the upper range of our Commuter line.
FM : What were the main technical challenges with this project? (Washing it, safety with electronic wires…)
PD : First and foremost, we needed to make sure that what we were creating would be a jeans jacket that could live up to the Levi’s promise of durability and style. We couldn’t let the integration of technology make the product fragile or precious. We couldn’t allow the technology compromise the aesthetics. Beyond that, Project Jacquard is about creating beautiful objects and textiles with new functionality and digital connectivity. The aim isn’t to create a gadget or a device, but something that lives within the clothing we already wear.
As a garment, not a gadget, you can treat it like you do with any other jacket. You can fold it up and shove it in your backpack. You can toss it on the floor when you get home. You can even throw it in the laundry when it gets dirty.
FM : Don’t you have a customer challenge too? Do you think you’ll have to explain this type of technology to customers or are they ready for it?
PD : Wearable devices are continuing to gain traction amongst a wider consumer base. The technology has been around for some time now. And, we’re keen go one step further and provide consumers with something truly original, but relevant with the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket. By delivering a new platform for customizable connectivity we can engage with 'tech-curious' consumers who will have an opportunity to configure and customize a wholly new digital experience. And, they get to look great on their bike at the same time.
FM : Why do you think customers will buy these products?
PD : In our hyper-digital world, people constantly struggle to be physically present in their environment while maintaining a digital connection.
FM : Which categories do you see opportunities for with this technology, Levi’s or Dockers or both?
FM : The potential for wearables is endless. But you need to focus on what suits your brand and your specific group of customers, or they see no reason to buy it. For us, the technology makes complete sense for our Commuter line, which is where we have started. The technology is now completely 'market ready' and, if it made sense for our customer, could be applicable to other Levi's pieces.
FM : What is the share of products with new technologies across the board and what do you project the share to be in the next five years?
PD : Inventing blue jeans was just the start of how Levi Strauss pioneered a brand for true originals. Around every bend of the Levi’s story, innovation and quality are at the heart of everything we do. We must respect our heritage while remaining relevant to our increasingly digitally savvy consumers.
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