Look smart in smart denim

Many designers are jumping on the high-tech fabric bandwagon

The advertisement shows a man in a white T-shirt pulling on a denim jacket, tucking his smartphone in an inside pocket, putting earphones on, mounting a bicycle and riding through San Francisco.

He taps or swipes his right hand up over the left cuff of his jacket, as the directions he is listening to pop up on the screen. The ad is from US jeans maker Levi Strauss for Project Jacquard, an initiative with Google that the companies started two years ago for "smart" denim.

The future of the fabric was the focus at a recent international fashion fair in Paris. The fair featured many wearable innovations such as a waterproof jacket with sunscreen bands and a cable in the pocket to recharge a cellphone.

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 wear and transform it using new technologies.

This is clothing made from specially woven fabric with touch-screen control capabilities that can be designed either to visually stand out or go unnoticed depending on designers' wishes.

French-based fashion company Spinali Design has created jeans that can give wearers directions. 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 said.

The jeans, made in France, are 150 euros (S$231) 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, in a way that you won't have to constantly check your e-mail on weekends or on vacation," Mr Spinali said.


Google and Levi's expect to release their denim jacket this year, but it will come with a hefty US$350 (S$490) price tag due in part to its special interactive fabric that allows the wearer to shop online.

Other international companies have jumped on the bandwagon.

Using thermo-regulated fabric and microfibre cloth popular in athletic wear, Brazilian textile maker Vicunha Textil has designed denims that will keep the wearer's core temperature stable.

US textile company 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 there has to be more to smart jeans than fashion sense and connected capabilities, and that means being environmentally friendly.

Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Dongen makes denims using fabrics from used jeans. Others - like Pakistani manufacturer Artistic Fabric Mills, which developed an application to retrace the history of the jeans - seek to keep consumers better informed.

But for some students, the future of jeans is not all about technology.

"Connecting jeans to a smartphone is not necessarily what we want," said Ms Aurelia Martin, who studies fashion in Brussels.

"There are problems that are a little more essential in terms of production, the dye, the cotton, the (jeans') pretty weak longevity and the quality." - AFP