LEVI’s Commuter jacket $350

Google helps with quest for ‘smart’ fashion

Google and Levi’s unveiled their newest product this month at SXSW in Austin. The Commuter jacket is geared toward those who bike to work, and it literally puts tech on your sleeve — although in a subtle way.

The Commuter jacket has technology woven into its fibers, and allows users to take phone calls, get directions and check the time, by tapping and swiping their sleeves. That delivers information to them through their headphones so that they can keep their eyes on the road without having to fiddle with a screen. The jacket should hit stores this fall.

Its smart fibers are washable; they are powered by a sort of smart cuff link that you remove when you wash the jacket. The cuff link has a two-day battery life.

While the idea of a smart jean jacket may not appeal to everyone, the existence of such a jacket is telling about where the market may be going.

“I think that the commuter jacket from Levi’s is really perfect because it’s focused on a single consumer audience. It has the cyclist in mind and is targeting what their needs are,” said Sidney Morgan-Petro, retail editor at trend forecasting firm WGSN.

She said that what makes the Commuter jacket different from other wearables — and even other smart clothing — is that it’s not necessarily marketing the tech as its main feature, but rather using it to solve problems that everyday people have. Many smartwatches and even other smart clothing can feel like solutions in search of a problem to solve. The Commuter jacket, she said, stands out as a type of wearable for a more everyday consumer who may not be that interested in the tech, but likes the practical features that come with a stylish jacket.

Wearables are expected to be a $19 billion industry by 2018, according to Juniper Research. But the market has taken a bit of a tumble in the past few quarters. Fitbit in January announced it had missed earnings expectations and that sales were lower than expected.

The partnership between Google and Levi’s speaks to that growing effort between the technology and fashion industries. Several designers have already partnered with the likes of Fitbit and Apple to make their wearables more chic and less geek. Companies including Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Under Armour have released smart activewear.