Levi’s Paul Dillinger on how denim innovations must take environmental impact into account
US denim label Levi’s recently unveiled an upgraded version of its Trucker jacket featuring Google’s Jacquard wearable technology, a Levi’s exclusive in Europe. The new connected jacket is designed to make mobility easier for urban dwellers, via a chip in one of the cuffs which provides, among other data, details of their daily schedule, weather information and route advice. At the launch of the upgraded Trucker jacket, FashionNetwork.com talked with Paul Dillinger, vice president and head of global product innovation and collection design at Levi’s, about the denim label’s technological and ecological commitments.
FashionNetwork.com: What has changed between the first and the current version of the Levi’s Trucker jacket featuring Google’s Jacquard technology?
Paul Dillinger: We originally launched this product for urban cyclists, to make their city cycle rides easier and safer. The launch was limited to the US market, as a test. The [jacket’s] second version offers more functionalities and services, at a more affordable price: between €175 and €200, compared to €350 previously. This time the jacket is available in Europe, Japan and Australia. This innovation isn’t only the fruit of a major investment, but it also relies on a communication strategy to share our values.
FNW: The denim market has been going through a troubled transition period in recent seasons, though this isn’t the case for Levi’s. Do you think technology can save or re-energise the sector?
P.D.: No, I don’t think so. Believing that designers and denim brands must choose between technology and tradition implies a false dichotomy. Technology is simply one of the many tools we can use to fashion and refine our vision of denim items within a contemporary wardrobe. Through the technology deployed by the Jacquard project, we have shown that avant-garde technology and denim tradition can co-exist easily within the same garment.
FNW: What are the most interesting directions you are keen to follow at Levi’s, now and in the future?
P.D.: In the world of denim, people can immediately recognise a pair of Levi’s jeans. For example, the 501 model has a unique look, it has a style, a cut and an ever-green feel that collectively define a genuinely iconic fashion item. A style and sensibility that are an integral part of contemporary culture and are able to endure irrespective of seasonal trends.
My mission is to be disruptive across every stage of jeans production without altering any of the elements the brand identity of Levi’s is rooted in. The Trucker jacket incorporating Jacquard technology is a perfect illustration of this: a radical innovation in a highly familiar product.
FNW: Which technologies are you working on across the supply chain in order to be more environmentally friendly?
P.D.: I think that technology innovation in the textile industry must focus on the negative impact the industry has on the environment, from fabrics to finished products. In a study of our industrial practices we carried out in 2015, we found that 74% of our water consumption and 35% of our carbon footprint arise from working on the material, on denim: from cotton growing to spinning, to weaving the fabrics we use to produce our jeans. There is no simple, unique solution for solving the problems of pollution and resource utilisation. We therefore need to explore all options.
FNW: Can you tell us how you tackle this in your everyday working practices?
P.D.: At Levi’s we’re committed to using advanced recycling technologies to address the issue of textile waste. We have forged partnerships with a view to transforming used fabrics into new fibres, which can then be used as alternatives to cotton.
We support cotton growers and we invest to promote the use of eco-responsible alternatives to traditional cotton. From the regulatory point of view, we collaborate with the Better Cotton Initiative, while on the fabric technology side, which means assessing alternatives to cotton, such as hemp, we are working with designers on a treatment that transforms the thick, rigid raw hemp fibre into one that is very similar to cotton.
Last spring, we launched our first line made of cotton and hemp, giving consumers products that are as soft and comfortable as the 100% cotton jeans they know and love.
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