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‘Smart’ denim promises touchscreen tech clothes

Jeans produced by a French company have e-mail notification capabilities, vibrating differently depending on whether the message is coming from friends, family or work

By Anne-Laure Mondesert  /  AFP, PARIS

Models wearing Spinali Design “smart” jeans pose at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 6. The jeans vibrate on the right or left hip to let wearers know which direction to go.

Photo: AP

A young man in a white T-shirt pulls on a dark blue denim trucker jacket, tucks his smartphone in an inside pocket and puts an earphone in his right ear.

He mounts a fixed-gear bike with flat, slightly curved wide handlebars.

Riding through the streets of San Francisco, he occasionally taps or swipes his right hand over the left cuff of his jacket, as the directions he is listening to continually pop up on the screen of the advertisement.

It is an advertisement from US jeans maker Levi Strauss & Co for Project Jacquard, an initiative with Google that the companies started two years ago for so-called “smart” denim.

The future of the popular fabric was the focus at an international fashion fair in Paris — after all, most believe the word denim derives from the French “serge de Nimes,” a serge from the city of Nimes.

The fair featured many wearable innovations, such as a waterproof jacket with sunscreen bands and a cable in the pocket to recharge a cellphone, or jeans that keep your body temperature stable.

Once mainly the purview of athletic gear — with moisture-wicking shirts, and trousers and clothing that can track motion, heart rate and body temperature — the new trend for fashion companies 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 in such a way to visually stand out or go unnoticed depending on designers’ wishes.


French-based fashion company Spinali Design SAS, for example, has created jeans that can give wearers directions without having to whip out the mobile phone at every single intersection.

Through Bluetooth sensors stitched into the jeans’ waistband, the smartphone stays out of sight.

“You put a destination into the pap [and] sensors will vibrate right if you need to turn right, left if you need to turn left,” Spinali innovation director Romain Spinali told reporters.

In 2015, the company from the eastern French town of Mulhouse designed a bikini that tells wearers when it is time to apply more sunscreen.

The two-piece sells for 149 euros (US$163) and comes with a small detachable ultraviolet sensor that, through a smartphone or tablet, sends a “sunscreen alert” when the sunbather’s skin needs more protective cream.

The detector is calibrated to the wearer’s skin type and how much of a tan they want to get, and is “virtually devoid of any radiation,” Spinali said.

The Spinali “smart” jeans, made in France, cost 150 euros 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,” Spinali said.

On their end, Google and Levi expect to release their denim jacket sometime this year, but it will come with a hefty US$350 price tag due in part to its special interactive fabric that allows the jacket’s wearer to order various products online.


Other international tech and fashion companies have also jumped on the “smart” denim bandwagon.

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

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