10 Things We Learned From Paul Dillinger's Talk On Innovation and Technology In Fashion

By Klara Kobylinski
In Style

An intelligent speaker with a spirited sense of humor, last week Paul Dillinger captured the attention of all in attendance at his lecture at Wash U. Head of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss, Dillinger roused many with his strong creative vision and insight into the future of fashion. Read on for ten things we took away from his talk.


1/ Technology merely working is not sufficient—it must possess a reason for being. Dillinger deplores useless gadgets, remarking that many wearable biometric technologies such as the Fitbit are best left for hospitals, not the everyday consumer. Many recent gadgets are certainly trendy, but offer the consumer information he or she already has. Dillinger calls these “non-solutions to real problems.” The garment, by contrast, is not a gadget, but an engaged platform, boasting single-function intrusions meant to streamline activity.

2/ Levi’s earliest intersection with technology coincided with the release of the first iPod. It’s fair to say that Levi Strauss has come a long way since its first foray into the world of tech in 2001. The iPod-facilitating jeans were as showy as they were accommodating, featuring numerous pockets plastered along each leg. Dillinger is determined to make the innovations in future garments much more subtle.


3/ Levi’s latest innovation is Project Jacquard, set to be released in fall 2016. The specialty fabric produced in this endeavor merges traditional thread with conductive yarn, making this technology a stark contrast to the flashy contraptions currently ubiquitous throughout the wearable technology field. Every component in these new garments will be smaller than a button, almost invisible to the naked eye. Products from Project Jacquard will require a new way of selling and a higher level of expertise in the store, but will only sell for a slight premium at Levi Strauss.



Fabrics produced by Project Jacquard

4/ Expect to see iterations of Project Jacquard on the racks of all of your favorite clothing stores very soon. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the new technology is its potential for adaptation to the needs of a whole spectrum of brands and consumers. Any designer who is interested in the conductive fabric will soon be able to adopt it to suit any style of clothing. For Levi Strauss, that person might be the ‘Levi’s guy,’ an archetype of the casual biker. According to Dillinger, the project fits into the extant supply chain, making it likely to succeed in the current market.

The 'Levi's Guy'

The ‘Levi’s Guy’

5/ Haptic cues are “in” while visual cues are “out”—when it comes to computerized notifications, that is. We’re constantly bombarded with reminders of the detriments of too much screen time, so this shift in technology might be our saving grace. Subtle, gestural input is all a pair of jeans from Project Jacquard will require: Expect to merely brush your leg to silence an incoming call at the dinner table. This will be an opportunity to facilitate presence with the real world without completely sacrificing the digital realm.

6/ Dillinger knows why Google Glass failed. According to him, Google can solve every problem, except designing glasses because “the geniuses there think in terms of machines and code, not people and consumers.” This is a major point of consideration Dillinger brought to Project Jacquard in his work to fuse design and functionality.

7/ Traditional Fashion Design schools like Parsons might not be the most helpful education for a career in innovative fashion. Dillinger finds schools like Wash U preferable as universities offering countless interdisciplinary studies. He believes fashion design programs taken in conjunction with other subjects provide exposure to a broader array of ideas. For him, such a background undoubtedly contributes to a stronger base of experience to pull from for fashion collaborations like Project Jacquard.

8/ Consumers are right up there with factories in contributing to resource waste. Simply put, we wash our clothes too much. Sustainability is core to Dillinger’s endeavors in the realm of innovative fashion design, as he urges society to change consumption habits and invest in new values of quality over quantity. Dillinger hopes that the added tech element to jeans stemming from Project Jacquard will be treated like a nice sweater, that consumers will resist the urge to carelessly over-launder them.

9/ We need to wean the consumer off the expectation of constant change in fashion. A sustainable future requires abstaining from constant purchasing and discarding of clothes. By producing fewer, better made garments and washing those garments less, production facilities and consumers can join hands in improving sustainability of garments.

10/ There will be flaws in Project Jacquard. But that’s okay. If successful, the initiative will disrupt traditional revenue streams and cause consumers to reconsider their values. But Dillinger is optimistic that the potential for good outweighs the bad; Project Jacquard at Levi Strauss, and its eventual offspring at other clothing companies, will significantly combat an eventual depletion of resources.

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