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Is Project Jacquard a Breakthrough for the Fashion Industry?

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Jun. 10 2015, Published 7:39 a.m. ET

Levi Strauss and Google—a breakthrough partnership

Recently, Levi Strauss and Google (GOOG) (GOOGL) announced a groundbreaking partnership for the apparel industry. Named “Project Jacquard,” the collaboration aims to provide interactivity to clothing by using specialized yarns. These so-called “smart textiles” enable the wearer to control gadgets through interactive fabrics. This includes answering phones and texting.

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How does it work?

Jacquard is a traditional weaving style that’s almost a few centuries old. Now, it’s moving into the 21st century. The new “interactive” Jacquard yarn would combine metallic alloys with yarn used for manufacturing traditional fabrics like cotton, silk, and other synthetic materials. Jacquard yarn would also allow customization of where the interactivity is located on the clothing.

However, the new yarn wouldn’t look different from traditional yarn. As an alternative, the yarn could have sensor grids. They would be interspersed throughout the fabric. According to Google, this would give clothing designers room to work on new apparel features and functionality.

How much does the technology cost?

According to Google, the new technology would be cost-effective. Also, the same looms used to manufacture traditional yarns can be deployed for manufacturing the new textiles. This would save costs for the apparel industry.

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Impact on the industry

The new technology will likely be a game changer for the apparel and clothing industry. Its implications are vast. Google pointed out that privately-held Levi Strauss was a “first partner.” More tie-ups with other apparel majors could follow. US apparel sales were at $208.3 billion in 2014. The sales were almost unchanged compared to 2013[1. NPD Group]. Technology adaption may boost sales higher for certain retailers (XRT).

It’s important to note that ~7% of the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR Fund’s (XLY) holdings are invested in textiles, apparel, and luxury goods firms. These include PVH (PVH)—owns the Calvin Klein jeans brand, VF Corporation (VFC), Ralph Lauren (RL), and Fossil (FOSL)—also retails high-end jeans.

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