Google's announcement of their sartorial collaboration with Levi's — a "connected" jacket that integrates basic smartphone functions — was met Monday with countless glowing headlines heralding it as the garment of the future. And the future is apparently either filthy or wasteful, as you're only going to get to clean the jacket ten times, before it's apparently likely to crap out.
We got our first look at the garment back in March, when it was shown off at South By Southwest. Google's announcement of the $350 jacket, which is called the "Levi's® Commuter™ Trucker Jacket" — that's right, guys, they freakin trademarked "Commuter" — explains that Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group has developed a "connected apparel platform" called Jacquard that's woven into the fabric.
(It's worth noting that the word "jacquard," not unlike "commuter," was in use long before Google nabbed it: it's actually a punch card device invented in 1804 to facilitate the weaving of complex textiles.)
According to Google, "Gesture-sensing Jacquard Threads are woven into the cuff and wirelessly connected to your mobile phone using tiny electronics embedded inside the sleeve and a flexible snap tag. The snap tag also notifies you about incoming phone calls or text messages with light and haptic feedback." You can also "perform common digital tasks—like starting or stopping music, getting directions or reading incoming text messages—by simply swiping or tapping the jacket sleeve," they say.
Though the jacket, which Google says is the first Jacquard garment made, is called the "Trucker" jacket, it's not being marketed to truckers. Instead their target audience appears to be cyclists, as they say "Like any regular denim jacket, you can wash it (just remove the snap tag), it's durable, designed to be comfortable for cycling and it’ll keep you warm on and off the bike."
A Wired reviewer described the garment as "a glimpse into what might happen when we start connecting our clothes to the internet." The Verge says that " I’m impressed with the fit and look of this one." A Chron (business section) report on the jacket quotes Google’s Ivan Poupyrev, who headed up development on the garment, as saying “It’s almost like a miracle, looking back." And a second Chron report, this one in their Style section, says Poupyrev said that "making the garment washable — so that people can treat it just like any other jean jacket — was the project’s biggest challenge, and partly why it took more than two years to bring it to market."
But "washable" is apparently relative, as Google clearly states that the jacket can only be washed ten times. At most. Maybe.
That's after you remove the "snap tag," which Wired reports is "more reminiscent of a security tag someone forgot to remove" and "contains a wireless radio, a battery, and a processor." So, sure, reasonable that you have to take that off, I think we can all agree.
Less reasonable, however, is Google's warning that "The Jacket is designed to withstand up to 10 washes with the Jacquard snap tag removed but your experience may vary by usage and wash conditions." I don't know about you, but to me it sounds like they're saying that even ten spins in the washer ("It’s ok to tumble dry the Jacket on low heat (without the snap tag) but air drying is preferred," Google says) might be pushing it. It cannot be dry cleaned, they also note.
That's pretty freakin delicate for something with "trucker" in the name, huh? Or as Robyn Hagan Cain puts it on local style site rockyt , "when you build a piece of outerwear for bicycle commuting, it's going to absorb the smells of sweat and city air...If you like your outerwear freshly-laundered, this one might be a tough sell."
"In a best-case scenario, where the jacket remains stain-free, you'll at least need to spritz it with a fabric freshener," Cain writes. But even that seems like an extremely hopeful scenario, because if Febreze could actually manage the smells left behind by one's body, dry cleaners would go out of business. And above and beyond the unpleasant odors of the human condition, there's the rest of the world: Jostled lattes, not-yet-continent babies, and splashy ramen being just three of the reasons I'm doing laundry this week.
It was back in 2015 that Levi's CEO Charles V. Bergh suggested that jeans wearers only wash their pants every 10 uses as an ecological measure, noting that a pair of 501s washed after every two wearings "consumes nearly 3,800 liters of water and produces 33 kg of carbon emissions throughout its lifetime." By reducing washes to every ten wears, "it would decrease their energy and climate change impact by 80%."
Bergh is also the guy who in 2014 said he'd "never" washed the year-old pair of jeans he wore to a panel event, suggesting that he's far less messy than I am.
I certainly need to wash my jackets less often than I wash my jeans, but I also hang on to my jackets for far longer — and I can promise you, all my coats have been washed (or dry cleaned) more than ten times. It's certainly puzzling that the same company whose CEO in 2014 announced that “We are the ultimate in sustainable apparel. If you buy [our jeans] they will last a lot longer than most people’s waistlines will" is now selling a $350 item that won't retain full functionality longer than a couple years of relatively light use.
Obviously, you can keep wearing it as a jacket after its connectivity has died away, so it won't be a total loss. But as Levi's standard "Trucker" jacket goes for $70 or less on their site, you'll basically be paying $280 for ten washes of text alerts.
If you have have three and a half Benjamins to spare, you can find the jacket in "select shops" Wednesday, and purchase it online as of October 2. Otherwise, I suggest you keep on trucking in the jacket you have now, as the bike lane is no place for a garment you can't get dirty past a decuple.