Denim looks with the sustainability factor


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2016)

Water is the most important commodity of all on our planet,  as well as for the people, animals and plants that inhabit it. We are all aware that it is the most precious of all resources we have and that usable reserves are becoming increasingly scarce. Today, one in ten people across the globe has no access to clean water. Furthermore, our society continues to draw on limited groundwater reserves at record rates – faster that they can replenish themselves. And it is above all the production processes within the apparel industry that are highly-dependent on the availability of water – which encompasses the cultivation of cotton all the way through to consumer maintenance at home. For decades now, the Levi Strauss & Co. brand has been working on reducing the volumes of water required.

The year is 1853. During the Gold Rush era, Bavarian-born Levi Strauss moves to San Francisco and establishes a textiles trading business, selling clothing, boots and other goods to small retail operations in America’s west. In 1872, he created – in collaboration with Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno – the first work clothing featuring rivets, designed to be tougher and comprising brown cotton fabric and genuine blue denim. The first pair of Levi’s jeans followed a year later. Today, these cult jeans are an absolute must-have basic for every wardrobe. They are worn, patched, repaired and quite often passed on to others close to us. “Each detail in a pair of these jeans has been thought through, from the stitching all the way through to the rivet reinforcements, which have been a feature for over a century now. This is clothing designed to be durable,” states Jill Guenza, Vice President of Levi’s Women’s Design.

Globally, Levi Strauss & Co. is one of the largest textiles companies and is the world leader in jeans. As a result, the responsibility in terms of environmentally-friendly production processes is correspondingly great. The brand is very aware of this responsibility, which is why it has questioned common sector standards regarding water consumption in the manufacturing and finishing processes for apparel made from denim fabrics. The result is Levi’s® Waterless™, which comprises various innovations: from the merging of production steps within the finishing process to the use of ozone, an oxidising agent, for bleaching the fabric with minimum water requirements. So, why has the company focused its attention within this venture on this raw material in particular? Very simple: because the pioneering spirit with which the first blue jeans were launched back in 1873 continues to penetrate all aspects of the company’s business activities to this very day. We cannot simply ignore the fact that the apparel industry consumes considerable amounts of water. Since the execution of lifecycle assessments at Levi’s in 2007 and 2015, it has been known that almost 70 percent of water consumed during the lifecycle of a pair of jeans is exclusively used for cotton cultivation. Against the backdrop of the fact that 95 percent of LS&Co. products are cotton-based, this means that sustainability of the cotton supply chain had to be reevaluated. Furthermore, new solutions had to be found to reduce the impact of this raw material on the environment. These included irrigation systems, the drainage of pesticides and educating cotton farmers. 

In an additional step aimed at reducing water consumption, the brand also introduced a revolutionary water recovery system for all participating factories, which enabled the precious raw material to be used over and over again for the finishing of the apparel. With this, Levi’s is the first company within the garment sector to simultaneously define guidelines for recycled water – while retaining the quality of the denim fabrics used. What is astonishing here is the fact that the water used in the manufacture of most products is actually cleaner after the process than it was before.

Every drop counts for the brand, which is why its designers have found new, innovative methods for manufacturing denim with the most diverse appearances – just using less water. To this end, more than one billion litres have been saved and 30 billion litres recycled to date. “Our designers have made it their mission to create the finishes so popular with our clientèle with considerably less water. Levi’s® Waterless™ reduces the consumption of water within the finishing process by up to 96 percent,” comments Michael Kobori, Vice President of Sustainability. The company has realised that it is not enough to simply manage the world’s most important resource in a responsible manner. It also wants to become a catalyst for change – both within the sector and outside. Although the company will be unable to achieve this change process on its own, it can however – by initiating innovative measures and entering into partnerships with other businesses – at least make a certain contribution towards promoting and railroading this change and consequently reducing the impact on the environment. It is estimated that the deployment of these innovations could save at least 50 billion litres of water within the entire apparel industry by the year 2020. The personal Levi Strauss & Co. objective is to increase the percentage of its own products manufactured using the Waterless process by up to 80 percent by 2020. 

Digital Transformation
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Osudio has a large footprint in fashion brand manufacturing and the fashion retail e-business. Having worked for adidas, Levi’s, Jeans Centre, Garcia Jeans, Tommy Hilfiger and other leading fashion brands, to name but a few, Osudio knows the dos and don’ts for those who want to run a successful omni-channel fashion business. 



Picture credits © Alexander Rhind/Getty Images

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