Levi's Carl Chiara at Levi's Workshop in New York City. Photo: Emma Grady
On average, jeans are washed 3-10 times--using 42 liters of water for each pair--in their finishing process; that's before they even reach the hands of the consumer. At Levi's Workshop in New York City last night, Levi's announced the latest in their sustainability initiatives: the "Water<Less" jeans collection, which reduces water consumption on an average of 28% per pair of jeans and up to 96% for some styles.
But how did do they do it? Not with a new chemical, or a new machine, they simply switched up their jean finishing process. Hear more from Levi's Carl Chiara, director of brand concepts and special projects, in a video interview, below.
The latest sustainability initiative from Levi's is not about inventing a new machine or a new chemical that uses less water, it's about pairing innovative thinking with a goal to reduce water and using existing materials and techniques. This new way of finishing jeans, joins Levi's other sustainability initiatives, which have included "Donate to Goodwill" tags, an air-dryer design competition, and their taking a stand against purchasing sandblasted jeans.
A pair of Levi's Water<Less jeans. Photo: Levi Strauss & Co.
Some examples of how they reduced water use include combining multiple wet cycle processes into one, incorporating ozone processing into the garment washing, and removing water from the stone wash.
This Water<Less process was a year, from idea to final product, in the making. In the video, below, Carl Chiara describes how the the final Water<Less product came about, from the inspiration behind the collection to the laundries.
Video: Emma Grady
Levi's spring 2011 collection will include 1.5 million pairs of jeans that used the Water<Less processing--saving approximately 16 million liters of water. When asked how this number compares to Levi's overall production, Sarah Anderson, senior manager, corporate communications at Levi Strauss & Co., said she could not disclose that information.
Installation at Levi's Workshop. Photo: Emma Grady
The goal is to apply such innovative thinking to other aspect of Levi's production process. Four laundries in total were used to create the Water<Less collection and the brand will introduce these finishing techniques to more of their supplier factories around the world--which include hundreds of factories (an exact number, could not be confirmed). Erik Joule, senior vice president of merchandising and design at Levi's, says "We're excited about the results we've achieved so far, and we know we can make an even bigger impact by applying this innovative thinking to other aspects of our production process," according to the press release.
Later in conversation, Chiara described how the Water<Less process is an "amazing tool that doesn't have an expiration date," meaning that it is not a trend. Chiara hopes that the industry will follow Levi's lead with their reduction of water use, but also with their treating and cleaning of water before it released back into the environment.
Concept installation at Levi's Workshop. Photo: Emma Grady
With the current rise in the cost of cotton, I asked how this would effect Levi's prices, Anderson said "We're working hard to leverage the relationships in our global supply chain so that we don't have to pass on price increases to consumers. We did take selective price increases for Spring 2011 and the rise in cotton prices was one of the contributing factors." Levi's contracts for fabric and finished products in advance, so price changes in the marketplace are not visible to the consumer until 6-12 months out.
The first collection will be available in January 2011 and will include twelve Levi styles, like the Levi's 501 jeans, the 511 and 514 jeans, and the Levi's trucker jacket. Read more at Levi Strauss & Co. and if you're in New York City, visit Levi's Workshops for fun and free interactive events, open to the public.
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