Iconic jeans brand Levi Strauss & Co is part of an industry that has been renewed for the pollution it generates. The use of indigo has never been less than detrimental to environmental stability. Whilst all fashion manufacturers face an uphill struggle towards regenerative business models, Levi Strauss has been hard at work to find ways to transform this sector of the fashion world. Drawing strongly on its pioneering heritage, Levi’s is trying to unlock these problems by creating industry-wide collaborations in its supply chain, with NGOs and with competitors.
Once upon a time a pair of 501 jeans took 33.4kg of CO2 and 3781 litres of water to make; that’s the painful statistic that the company’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on a pair of its jeans, which allowed it to examine the entire production cycle from start to finish, showed. It has needed to look carefully at its water impact worldwide.
But partnerships with vendors weren’t enough. Much of Levi’s reach into the supply chain would need deeper collaborative partnerships with organisations like M&S and H&M in the Better Cotton Initiative. Partnerships with WWF who look with a very critical eye on environmental initiatives and also as advocates for local communities.
Although 75% of water use is in the agricultural production of cotton, there’s still a lot used in the actual manufacture of a pair of jeans. To minimize water use in production overall, Levi’s designers challenged themselves to create a new generation of jeans with far less water. The result was a series of innovative finishing techniques the company calls Water<Less™, which can save up to 96% of the water in the denim finishing process. Since launching the Water<Less™ processes in 2011, Levi’s claim to have saved more than 1 billion liters of water in the manufacturing of LS&Co. products. The company has also saved 30 million liters of fresh water through the industry’s first Water Recycling and Reuse Standard, which was piloted with a supply chain partner in China.
As a commitment to open partnership, sharing and transparency, Levis has also mad their water reduction standards and tools, including the Water<Less™ innovations, publicly available to others within and outside our industry, and are encouraging other denim companies – large and small – to use them in their production.
The ambition in the industry is to save at least 50 billion liters of water annually by 2020 (still only a small % of total usage but getting there). Levi’s own goal is to increase the percentage of own products made with Water<Less™ techniques to 80 percent by 2020.