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Levi’s Cleans Up Denim Supply Chain with Digital Finishing Process

Image credit: Levi Strauss

Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) has taken an important step to clean up the fashion supply chain, rolling out a new digital manufacturing process that will eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals that have traditionally been used in the industry for jeans finishing. Called Project F.L.X. (future-led execution), this new model replaces manual techniques and automates the jeans finishing process, allowing the company to reduce the number of chemical formulations used in finishing from thousands to a few dozen.

Traditionally, denim finishing — which creates worn, faded design elements on jeans — has been a highly manual, labor- and chemical-intensive process. Digitization enables a responsive and sustainable supply chain at an unparalleled scale.

“Thirty years ago, jeans were only available in three shades: rinsed, stonewashed and bleached. Today those three shades have exploded into endless variations, all produced with very labor-intensive jobs and long lists of chemical formulations,” said Bart Sights, VP of Technical Innovation at LS&Co. and head of the company’s Eureka Innovation Lab. “We’re designing a cleaner jean for the planet and the people who make Levi’s jeans, and we’re doing it on a scale that no one else has achieved to date.”

The new operating model builds on LS&Co.’s commitment to achieving zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020 and accelerates the elimination of many chemical formulations that the company’s Screened Chemistry program identified as “phase outs.” Among the chemicals that will be eliminated is potassium permanganate, an oxidizer that is used industrywide to replicate authentic vintage finishes.

“This is a significant win for the industry,” said Robert Strand, Executive Director for the Berkeley-Haas Center for Responsible Business. “It’s inspiring to see how LS&Co. used constraints to drive innovation, paving the way for a more sustainable apparel industry. This is an important step forward that I hope others will follow.”

Beyond eliminating many chemicals, Project F.L.X. is expected to reduce textile waste by more accurately making what the market needs and may also provide the opportunity to save water in the future. The company has already proved it can use nearly 100 percent recycled water in the final manufacturing stages with Project F.L.X. and is exploring the possibility of rolling out this water recycling capability more broadly over time.

To help unlock the benefits of digitally enable design and development, Levi Strauss turned to long-standing partner Jeanologia, a leader in sustainable solutions for fabric and garment finishing. Since 1993, Jeanologia has operated with the ambition of advancing sustainable apparel manufacturing by delivering disruptive technologies, including ozone, laser and e-flow finishing systems. The company’s like-minded focus on scalability was essential to supporting LS&Co.’s end-to-end, transformative vision. 


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