Levi puts workers’ well-being at heart of sustainable design

Levi Strauss has unveiled a new design approach that combines sustainable material use with responsible supply chain practices, in what it claims is a fashion industry first.

Its Dockers Wellthread process puts emphasis on supporting the well-being of the workers who make the garments, as well as sourcing new ways to reduce water and energy use.

According to Levi’s vice president of social & environmental sustainability Michael Kobori, in an age where disposable fast fashion is the antithesis of sustainability, the company is using its iconic brands to drive positive change.

“How you make a garment is just as important as the garment itself,” he said. “We invented a category and with that comes the responsibility to continually innovate for each new generation of consumers.”

The Dockers Wellthread design team studied garments from the company’s historical archives to see how clothing has held up over time, and from there created a pilot collection of khakis, jackets and T-shirts.

It then engineered product durability into the design process by reinforcing garments’ points of stress and making buttonholes stronger and pockets more lasting.

Together with suppliers, the team engineered a new process that utilises garment-dyeing to reduce both water and energy consumption with cold-water pigment dyes for tops and salt-free reactive dyes for pants and jackets.

In addition, the apparel is dyed in the factory, not in the mill – which allows for greater inventory agility because the garments are dyed-to-order.

The designers also considered responsible use and reuse with the end of the garment’s life in mind. Though recycling facilities are not widely available, the company anticipates that one day they will be.

Extremely long staples of cotton can be more easily recycled, so the brand developed a long-staple yarn for its premium Wellthread twill. In addition, every garment in the collection uses 100% cotton, thread and pocketing.

The sundries include compressed cotton or metal that can be easily extracted by magnets. Using a drying cycle is tough on fabric and hard on the environment, so the team also added care instructions to wash in cold and a locker loop on the khakis to encourage line drying.

Building on its code of conduct for suppliers, Levi is now piloting a new approach with factories to support programmes that will improve the lives of workers. The Dockers Wellthread khakis are made exclusively at one of these pilot sites.

Maxine Perella

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