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BRAND SPOTLIGHT: Levi’s & Sustainability

Jeans are straightforward and simple; except when you have to find a new pair, or a new style, or a new color. You have to try them on, think of what you’ll wear with them, and figure out how they’ll shrink, and then worry that once you have worn them in perfectly to be your favorite pair, then you won’t be able to find another one quite like it. Jeans seem simple, but the process of getting new jeans is not.

We think of jeans in a very end-user way. Many customers come in asking about a fit, or if the jeans are button or zipper-fly, and asking about the price. There are very few customers who ask, “What is the cost that goes into the jeans?” “How are these made?” “How do I care for my jeans in the best possible way?” When we buy food, we can see the ingredients, the processing and know if it meets guidelines for “fresh” or “organic,” but not many people think about that when they buy clothes. That doesn’t mean, however, that brands don’t think about it.

Levi’s is the largest denim producer in the world. They are also the 2nd largest apparel company in the world. And for Levi’s, sustainability, ethical manufacturing, and environmental impact have been at the forefront for more than a decade. “...profits through principles…” is an approach that helps Levi’s put principles first, and the profits will follow. It is a testament to doing what is right first and foremost, and then finding a way to make money second. Here we are going to explore a few of the ideas in action.

Levi's Sustainability - Jeans and more at Dave's New York

The Levi’s approach focuses on 4 key principles: Design, Source, Make, and Use/Reuse to help guide how the process affects both people and the environment.

Design: When talking design, there has been a combination of aesthetics, fit, durability, value, and desire by the end user to make a product work, but within that context, Levi’s aims to use better materials, better manufacturing processes, and better alternatives to help “close the loop” of reducing waste. The Design phase has led to programs like Water<Less, which is a shift in the processing to use less water in manufacturing. In the last 9 years, Levi’s had saved more than 3.5 billion liters of water that would have been used in standard manufacturing processes. Furthermore, this process helps recycle water into the manufacturing cycle, and plants have been able to reuse 6 billion liters of water over that same time. The next purchase you make for Levi’s jeans, look for the Water<Less tag to know that your jeans were made with thought and care for the environment.

Source: Levi’s contracts many suppliers for sourcing cotton. And cotton is used in 91% of their garments, so it is a HUGE resource for Levi’s. With that in mind, Levi’s works with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and other partners to make sure that farmers are growing cotton more sustainably before being cultivated to make clothing. Levi’s has a goal to source 100% of their cotton from sustainable sources. This sourcing initiative has also led to search for other fibers (like hemp) and other natural resources that have found their way into traditional denim production. Levi’s has ambitious goals to reduce water-use, reduce chemicals from the cotton sources, and reduce the carbon footprint across all their factories, and every year they are moving in the right direction.

Make: How things are made is just as important as what you are making. Levi’s has initiated several programs such as “Worker Well-being” and a “gender equity in the workplace” program. We do not mean just now, but for years they have tried to make their place of work a place where people can earn a good living, protect their health, and gain more skills and education. Levi’s has put more into its jeans than the end-user will ever realize. Many programs, like water-saving, better-cotton, and workplace health and education are not cheap, nor easy to implement, but when you put principles before profits, then everyone knows it is the right thing to do. Levi’s makes a point to ensure that all factories, workers, and suppliers are meeting strict standards and codes for labor practices so that the jeans that you get are worthy of becoming your go-to jeans.

Use & Reuse: “Consumer use and disposal accounts for 23 percent of the total water used, and up to 40 percent of the climate impact during the life cycle of a pair of jeans. Disposal is also a major issue; across the industry, over half of all garments made annually are burned or buried within one year. That has to change.” -

Levi’s has taken greater steps to understand what happens to their jeans after you have purchased them. Most manufacturers don't care, but Levi’s does. Levi’s has initiated a denim recycling program, life-cycle care instructions, as well as an Authorized Vintage collection that helps re-sell worn goods. Levi’s knows that it is not good enough to just make a great product and let someone else deal with the problem.

As consumers we have to do more to care for our planet. It is not only on the brands to manufacture ethically, it is also on us to use what we need, care about what impact we are having, and try to discard things in a useful way. So the next time you are making a buying decision, don’t just think about price, think about cost, about impact, about life cycles, and how to care for your products. Everyone should keep in mind that what they are doing affects more than just their wallets or wardrobe. If you have any questions on how you can reduce your waste while caring for your jeans, or how to recycle your old jeans, reach out to us and we will do our part to help.

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Adam, Dave’s New York

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