How Levi's Is Using Technology To Make Denim Production More Sustainable

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 weeks ago | Features

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Denim is one of the most commonly worn fabrics in today’s modern world, but unfortunately it is also one of the worst for our planet. According to denim industry statistics, 96% of U.S. consumers own a pair of jeans and approximately 1.2 billion pairs are sold annually worldwide. But making jeans is incredibly thirsty business. As Levi’s points out, an average a pair of jeans is said to use around 42 litres of water. Which is pretty major considering that this waste only continues to increase over the lifecycle of a pair of jeans, with washing and the like.

With this in mind then, investing in responsibly made denim is a really important place for us to start as individual consumers. And it makes sense that the company leading the charge in making denim production more sustainable is Levi’s — an American brand that’s been making jeans for more than 160 years now. In 2011 Levi’s first debuted its Water<Less collection, which focuses on reducing the amount of water wasted for each pair of jeans. Using innovative technology, the company was able to save an average of 28% less water and up to 96% with some styles.

Image: the WaterLess Wedgie Icon Fit Jeans in Deedee.

Not only that, but by open sourcing the technology behind their innovative Water<Less production method, Levi’s is also leading by example and allowing other brands to follow suit. “By open-sourcing our Water<Less techniques, we hope other apparel companies will adopt them and save water in their own production processes,” explains Michael Kobori, vice president of social and environmental sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co.

So how does it actually work then? “Our Water<Less techniques are a series of innovative finishing techniques that use less water than traditional methods, but still achieve the same great look our consumers want,” Kobori says. “Our designers challenged our production team to do this after seeing the results of our product life-cycle assessment, which showed us that a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans uses a significant amount of water—3,781 liters.” Using innovative technology and 21 different techniques then, Levi’s has saved more than 172 million litres of water since the initiative was first launched.

Image: the WaterLess Val Blouse in Marshmallow.

Of course denim is, by its very nature, a tricky fabric when it comes to sustainability. This is because jeans are primarily made up of cotton, which is notorious for its environmental harm. Not only does cotton production consume extreme quantities of water — a drain that has led to the destruction of Uzbekistan’s Aral Sea, formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world. But it is also heavy on the pesticides and insecticides, too, when not grown organically. The Guardian points out, for example, that “just 2.5% of farm land worldwide is used to grow cotton, yet it accounts for 10% of all chemical pesticide use, and 22% of insecticide use. Clearly, its environmental impact is vastly disproportionate to its actual growth.”

With this in mind then, denim brands need to be particularly vigilant when it comes to their production processes. Not only is it important for them to be making good quality, timeless jeans that consumers can hold onto for many years to come. But they also need to investigate all stages of production in order to ensure their jeans aren’t causing more environmental harm than is absolutely necessary. Reducing the water output is one of the key areas in need of attention here. So Levi’s efforts mark a significant step forward on the journey to making denim production more sustainable overall.

Image: the WaterLess 721 Vintage High Skinny Jeans in Courage Blue.

Plus, Levi’s are the undisputed masters of good quality, timeless denim — I suppose you would want to be after more than a century’s worth of practice. Therefore, with experience and technology combined, they make for a more responsible choice of denim overall and in the constant quest for jeans that we can live in guilt-free, this is great news for all of us at Well Made Clothes. We hope you will love them just as much as we do.

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