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Levis, Outerknown Debut Cottonized Hemp in ‘True Blue’ Indigo Denim

Levi Strauss and Outerknown are doubling down on cottonized hemp, this time by integrating traditional indigo-dyeing techniques to create “true blue” denim.

The collaboration, which debuted Monday, marks the first time a Levi’s Wellthread denim collection has consisted entirely of the fiber, which the two brands introduced to consumers in March as a less stiff, more cotton-like alternative to regular hemp—and a stronger, water-saving substitute for conventional cotton.

“If last season was us figuring out how to get hemp this soft and wearable, this season is about really nailing that iconic deep-blue Levi’s indigo in it,” Paul Dillinger, vice president of product innovation at Levi’s, said in a statement. “Now every piece of denim in the Levi’s Wellthread collection is made from cottonized hemp.”

In addition to a taper-fit 502 jean, which Levi’s made using Water<Less finishing practices, the fall/winter collection includes a fully recyclable fleece-lined trucker jacket, western shirts dyed using H₂O-sipping techniques and graphic pocket tees derived from recycled jeans and cotton scraps from the cutting floor.

The hemp crops Levi’s uses, Dillinger added, are rain fed, making them “water-friendly with fewer chemicals.” Hemp, which thrives without fertilizers or herbicides, uses half as much water per season as cotton, experts say. But one drawback is its rougher hand, which Dillinger described to Rivet earlier this year as “boardy, stiff, a little bit shiny.” That’s where the cottonization process comes in. Using very little energy, the process softens the fiber to make it look and feel “almost indistinguishable” from cotton.

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“When we first saw it, it had never been spun before,” Dillinger said. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is enough like cotton and different enough the hemp as we know it. It’s not a twig, it’s a puff. It’s the thing we need.’”

Every garment in the collection is designed for 100 percent recyclability, according to the denim giant, right down to the iconic red tab and “Two Horse” patch on the trucker jacket, which was built in two detachable parts—the cottonized-hemp denim exterior and the polyester-fleece lining—to prevent any mixing of materials. In addition, all garments are sewn in facilities that “invest in worker wellbeing.”

“Ultimately, the Levi’s Wellthread x Outerknown fall/winter 2019 collection is a distillation of the multi-pronged approach necessary to transform fashion,” Dillinger said. “It’s about developing the design skills necessary to compete and win in an uncertain future, and understanding that, since design is a part of the problem, it also must be a driver of the solution.”