Levi's vp of technical innovation Bart Sights believes the best has yet to come for the denim industry.
Bart Sights has what many probably think of as a dream job in the world of denim. Throughout his 30 years in the industry, Sights has had the opportunity to work in design, product development and manufacturing, and is now vice president of technical innovation for Levi Strauss & Co., and has been running the Eureka Innovation Lab for the past five years.
With his Eureka team, Sights’ research revolves around fiber, fabric, fit and finish. But, Sights said, the advent of digital technology in consumers’ work and lives means Levi’s must also think about another “f”—functionality.
That new way of thinking is in part what led to a collaboration with Google that launched the Project Jacquard tech-packed commuter jacket, borrowing from Levi’s jean jacket heritage but incorporating sensors to enable new levels of smartphone connectivity during bicycle commuting.
“Our denim industry has been at a crossroads in the past few years, and when we built Eureka, we knew we had an obligation, as a pioneering company, to reshape the future of jeans wear,” Sights said.
The denim expert thinks Levi’s FLX technology—short for future-led execution—could play a significant role in the jeans consumers will be wearing in years ahead. In short, FLX replaces the manual approach to denim finishing with a laser-based approach and also eliminates most of the chemicals involved in creating the effects and finishes consumers have come to expect.
Sights described the technology as “definitely the most exciting thing I have experienced in our industry, since we began finishing decades ago.”
Future winners in denim will prioritize what customers want, but through a “filter of sustainability.” “I am most proud of how our company, and our teams, are working [feverishly] to build an operating model for the future that is based on consumer focus, authentic agility, and environmental and social sustainability,” he noted.
As the denim sector makes eco-friendly strides, Sights believes the best is yet to come. “I would love to experience a denim industry in the near future that delivers authentic product to the consumer, capitalizing on the value of self-expression, and with zero impact on the environment,” he said. “I truly believe that is possible.”
What is your first denim memory?
“My mom would take me to Bernstein’s Jeans Shop in Henderson, Kentucky on the first day of every school year, beginning in the first grade. We would buy three pair of rigid little Levi’s with reinforced knees, and I would watch with amazement as they changed and aged as I wore them every single day for a year, literally becoming a walking history of my experience and expression. To me, that is the magic of denim jeans.”
What is your favorite pair of jeans?
“These days it is a pair of 501’s that I bought in Santa Fe recently. They have the No. 4 on the post of the waist button, so they are really old. When I bought them, someone along the way had severely customized them, dropping the band by a couple of inches, and taking away the back yoke, but they have never been washed. I have tapered them, and worn them every day, even though they are at least 60 years old. Again, to me that is the magic of denim jeans.”