Levi's, director design innovation
Una Murphy
Levi's, director design innovation

Deep Dive

Helming Levi’s design innovation efforts, Una Murphy is responsible for pushing the difference-making advancements that stand to revolutionize an industry built on a less-than-sustainable foundation.

Denim’s environmental downsides are well documented, and Murphy is looking to change that. She continually examines the supply chain, from raw materials through production, championing new materials and fiber advancements while promoting designs that will last shoppers a lifetime—or even longer.

Murphy has pushed the brand to promote more sustainable methods of cotton cultivation while also looking at viable alternatives, like hemp, which requires less water and fewer pesticides in order to flourish. She also worked to help Levi’s introduce its first circular jean through a collaboration Swedish recycling textile technology startup Re:newcell—a project more than five years in the making—last year. The denim is made with 40 percent Circulose, a breakthrough material composed of equal parts recycled denim and sustainably sourced viscose.

“To us, this is precisely the time to double down on sustainability, to reinforce and communicate about our progress and ambitions,” she said.

What can the denim industry do to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound?

Denim is a cornerstone of most wardrobes, and we continue to have opportunities as comfort and casualization become more important post-pandemic. As designers, we need to make products that provide value and push our craft forward. We should all be asking ourselves if we can harness this moment of inflection to create positive change, support people’s safety, and improve their ability to thrive. Can we leap-frog years of inertia and double down on the change that's needed as an industry.

Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?

Many people have moved on to looser, more comfortable silhouettes, and we see that reflected in our sales. I’m excited for less stretch and mixed fiber content jeans making garments easier to recycle.

For many, skinny jeans are the staple of their wardrobe. We encourage people to wear what they feel comfortable in and maximize the life of the garments they already own. We need to ensure the environmental impact and resources embedded in those garments is put to the highest use.

How can denim retail improve?

Curate meaningful assortments with compelling products, not more of the same. Continue to offer services that facilitate extended life like repair, customization and resale.

How many pairs of jeans do you own?

A lot! I have a ton of vintage denim, mostly from the ’60s and ’70s that I rotate in and out of. I started my design career on Levi’s Vintage Clothing, so I have a deep appreciation for the beauty of vintage jeans, the craft and personal narratives embedded in those garments.

Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?

Part of my role is using more sustainable design practices and materials. Often, I’m wear-testing a new technology. I make a custom pair, usually, in a new fit we’re launching, and wear it as long as necessary to understand how it's working.