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Levi’s Wellthread Line to be Sustainable Throughout Supply Chain

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Levi Strauss & Co is continuing efforts toward more sustainable sourcing practices with Dockers® Wellthread, a new design and production process with a smaller environmental burden and a built-in consideration for apparel worker well-being.

Wellthread, which debuts this Spring, will marry sustainable design with environmental best-practices to yield a smarter production process and a garment that lasts well beyond one season.

The company announced its responsible design approach early this month saying, “Disposable, fast fashion is the antithesis of sustainability,” and that, “Great, sustainable style starts with durable materials that last.”

With that in mind, Wellthread designers poured over products from company archives to determine which elements increased durability and made garments for the pilot collection–which will include khakis, t-shirts and jackets–with reinforced stress points to increase the product’s wearable life.

Garments will be dyed-to-order using cold-water pigment dyes for tops and salt-free reactive dyes for pants and jackets, reducing water and energy consumption.

Reducing the product’s environmental impact with a more efficient use of material, water and energy, is one of Levi’s main goals with Wellthread and an effort the company has also made with its line of waterless denim that uses up to 96 percent less water during production than the company’s non-waterless products.

With aspirations for future recycling facilities, Wellthread designers used a long-staple cotton yarn developed for the brand, which can be recycled more easily than short-staple fibers. Care instructions for each garment suggest cold-water washing and designers added a special locker loop to khakis to make line drying easier.

Paul Dillinger, senior director of design for Dockers® Brand, led the sustainable initiative backed by a First Mover’s Fellowship from the Aspen Institute that allowed the design team to test the concept in the company’s new innovation lab next to its San Francisco headquarters.

The biggest challenge Levi’s faces in making a truly sustainable product is scale, the company says. To make it happen, simplicity will be key. “Constraining the production process to just a small number of fabrics opens new opportunities for creativity and flexibility in design, while benefiting the margins.”

Savings gleaned from the more efficient process will in part be passed on to consumers with a Wellthread khaki costing 30 percent less than other khakis from the retailer.

Levi’s will use strictly use factories deemed “Improving Workers Well-Being” pilot sites and consider workers’ feedback on necessary initiatives and practices, but beyond that, the company has not expressed how else worker’s well-being will improve.

The company has plans to continue creating innovative, sustainability-conscious practices that will appeal to an increasingly aware consumer. The brand made 29 million WaterLess denim units in 2012 and also introduced the WasteLess line of jeans made from recycled plastic bottles. The hope, Levi’s says, “is that as younger consumers increasingly make purchasing decisions based on sustainability, a new generation of designers will be ready to dream up new methods of delivering the goods.”

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