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Levi’s Speeds Up Production, Reduces Chemicals by Digitizing Its Finishing Process

Denim is in the throes of digitization, and now, the industry’s biggest player is ushering its denim finishing into the digital era.

Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) announced Tuesday the launch of Project F.L.X., a new operating model that adds new tech to the design and development of denim finishing.

The new model will mean Levi’s will be able to scale a more responsive and sustainable supply chain, reduce lead times from more than six months down to weeks or days, and slash the number of chemical formulations used in its finishing processes from thousands to just a few dozen.

“Our goal was to tackle two predominant industry challenges—being able to respond quickly to changing consumer trends while making the manufacturing process more sustainable,” said Chip Bergh, Levi’s president and CEO. “We are addressing both agility and sustainability without compromising the authenticity our consumers expect from us. This is the future of jeans manufacturing, and LS&Co. is well-positioned to lead the way.”

Short for future-led execution, Project F.L.X. automates time-consuming, labor-intensive and chemical-reliant jeans finishing processes. By using lasers from Jeanologia—a leader in eco-efficient solutions for fabric and garment finishing—to create worn and faded design elements, Levi’s said it can reduce finishing time from two to three pairs per hour to 90 seconds per garment, followed by a final wash cycle.

Additionally, a new imaging tool developed by Levi’s allows designers to create finishes and final garments with precision, cutting development time in half. Digital files can be sent directly to the vendor and quickly scaled for mass manufacturing.

The new digital platform will be phased in over time, with a goal of being fully scaled by 2020. Levi’s has already begun piloting Project F.L.X. with vendors and has started briefing some of its key customers about changes ahead.

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Speed-to-market is top of mind for Levi’s and its retail partners. As Project F.L.X. is implemented across the supply chain, the company said retailers will be able to manage core replenishment more effectively, respond to seasonal trends faster and have more opportunity for exclusives.

“With this new model, we can deliver the authentic and iconic products we’re known for in an incredibly responsive and responsible way,” said Liz O’Neill, Levi’s senior vice president and chief supply chain officer. “The advanced imaging capability is a game-changer for us and something that has eluded our industry for years. Key steps in the process are now concentrated into a digital file, eliminating time and waste.”

Project F.L.X. was built in-house at Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab near its San Francisco headquarters, by a team of designers, developers, chemists and engineers. The company retrained and reskilled employees in software development and laser operations, and the Levi’s said retraining will be a key tenet as this new model rolls out globally.