While plenty of people are quick to trash a pair of jeans at the first sign of a bit of wear and tear, lots of fashionistas are after exactly that look and therefore more than happy to hand over cold hard cash for such “damaged” goods.
To create its own brand of so-called “distressed” jeans, Levi Strauss has for years been using “thousands of chemical formulations” and manual techniques to achieve a myriad of designs. But those days are coming to an end.
The company says it has developed a new operating model using lasers that “ushers denim finishing into the digital era.”
The system, called Project F.L.X. (future-led execution), reduces the number of steps needed to achieve the worn look from twenty to just three, and takes a fraction of the time used by traditional methods. It also cuts the number of chemical compounds to just a few dozen, helping the company toward its goal of eliminating all hazardous chemicals from its manufacturing process by 2020 as it seeks to minimize the environmental impact of its business.
Making the jeans
“There’s a lot of detail in a vintage jean, so our first step in the new process is to photograph the jean, and then we take that and illustrate it in a way that the laser can interpret,” Bart Sights, who leads Levi’s “Eureka” innovation lab, explains in a video (above). This includes using computer software to add the precise marks, creases, and rips that they want to appear on the final design.
“What used to happen traditionally in eight-to-twelve minutes with manual applications, we can now execute with the laser in 90 seconds or so,” Sights explains. In a speeded-up section of the video, we can see the lasers transforming the jeans before our eyes.
Sights then shows us eight pairs of finished jeans, all looking very different to each other but all created by laser from the same “base” pair.
The company says a number of employees have been retrained in software development and laser operations, adding that such retraining “will be a key tenet as this new model rolls out globally.”
To develop its system, Levi partnered with Spanish laser and eco technology specialists Jeanologia, described as a leader in eco-efficient solutions for fabric and garment finishing.
Sights says Levi’s has “always been passionate about sustainability,” adding that he’s certain the project “will push the industry to create a cleaner jean.” Even if it does look a touch shabby.
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