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Durability = sustainable style for Levi Strauss & Co.

A new process for sustainable sourcing called Dockers Wellthread was unveiled by Levi Strauss & Co. which integrates product design, environmental practices and worker well-being.

The Dockers Wellthread approach, which Levi Strauss contends is ground-breaking, was unveiled at the clothing company’s new innovation lab next to its San Francisco headquarters. The Wellthread approach combines sustainable design and environmental practices with an emphasis on supporting the well-being of the apparel workers who make the garments and marks the first time the company has combined all three elements into one process.

“How you make a garment is just as important as the garment itself,” said Michael Kobori, vp of social and environmental sustainability at Levi Strauss. “Our company has been guided by the same principles since its founding 160 years ago. We believe that we can use our iconic brands to drive positive sustainable change and profitable results. Progress is in our DNA. We invented a category and with that comes the responsibility to continually innovate for each new generation of consumers.”

According to Levi Strauss, disposable, fast fashion is the antithesis of sustainability. Conversely, sustainable style starts with durable materials that last. That’s why the Dockers Wellthread design team studied garments from the company’s historical archives to see how clothing has held up over time, and from there created a pilot collection of khakis, jackets and T-shirts. The team engineered lasting value into the design process by reinforcing garments’ points of stress and making buttonholes stronger and pockets more durable.

The Dockers design team and suppliers worked together to find ways to reduce water and energy use, knowing that small changes can result in big savings. This new process utilizes specialized garment-dyeing to reduce both water and energy consumption with cold-water pigment dyes for tops and salt-free reactive dyes for pants and jackets. In addition, the apparel is dyed in the factory, not in the mill – which allows for greater inventory agility because the garments are dyed-to-order.

The designers also considered responsible use and re-use with the end of the garment’s life in mind. Though recycling facilities are not widely available, the company anticipates that one day they will be. Extremely long staples of cotton can be more easily recycled, so the brand developed a unique, long-staple yarn for its premium Wellthread twill. In addition, every garment in the collection uses 100% cotton, thread and pocketing. The sundries include compressed cotton or metal that can be easily extracted by magnets. Using a drying cycle is tough on fabric and hard on the environment, so the design team also added care instructions to wash in cold and a locker loop on the khakis to encourage line drying.

The company is also piloting a new approach with factories to support programs that will improve the lives of workers in factories around the world. The Dockers Wellthread khakis are made exclusively at one of the Improving Workers’ Well-Being pilot sites.