By  on November 4, 2010

In an effort to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing jeans, Levi’s will introduce a new collection under the Water<Less rubric in January. The line uses washing and finishing techniques that use 28 to 96 percent less water, depending on the style, than the 42 liters of water it now takes to produce the average pair of jeans.

About 1.6 million pairs will be produced under the Water<Less label for spring for North and South America, which represents about 20 percent of the total production run for those markets. For fall, Levi’s is aiming to triple the number of units produced with the new water-saving techniques and roll out product to the rest of the world.

“We challenged ourselves to operate at the intersection of style and sustainability,” said Erik Joule, senior vice president of merchandising and design for the Levi’s brand. “We challenged conventions and asked in which processes we could eliminate or reduce our water use.”

For the Water<Less jeans, Levi’s took steps like combining multiple wet cycle processes into a single one, removed the water from the stonewash process and incorporated ozone processing that helps mimic the effects of water washes.

“We didn’t compromise at all on the hand or visual appeal or style of the jeans,” said Carl Chiara, director of brand concepts and special projects for the Levi’s brand in the Americas. “Sometimes the way to achieve a more sustainable design is to rethink a traditional process and find a better way to do it.”

The spring Water<Less offerings will include more than a dozen classic Levi’s styles, including the 501, 511 and 514 fits, as well as a trucker jacket. The jeans carry the same prices as conventionally produced Levi’s, ranging from about $40 to $148.

Hangtags will educate consumers on the initiative and will bear the logo of a hand in a drop of water.

Earlier this year, Levi’s introduced a new care tag on all its products that encourages consumers to wash their jeans less, to do so in cold water, line dry afterward and donate them to Goodwill when discarding. Last month, both Levi Strauss & Co. and Hennes & Mauritz said they were eliminating sandblasted products from their lines, due to health concerns for workers involved in the process.

Levi’s first incorporated environmental provisions into its global sourcing and operating guidelines in 1991. In 1995, the company was the first global apparel maker to implement strict water quality guidelines in its global effluent requirements for its contract laundries and finishing facilities.

Next year, the company will unveil a program called the Better Cotton Initiative that addresses the environmental impacts of growing and processing cotton for denim.

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