Dockers Wellthread Levi’s Latest Sustainability Push

Eight-piece collection incorporates new production processes and approach to components.

View Slideshow

Levi Strauss & Co. introduced a sustainable design process and premium capsule collection for men dubbed Dockers Wellthread on Wednesday evening at the company’s new innovation lab next door to its San Francisco headquarters.

Combining sustainable design and environmental practices with an emphasis on supporting the well-being of the apparel workers, the program was developed as part of the First Movers Fellowship at the Aspen Institute.

“How you make a garment is just as important as the garment itself,” said Michael Kobori, vice president of social and environmental sustainability at Levi’s. “We believe that we can use our iconic brands to drive positive sustainable change and profitable results. With that comes the responsibility to continually innovate for each new generation of consumers.”

The eight-piece collection will be available on dockers.com and in select locations. A pair of khakis, the foundation of the collection, will retail for around $140.

RELATED STORY: The Innovation Exchange >>

Taking the view that fast fashion is the antithesis of sustainability, the design team studied archival garments to see how clothing has held up over time, using them to create a pilot collection of khakis, jackets, shirts 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.

Next, they worked with suppliers to find ways to reduce water and energy use, such as specialized garment dyeing to reduce water and energy consumption, with cold-water pigment dyes for tops and salt-free reactive dyes for pants and jackets. The apparel is dyed to order in the factory, not in the mill, which allows for greater inventory agility.

The designers also considered responsible use and reuse. Extremely long staples of cotton are more easily recycled, so the brand developed a unique, long-staple yarn for its premium Wellthread three-ply twill. In addition, every garment in the collection uses 100 percent cotton thread and pocketing. Sundries include compressed cotton or metal that can be easily extracted by magnets. Washing garments in cold water and line-drying are also encouraged with features such as T-shirts where front and back shoulder panels overlap to prevent stretching out while hang-drying, and a locker loop built into the khakis for easy line-drying.

“The collection is built on the premise that once you become informed of the challenges of environmental responsibility and social value, you have to act to create change,” said Paul Dillinger, senior director for Dockers global design. “We see where we can adjust our social processes and also yield some great men’s wear.”

The task wasn’t without challenges, which Dillinger called “guardrails rather than constraints.” For example, the company is now piloting a new approach with factories to support programs that will improve the lives of factory workers worldwide. Dockers Wellthread khakis are made exclusively at one of the five factories designated as Improving Workers’ Well-Being pilot sites. If a site lacked sweater-making facilities, the challenge became how to design a garment that delivered the same need for warmth as a sweater. The khaki twill was also used to make a blazer.

“The company took a risk on this groundbreaking vision and then supported it all the way through its implementation,” said Nancy McGaw, the founder and deputy director of the business and society program at the Aspen Institute.

Levi’s other sustainable innovations include the Waste<Less collection of jeans made from an average of eight 12- to 20-oz. recycled plastic bottles and the Water<Less collection, which reduces the amount of water used to make a pair of jeans. Last year, the brand made 29 million Water<Less units, saving more than 360 million liters of water.

View Slideshow