Copy of original Levi made by Levi Strauss after emigrating to America, Judisches Museum, Berlin, GermanyBerlin, Germany - 2007

Levi Strauss & Co. is betting on the future — and is starting with water.

The jeans giant said it is granting more than $350,000 to the first class of the Levi Strauss & Co. Collaboratory, funding fellows who are working on elements necessary to build a more sustainable supply chain.

Each year the program will tackle different social and environmental challenges facing the apparel industry.

The first area of focus is water.

Following a weekend workshop at Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab, fellows submitted proposals to reduce water usage and to improve water quality. The program includes the possibility of funding from Levi’s.

This year projects include the expansion of a natural indigo dyeing facility by The Colours of Nature, efforts to make IOU Project madras shirts using less water and work to expand the accessibility of wastewater treatment to small artisan workshops with non-profit firm Nest.

Kavita Parmar, founder and creative director at the IOU Project and a Collaboratory fellow said: “Water is the biggest challenge we face globally in the coming decades and our industry is one of the biggest users. To work together and take a shot at changing the course of our future is exciting and fills me with optimism.”

Kevin McCracken, cofounder of Social Imprints and another Collaboratory fellow, said: “Working with LS&Co. changed how we look at innovation by educating and challenging our team to think in a more holistic way about our impact. With access to funding and mentorship from the most innovative team in the apparel industry, we have an opportunity to make a real difference in what we do and how we produce products.”

Social Imports, which is working to lower its water usage, collaborates with customers to reduce unnecessary goods and is building an end-of-life recycling program for consumers.

Levi’s has long been a supporter of social programs and has been keen to take a stance on controversial issues.

In February, for instance, the company was one of the few connected to the fashion industry to sign on to an amicus brief arguing against President Donald Trump’s executive order that barred people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country.

Through its foundation, Levi’s supports “progressive leaders and organizations” that address issues ranging from HIV/AIDS and human rights to helping low-income people build long-term assets and improving the lives of workers in its supply chain.

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