Levis, Levi Strauss, jeans, denim, sustainability, innovaiton

Many changes, for the sake of sustainability, are in motion at Levi Strauss & Co.

On Tuesday, the brand revealed its Wellthread collection featuring some styles made with Circulose fabric, a recovered fabric typically made of cotton or viscose from used clothing and production waste feedstock.

Touted as the company’s “most sustainable” jeans yet and fully recyclable, its blend will include 20 percent recycled denim and 20 percent sustainably sourced viscose, along with organic cotton. The collection builds upon past initiatives like Levi’s Water<Less finishing techniques; Worker Well-being, for tracing much of its supply chain, among other targets.

“Rather than being an isolated capsule collection, Wellthread is an indicator of where we’re going,” said Una Murphy, senior innovation designer at Levi’s, citing the water reduction at each step of production including fiber, fabric dyeing and garment finishing stages — as well as the overall circularity achieved by curbing waste and putting the jeans back into the fold.

The brand has made strides since its life cycle assessment (LCA) study on the impact of a single pair of its signature 501 jeans found 3,781 liters of water are used during production and consumer use. Now more than 67 percent of all Levi’s products are made using Water<Less techniques, with the goal of hitting 80 percent in 2020.

While the Wellthread collection only includes two stockkeeping units –- the 502 for men and “high loose” for women — made with the Circulose material, “product development is already under way to scale across the Levi’s Redtab assortment in men’s and women’s,” according to Murphy, and the product will span multiple seasons.

Paul Dillinger, vice president, head of global product innovation and premium collection design at Levi’s, added: “All conservation efforts are important, but our comprehensive LCA indicates that the greatest area of resource impact is in ‘raw materials,’” stressing the value in shifting reliance away from virgin materials.

Despite global cotton value mostly plummeting since the start of the pandemic and potential for shored up supply, retailers and brands were long exploring sustainable alternatives in the face of future resource uncertainty. Such were the reasons offered by fast-fashion giant H&M, which launched with Circulose at retail this past January — to mixed reactions for bearing “greenwashing” claims with its limited capsule.

In its 2018 sustainability report, Levi’s noted raw material and wage rate price increases “could increase our cost of goods and negatively impact our financial results.” Murphy did not confirm the percentage mix of recycled cotton across product lines but affirmed quality as a fundamental value behind material selection and design at the 167-year-old jeansmaker.

The latest collection is just one of the changes underway at the brand.

Just last week, the company announced Jeff Hogue the new chief sustainability officer. Prior to joining Levi’s, Hogue served as chief sustainability officer at C&A and brings more than 20 years of experience to the role.