The words sustainable and ethical, seem to have become key in the denim industry. We have written about G-star Raw‘s efforts in using new technology inventions to become a more sustainable brand. More recently, Levi’s Eureka Lab have been vocal about how they are putting their ethical foot forward. This week they introduced their laser-wielding robots.
The Innovation: Levi’s Eureka Lab
The new laser technology, designed by the mad scientists at Levi’s, is the kind of innovation that will make the process of creating ripped and washed jeans more easier and more efficient. Looking to reduce the man-hours put in by designers trying to figure out the perfect fade, and the time factory workers spend sandpapering the jeans, Levi’s is also determined to lessen the use of harsh chemicals that give jeans that much sought after faded look. This is because the ugly reality of this $4.6 billion industry is that the majority of jeans are washed for hours, to achieve that perfect blue colour, and the result is that the dyes end up polluting the groundwater.
“Designed by the mad scientists at Levi’s, the innovation will make the process of creating ripped and washed jeans more easier and more efficient.”
On finding a sustainable and humane solution Bart Sights, who heads up Levi’s Eureka Lab and has spent years working on a new laser technology explained: “Our company alone offers over a thousand different finish looks per season, which is mind-boggling. They’re all produced with very labour-intensive, repetitive motion jobs, and a long list of chemical formulations. That’s a pretty dark picture of how things have been.”
The Breakthrough: Laser Tech
The great news is that the new laser technology is capable of creating the same kind of faded finishes and tears in 90 seconds flat. Yes, that’s right 90 seconds. This latest Levi Strauss innovation does this by using infrared light to etch off a very fine layer of the indigo and cotton from a pair of jeans. The radical change will automate many new aspects of the company’s denim-making process. On the incremental change, Liz O’Neill, Levi’s supply chain officer said, “It started as an idea for a change in a manufacturing process. But it has evolved into a holistic digital transformation that covers the whole supply chain from end to end. We’ve opened up a whole new operating model.”
Levis’ is a large company. Globally, the company employs 13,500 not including those that work in third-party factories. Sold at 50,000 retailers in 110 countries this will not be a small change. Currently scaling the technology, the new laser tech will require the Levi’s to re-train a lot its staff. O’Neill believes that this kind of disruption is necessary because it will eliminate the dangerous tasks associated with the job. “We’re all in, we’re going for it,” O’Neill says. “Our intention is that for 2019, and beyond, we’re going to have scaled this technology. We’re going to be making upwards of 75 million pairs of denim like this.”
The Future: Make What You Sell
From a consumer point of view, the new technology means that Levi’s will be able to radically speed up a prototype within hours, and bring a new design to market within months. “We’re going to be far more accurate in actually matching supply and demand dynamics,” says O’Neill. The technology will also allow for Levi’s to cut down on garment waste. On this O’Neill adds, “When it came to inventory, we were making calls too early, and those calls were sometimes wrong,” O’Neill says. “That’s the reality in the apparel industry because trends can be fickle. We’re shifting our model from ‘sell what you make’ to ‘make what you sell,’ and this will improve our overall inventory health.”
Although Levi’s Eureka Lab new laser tech is a necessary disruption, the reality is that the robots will cut down on the need for such a large workforce. The plus side is that it will create a much safer environment for the retrained workers and reduce the number of harsh chemicals used in the process.