Levi Strauss Partnering With RISD on Sustainable Design Education

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Could 501s eventually include recycled plastic?

Levi Strauss & Co. has recently begun to work closely with the Rhode Island Institute of Design (RISD) on sustainable design education. The collaboration is emerging out of  Fabric Transformation Takes Form, a five-week program the apparel company and fine arts and design college launched last week.

The hands-on program is another step in Levi’s efforts to become a more sustainable and responsible apparel manufacturer. In addition to the iconic company’s work on water efficiency and climate change, the San Francisco-based firm has also led in the push to end the sandblasting of denim and even held a contest to rethink the clothesline. Since so much of the sustainability of a product relies in its design, the Levi’s-RISD partnership is a nimble approach to embed ecological thinking within the fashion industry.

Paul Dillinger, Senior Director of Global Design within Levi’s Dockers division, is one of the participants within the Fabric Transformation Takes Form program. Working with his colleague, Nada Grkinich, Dillinger will work with art and design students to intertwine fashion and sustainability within a product. Students and instructors will work together to find new approaches towards the foundation of fashion design: the sewing, cutting and manipulation of fabric. And similar to a Project Runway episode, additional Levi’s designers will arrive at RISD for a critique at the end of the program–hopefully no one will bark auf wiedersehen and will be told he or she is “out.” This is not just a sustainable fashion course: students in programs such as interior architecture and graphic design will join those from the apparel design and textiles programs.

As more consumers become aware of the impacts that the textile and fashion industry have on the planet, watch for more companies to follow Levi Strauss’ lead. The company has already started to rethink its lifecycle assessment (LCA) evaluation by involving designers in the beginning steps of its products’ designs. So rather than suddenly deciding to include a certain amount of recycled PET bottles in a jacket or pair of jeans, designers can use the firm’s LCA software to make decisions where they are most critical–at the point when they decide what kind of fibers, dyes and washes to use for new clothing designs. Apparel companies have a long road ahead until they are truly sustainable and low-impact companies, but Levi’s has certainly been no slouch on this front.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India next month with the International Reporting Project.

[Image credit: Leon Kaye]

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). He is currently living and working in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.