Jeans giant Levi Strauss & Co. has debuted the Dockers Wellthread process for responsible sourcing at the company’s new innovation lab in San Francisco. The ground-breaking approach combines sustainable design and environmental practices with an emphasis on supporting the well-being of the apparel workers who make the garments.
It is the first time the company has brought these key elements together into one process.
“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 Strauss & Co.
The Dockers Wellthread design team studied garments from the company’s historical archives to see how clothing has held up over time, and from there created a pilot collection of khakis, jackets 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.
Together with suppliers, they worked together to find ways to reduce water and energy use. Thie new process utilizes specialized garment-dyeing to reduce both water and energy consumption with cold-water pigment dyes for tops and salt-free reactive dyes for pants and jackets. In addition, the apparel is dyed in the factory, not in the mill – which allows for greater inventory agility because the garments are dyed-to-order.
The designers also considered responsible use and re-use with the end of the garment’s life in mind. Though recycling facilities are not widely available, the company anticipates that one day they will be. Extremely long staples of cotton can be more easily recycled, so the brand developed a unique, long-staple yarn for its premium Wellthread twill. In addition, every garment in the collection uses 100% cotton, thread and pocketing.
With regards to apparel workers’ welfare, more than twenty years ago, Levi Strauss & Co. developed a code of conduct, called its Terms of Engagement, for its suppliers. These terms implemented standards for labor, safety and the environment that eventually became the industry standard for global supply chains. The company is now piloting a new approach with factories to support programs that will improve the lives of workers in factories around the world. The Dockers Wellthread khakis are made exclusively at one of the Improving Workers’ Well-Being pilot sites.
“The Dockers Wellthread process is a remarkable achievement for the apparel industry,” said Nancy McGaw, the founder and deputy director of the business and society programme at the Aspen Institute. “The company took a risk on this groundbreaking vision and then supported it all the way through its implementation.”
Levi Strauss & Co. also operates other initiatives to make its products more socially and environmentally sustainable. The Levi’s Waste