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November 13, 2013

Levi Strauss Expands Sustainability Commitment with Dockers Wellthread Line

by Sheila Shayon


Fair trade and sustainability aren’t just terms associated with food and CPG brands. More clothing brands are taking a closer look at how their garments are made, what they’re made of and who is doing the work, and iconic clothier Levi Strauss & Co. is the latest to join the effort.

The company’s new Dockers Wellthread line includes a men’s collection that combines sustainable design, environmental practices, and support of an eco-system that provides for all apparel workers. The line will be available online and in-stores in Europe. 

“How you make a garment is just as important as the garment itself,” Michael Kobori, the company’s VP of social and environmental sustainability, told WWD. “We believe that we can use our iconic brands to drive positive sustainable change and profitable results. With that comes the responsibility to continually innovate for each new generation of consumers.”


It took a coordinated effort across design departments and suppliers to reduce water and energy use, as well as integrating the latest trend of “responsible use and reuse”—core to the brand’s identity—in the creation of the new line. The resulting process combines garment dyeing specially designed to use cold-water pigment dyes for tops and salt-free reactive dyes for pants and jackets.

Indeed, as Levi Strauss states in its case study on the Wellthread launch, “Dockers Wellthread represents the first time a company has fused sustainable design, environmental conservation and worker wellbeing into product development. The result is a vision of next-generation sustainability that benefits consumers, workers, the planet—and Levi Strauss & Co. itself.”

Wellthread “is built on the premise that once you become informed of the challenges of environmental responsibility and social value, you have to act to create change,” Paul Dillinger, senior director of global design for Dockers, told WWD. “We see where we can adjust our social processes and also yield some great men’s wear.”

Part of that social process included the implementation of five Improving Workers’ Well-Being pilot sites. “The company took a risk on this groundbreaking vision and then supported it all the way through its implementation,” said Nancy McGaw, founder and deputy director of the business and society program at the Aspen Institute, where the program was developed as part of the First Movers Fellowship.

But designing a sustainable, ethical brand is only the first challenge, as now Levi Strauss is faced with marketing the brand to average consumers for a premium price between $140 and $250. Indeed, the new Wellthread line and others like it serve to grow the company’s commitment to sustainability but also to grow revenues through increased sales.


The Dockers case study notes another benefit for consumers—a cost savings thanks to more efficient manufacturing:

Scale presents the greatest challenge for sustainability, requiring a return to simplicity. Yet constraining the production process to just a small number of fabrics opens new opportunities for creativity and flexibility in design, while benefiting the margins. And by shifting the dyeing process from the mill to the factory, apparel can also be dyed to order—allowing for greater inventory agility and a further reduction in excess material. Turns out the seemingly singular focus on sustainability is also the key to unlocking business value. Case in point: the savings will be passed on to consumers in the form of a 30 percent lower price tag on the Wellthread khaki.

As Kobori stated in a blog post, “Disposable, fast fashion is the antithesis of sustainability. Great, sustainable style starts with durable materials that last, and that’s something this company knows a lot about. After all, we invented the blue jean.”

In recent years the company’s flagship Levi’s brand has introduced sustainable innovations to its iconic blue jean, including the Waste<Less collection of jeans made from an average of eight 12- to 20-oz. recycled plastic bottles, and the Water<Less collection, which reduces the amount of water used to make a pair of jeans. Last year it produced 29 million Waste<Less units, saving more than 360 million liters of water.

Adventure outfitter Patagonia has previously dominated the sustainable clothing space, with outerwear made out of plastics and other recycled materials, a flourishing environmental ethos, and now a commitment to provide Fair Trade certified apparel and outerwear beginning in the fall of 2014.

No slouch in the sustainable innovation department, Levi Strauss opened a lab in San Francisco earlier this year specifically for developing a new crop of innovative products. The first product out of the gate was Levi’s Revel curved jeans for women, manufactured with “liquid shaping technology,” followed by Wellthread.

Find out more about the company’s sustainability commitment in its recent highlight reel below.

posted by: Limité Staff
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