Levi's Water

The jeans manufacturing process can be surprisingly water-intensive. Most jeans are washed in industrial washing machines between three to ten times during the finishing process--and that adds up. So when Levi's went looking for ways to save water this past year, it focused on the finishing side of jeans manufacturing. And that's how the Water<Less jeans collection was born.

Levi's didn't make any major changs to the jeans manufacturing process to cut down on water use. Instead they used simple fixes--combining multiple wet washing machine cycle processes into a single wet process, incorporating ozone processing into garment washing, removing water from the stone wash--to cut down on water consumption by an average of 28% in the Water<Less line. Some jeans have cut water use by 96%.

"We took the idea of jeans that use fashion-forward finishes that people love to wear--the worn in look, creases around the pockets--but made with a lot less water," explains Kelly Benander, Director of Corporate Communications for Levi Strauss. "We went into laundries, talked to suppliers, and asked how to create this." One result: Levi's found that it didn't need water in the stonewashing process--only stones. It was a discovery that drastically cut water use.

Levi's first collection of Water<Less products, which includes over a dozen styles (Levi's 501, 511, and 514 jeans among them), will be released in January 2011 and start at $68 for the cheapest pair. By Spring 2011, Levi's will have over 1.5 million Water<Less jeans for sale, saving a total of 16 million gallons of water.

In addition to saving water, the company's changes could also save suppliers cash--using less water means using less energy, which in turn cuts down on electricity bills. 

The company hopes that other jeans manufacturers learn from its example. "This won't be a proprietary formula. We're talking to companies doing similar things," Benander says.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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