Levi’s Eureka Lab has concocted new laser tech to make creating ripped and washed jeans easier and more efficient. It saves time, effort, and the Earth.
You know those jeans that you love, the ripped ones that look like they’re 30 years old? (Even though you just bought them last year.)
You probably don’t realize it, but a team of designers took weeks to figure out exactly where to fade the indigo and position the tears for the most authentic vintage look. Then, factory workers used sandpaper and harsh chemicals to make it look properly worn in. The jeans were probably washed for hours, so that the blue color would fade out–even though those dyes would inevitably end up polluting the groundwater.
At Levi’s, a brand that talks about trying to be as sustainable and humane to workers as possible, the ugly reality of what it takes to make jean—especially when you are selling $4.6 billion worth of them a year—isn’t something that is brushed under the table.
“Our company alone offers over a thousand different finish looks per season, which is mind boggling,” says Bart Sights, who heads up Levi’s innovation center, called the Eureka Lab. “They’re all produced with very labor-intensive, repetitive motion jobs, and a long list of chemical formulations. That’s a pretty dark picture of how things have been.”
A GIANT LEAP FOR DENIM
But Sights believes the future is looking brighter. He and his colleagues at the lab have spent years working on a new laser technology that will, in a snap, do what now takes much longer. The breakthrough uses infrared light to etch off a very fine layer of the indigo and cotton from a pair of jeans, creating the same kind of faded finishes and tears in 90 seconds flat.
Today, Levi’s unveils this new tech, which Sights says will automate many new aspects of the company’s denim-making process, from the design and prototyping, to the manufacturing, to catering to consumer demand. “It’s definitely not an incremental change,” Sights says. “It’s radical.”
“It started as an idea for a change in a manufacturing process,” says Liz O’Neill, Levi’s supply chain officer. “But it has actually 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.”
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