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Levi Strauss

Levi’s Dreams Big to Lead Change in the Fashion Industry

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By 2025, the world’s oldest jeans brand will make all of its products from 100 per cent sustainable cotton as part of an ambitious plan to “close the loop” on its supply chain.

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Levi’s plans for 100,000 factory workers to be enrolled in its Worker Well-being programme in 11 countries, representing 60 per cent of its production volume. Image: Levis Strauss

Levi Strauss is dreaming big to close the loop on its manufacturing supply chain, and is looking to revolutionise the apparel sector with ideas that could shakeup the conventional notion of a fashion brand.

By 2025, the world’s oldest jeans brand plans to manufacture all of its products from sustainable cotton.

So in just eight years, the family-run US$4.5 billion firm will use less cotton sourced from cotton fields to make its famous 501s, relying instead on old clothes from people’s closets.

There is just one minor obstacle, though. The technology to turn worn cotton into a quality material that looks like denim hasn’t been invented yet.

But Michael Kobori, the vice president of sustainability at Levi’s, is the optimistic sort. “Anything is possible,” he tells Eco-Business.

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Michael Kobori, vice president, global sustainability, Levi Strauss

Currently, just a fraction of all the cotton Levi’s uses comes from recycled sources, with the rest coming from virgin cotton. To raise the ratio of recycled material will depend on innovations in science.

Recycling cotton involves first chopping up the unwanted clothes. This degrades the quality of the material, so only a limited amount can be used again to make new garments.

Levi’s is working with the technology sector to find a solution, and in May last year announced a venture with Seattle-based tech firm Evrnu to produce the first jeans made from regenerated post-consumer cotton waste.

A prototype was made from five discarded cotton t-shirts, and with 98 per cent less water than virgin cotton products.

Though some virgin cotton was used, Levi’s is claiming it is a breakthrough for a sector that, in the US alone, creates 13.1 million tonnes of textile waste a year, 11 million tonnes of which ends up in landfill.

Recycling old clothes may not be a perfect model for avoiding waste, but Levi’s nevertheless wants to get consumers into the habit.

Levis runs a programme in five major markets – Japan, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany – that gives customers a 15 per cent discount on a new Levi’s item if they donate any old clothes (they don’t have to be Levi’s) to be recycled.

The company is refining the initiative before rolling it out in other markets. “We’re trying to learn what works best for the consumer, and what our competitors are doing,” says Kobori.

Other apparel companies, such as H&M, the Swedish brand that pioneered the throwaway clothing culture known as “fast fashion”, run similar recycling schemes.

“We want to encourage consumers to recycle, but we also want to bring in a programme that is unique and differentiates us,” Kobori notes, adding that Levi’s sustainability initiatives are “open source,” so others can copy them.

The ROI of Healthy Factory Workers

Though it is not something the company shouts about in its advertising campaigns, sustainability has long been a point of difference for the 163 year-old brand.

Levi’s was not only the first apparel company, but the first multinational to introduce a labour code of conduct in 1991, to ensure that the workplace standards and business practices of its suppliers lived up to its own.

“When we developed the programme 25 years ago, it was a breakthrough,” says Kobori. “Before then, companies didn’t really think about the sustainability of their supply chains. It was thought to be the government’s job. Now protecting people’s rights is the bare minimum that companies should be doing.”

A quarter of a century on, as the global cotton industry supply chain has come under greater scrutiny, Levi’s is working to improve the lot of factory workers through its Worker Well-being programme.

The programme began in 2011 with a survey of factory workers in five key production bases, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt and Haiti, to find out how their lives could be improved beyond the basic protection of their rights.

So what do factory workers, most of whom are women who have moved from the countryside to the city to work, want? Access to healthcare and financial services, according to the survey. These services are delivered through Levi’s vendors, with the help of NGOs.

The scheme started out as a pilot with five vendors and is now being expanded to 25 suppliers in 11 countries. This will mean better healthcare and financial support for 100,000 workers behind 60 per cent of the company’s production volume.

“By 2020, 80 per cent of our volume will be made through Worker Wellbeing vendors, and 100 percent by 2025,” says Kobori.

Benefits for workers makes good business sense, but factories often need convincing that the upfront cost is worth it, Kobori says.

“The business case has to be there if we’re asking vendors across the industry to do this,” he explains.

“Skilled workers are an increasingly precious commodity. Workers will move factories depending on who gives the best benefits. So vendors are looking for programmes that will help them reduce turnover and increase productivity,” he says.

Levi’s has been working with Harvard University to evaluate the Worker Well-being programme. Early findings show that for every dollar a vendor invests, they get three dollars backs in reduced turnover and increased productivity.

Beyond the Supply Chain

The supply chain has been the focus of Levi’s sustainability efforts, and the company also aims to expand its Water<Less programme, so that 40 per cent of its products are made using less water by 2020.

Now, it plans to move sustainability beyond the supply chain. “Brand, retail, marketing and operations – all are looking at ways to introduce a more sustainable approach,” says Kobori.

Levi’s is also looking to find business opportunities in sustainability. The company is planning to roll out its Levi’s Tailor Shops concept, where customers can get their old clothing repaired, altered or customised, beyond the United States and Japan.

“It’s not just about making garments last longer, but about opening up a potential new revenue stream for us,” Kobori explains.

Showing the business case for sustainability is key for a company that hasn’t had an easy ride in recent years, as increased competition from rival apparel brands now making denim, and currency fluctuation issues have hurt the bottom line.

But the sustainability function has remained intact despite a business overhaul, and return to revenue growth, led by president and chief executive officer Chip Bergh.

After five years of diligent work to turn around Levi’s economic issues, Levi’s finally saw an increase in revenue and profit. The company boasts three consecutive years of growth, many believe due to Bergh’s leadership.

“Our commitment to sustainability doesn’t change because the currency is fluctuating,” says Kobori, who adds that Levi’s sustainability budget has stayed “relatively constant” in recent years, and new initiatives continue to be added and existing programmes expanded.

Sustainability is key for a brand whose core target group and employee base are millennials – 50 per cent of Levi’s workforce belong to this young demographic, people who reached adulthood early this century. Millennials tends to care more about issues such as sustainably produced cotton, and less about Levi’s long heritage.

“For millennials, heritage may be less important, so brands need to stand for something,” says Kobori.

Sustainability is particularly important for Levi’s now, he says, given the change in government in the American brand’s home country and largest market, and also in key emerging markets such as China where millennials are increasingly discerning of how brands behave.

“Society is looking to the private sector to take the lead on the changes that people want to see in the world,” he says, pointing to an announcement from Bergh in support of the right of workers to migrate to the United States.

“He [Bergh] is not in favour of the travel ban that the [Trump] administration has issued, and employees responded with tremendous positivity to the stance he has taken. They’re looking for us to stand up for what’s right.”

“Sustainability is becoming more important for us,” adds Kobori. “Heritage is our bedrock, it’s who we are. But if we are able to articulate to the consumer that we also stand for the right causes and issues, we become much more contemporary and relevant.”

*This story first appeared on Eco-Business

Scorecard: Where Big Brands Fall on Sustainability

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Sustainability for retailers is a particularly slippery slope. While some are lauded for campaigns that make a significant impact, others are cited for hyperbole or greenwashing.

Regardless, having an environmentally friendly ethos is important to consumers — a Nielsen study found that 75 percent of millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings — and brands have taken note. It’s not enough to just sell run-of-the-mill goods, brands need to have a defined social and societal impact.

We took a look at some of the recent efforts by eight major retail brands and assigned them letter grades based on genuine transparency ventures, reception by consumers and industry leaders, and commentary from outside experts.

Patagonia: A
Patagonia has long been the frontrunner when it comes to sustainability in retail. In November, it pulled an unprecedented move and donated 100 percent of its global Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organizations. Patagonia also has a robust repair program that helps consumers maintain longevity of their products, in addition to selling used branded clothingfrom its Portland retail store. (And no one has forgotten its watershed “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign in 2011, which asked consumers to think twice before making a purchase in an effort to prevent waste.)

“Patagonia has done a tremendous amount of innovation for people and the planet. It’s been in their DNA from the beginning,” said Rebecca Mallard, founder of Maven Women, a sustainable women’s wear company.

Levi’s: A
Levi Strauss and Co. recognized it had to do something to cut its abundant water usage, so in 2011, it implemented its Water<Less program, which streamlines its production process to reduce water used to make denim. However, what really sets Levi’s apart is its focus on inter-industry collaboration when it comes to environmental efforts. It hosts an annual “collaboratory” that convenes retailers from around the world to glean insight and tips about more sustainable operations. It also expanded its worker well-being program last year to benefit more countries.

“They’re taking their role seriously in supporting innovation,” Ballard said. “It’s open source and about creating a cohesive network, rather than having a clutched fist attitude. Partnership is an essential element of ethics and sustainability.”

Gap, Inc.: B
Earlier this week, Athleta, part of the Gap, Inc., announced that it is launching its first line of athletic wear fully certified by Fair Trade USA, which is focused on supporting global factory workers. For every garment sold in the collection, factory workers are given an additional financial premium to use to benefit their community in areas like childcare, transportation and education. With its Fair Trade line, Athleta primarily aims to support female factory workers — the new styles are made by a factory in Sri Lanka where more than 80 percent of employees are female.

The move by Athleta follows Gap, Inc.’s announcement last year that it has begun disclosing global factor lists in a push for transparency, taking a cue from companies like UK-based Marks & Spencer and Belgium-based C&A. While it’s an important move, it only serves as the initial step before making tangible improvements to working conditions and Gap has yet to launch a program like Levi’s worker well-being efforts.

“It’s a really great first step in transparency and accountability, saying ‘these are our factories and we’re going to own up,’” said Natalie Grillon, co-founder of Project Just, a informational platform focused on sustainable fashion and beauty.

Kering Group: C+
Kering came under fire in December when it received low marks in the Apparel & Footwear Benchmark Findings Report, developed by watchdog organization KnowTheChain. Kering was positioned fourth-to-last on the report, which ranked mass retailers in several categories, including risk assessment, recruitment, monitoring and governance.

Kering claims the score was a result of issues around its information disclosure practices and that information highlighting its most recent sustainability efforts was not considered. Among these ventures is Kering’s environmental profits and loss app, which launched in October as an educational tool to track the environmental cost of fashion design. In response, Kering launched a “next generation” sustainability strategy at the end of January, a comprehensive plans to curb emissions and increase working conditions.

H&M: C+
Though H&M launched its Conscious Collection in 2012 and has since worked with organizations to help improve transparency standards, the actual level of transparency from H&M is minimal, with sporadic posts on social media alluding to improved working conditions. Additionally, the company has been caught in several troubling incidents, like the revelation that it had used refugee workers in Europe.

“The issue with H&M is they brand themselves as better than they actually are,” Ballard said. “When you find Syrian refugee children working in factories in Turkey, which happened, and a recycling campaign that has a greenwashing component, it makes me pause.”

Zara: C
Like H&M, Zara has been plagued with similar challenges falling upon fast-fashion retailers. However, it took four years longer than H&M to launch its first eco-friendly line. As part of its new effort, launched late last year, the Spanish company began offering recycled packaging and boxes and also started a clothing donation program (modeled largely off of H&M’s existing program).

“As any retailer is planning for the next generation of customers, and its business in general, sustainability and social impact have to be a top consideration, and it’s positive to see Zara take a step to improve its supply chain,” Brooke Blashill, svp and director at Boutique@Ogilvy, told Glossy in a previous interview.

Everlane: C
Despite operating on a mantra of “radical transparency,” Everlane has shown this notion is particularly elusive. Even with its push to share “Transparency Tuesday” Q&As on social media and its efforts to take customers on tours of factories, it is prohibited from disclosing its factory list and has unspecified compliance guidelines for locating new factories. However, the company audits every facility each quarter and avoids at-risk countries so there is no compliance risk, according to CEO Michael Preysman.

Preysman told Glossy in a previous article that the lack of information about its factories is an attempt to protect other brands that operate out of the same spaces. “Everlane makes products in the same factories as luxury brands,” he said. “We make the same quality product as these other brands, pay the same cost, but charge a much lower markup. We may jeopardize their business.”

Asos: F
In September 2016, an investigative report by BuzzFeed found that Asos workers were subjected to particularly brutal conditions, including being discouraged from taking bathroom and water breaks and getting fired for taking sick time. Despite numerous reports, the brand denied that it was complicit in the allegations. “There have been a number of allegations about the working conditions at our warehouse in Barnsley that are inaccurate, misleading or based on out-of-date information,” it said in a statement.

*This story first appeared on Glossy

Decoding Sustainability in the Denim Industry: Interview with Michael Kobori, Vice President of Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co

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The denim industry is regarded as having one of the worst environmental and ethical footprints within fashion . According to a Greenpeace report, it takes 1.7 million tons of chemicals to produce two billion pairs of jeans every year and the water consumption needed for production can go as high as 7,000 litres per one pair. Consequently, it is essential that denim brands hold themselves accountable and invest in innovation for the sake of sustainability and curbing environmental and labour abuse further down the supply chain. Michael Kobori, Vice President of Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co, talks to Euromonitor International about Levi’s role as a recognised sustainability leader and the journey towards a sustainable, innovation-driven future.

AMONG LARGE DENIM COMPANIES, LS&CO HAS DEMONSTRATED LEADERSHIP WHEN IT COMES TO SUSTAINABILITY AND PROMOTING CIRCULAR ECONOMY. HOW DOES THE SUSTAINABILITY AGENDA FIT INTO THE OVERALL CORPORATE STRATEGY?

At LS&Co, we believe how we make our products is as important  as what we make. This belief is core to our business and means that sustainability is not just an add-on to our corporate strategy, but integrated into everything we do. Running a sustainable company is the right thing to do. It is also good for business.

IS THERE ANY WAY YOU CAN MEASURE THE IMPACT OF THE INVESTMENTS INSUSTAINABILITY ON YOUR SALES REVENUE? WHAT ROLE DOES IT PLAY IN SUPPORTING TOP-LINE GROWTH AND WINNING MARKET SHARE ACROSS KEY MARKETS?

At this point in our sustainability journey, we are not measuring the impact of our investments on sales revenue. That said, we are measuring impacts across our business operations. We look at sustainability from an environmental, social and economic perspective. From our Water Less™ finishing techniques to our Worker Well-being initiative, we have seen reduced costs or improved business throughout our supply chain . We also know that younger consumers increasingly seek out companies that demonstrate social purpose and are more likely to buy from companies that support social and environmental causes.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGES FOR LS&CO AND THE INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE?

When it comes to reducing our environmental footprint, we know what areas to focus on because we’ve studied our impact and have data to drive our decisions. In 2007 and again in 2015, we conducted an environmental lifecycle assessment on a pair of Levi’s® 501’s. One of our biggest areas of impact – and one of the most critical resources on the planet – is water. From this assessment, we realised that the most water use during the lifecycle is during the cotton growing and consumer care phases.

To help reduce our impacts, we joined with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which helps educate farmers on reducing water and pesticide use while increasing yields. Currently, 19% of the cotton we use is from BCI and we aim to increase that number to 95% by 2020.

For consumers, we expanded our “Care Tag for the Planet” to all LS&Co products. It encourages consumers to wash less, wash cold, line dry and donate when done.

And, even though the impact was smaller, we also set out to innovate in our own production. In 2011, our designers launched our Water Less™ finishing techniques, which can reduce water usage up to 96%.

When it comes to our ethical footprint, LS&Co has long been a leader in protecting and ensuring the rights of workers. In 1991, we were the first company to launch a comprehensive code of conduct for our vendors worldwide – called our Terms of Engagement. In 2011, we saw an opportunity to go even further and create a sustainable model to improve the well-being of workers. Called the Worker Well-being initiative, we work with vendors to identify the unmet needs of workers in factories , then work with local partners and NGOs to implement programmes to meet those needs. Since the pilot, we’ve expanded to 12 countries reaching nearly 100,000 workers. Our aim is to reach 300,000 by 2025.

WHAT ADVANCEMENTS HAVE YOU MADE IN THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY SPACE? IS BECOMING 100% CIRCULAR A VIABLE OBJECTIVE TO ACHIEVE FOR A DENIM BRAND?

Creating a truly circular economy is very challenging for any clothing brand. The biggest challenge we face is taking recycled clothing and converting it into new garments without losing product durability or integrity. Traditionally, when cotton is recycled, it is shredded, which reduces cotton fibre staple length. That degrades the stability and strength of the fibre, leaving consumers with a lower quality garment that won’t last.

Another challenge is in the different materials in jeans today. Many jeans are made with cotton-polyester blends. It is difficult to separate out the cotton fibres to recycle.

So what are we doing? R&D is a big area. We are working both internally and with external companies to find solutions. One example is our work with Evrnu, a company we partnered with that is able to melt or dissolve recycled cotton to the cellulosic level, then re-extrude that as a new fibre with improved strength.

We’re also working to change consumer behaviour. To create new products from old jeans, we need the jeans! We’ve partnered with a company called I:CO to put recycling bins in our stores in the US, Canada, the UK, and Japan to collect any brand of old clothing or shoes. I:CO then recycles and upcycles the items. In the US, we also partner with Goodwill, an American non-profit organisation, through a programme called the “Give Back Box .” When consumers buy clothes online from Levi’s® or Dockers®, we give them a free shipping label to send old clothes from any brand to donate to Goodwill.

These steps help start the journey towards creating a circular economy.

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Source: Levi Strauss & Co

IN SWEDEN, THE GOVERNMENT IS PROPOSING A NEW LAW TO REDUCE TAX FOR CLOTHING AND FOOTWEAR REPAIRS WITH AN AIM OF TACKLING THE THROWAWAY CULTURE. DO YOU ANTICIPATE A REVIVAL IN FASHION REPAIR SERVICES ON A LARGER SCALE?

We’re already seeing a revival in fashion repair, especially when it comes to some of our classic icons and silhouettes such as the 501® and Trucker Jacket. We’re also known for continuously reinventing those classics ourselves with modern touches and customisations.

To follow that mindset, we launched the Levi’s® Tailor Shop at select retail locations around the world, which offers alterations, hemming, repairs and custom embroidery by in-house denim experts. At most ofour retail locations in Europe, Levi’s® tailors are able to provide customers one-of-a-kind pieces, custom styles, and properly repaired denim.

HOW DO CONSUMERS RESPOND TO YOUR SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS? ARE YOU SEEING ANY SIGNIFICANT SHIFTS IN ATTITUDES TOWARDS BUYING FASHION AND WHAT CHANGES ARE YOU EXPECTING IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?

Our CEO, Chip Bergh, often says that millennial customers care about value and values. I think we are starting to see that more and more customers are conscious about how their clothes are made and where they are coming from, and that number will continue to grow in the next five years. Especially as we as a planet continue to face the challenges of climate change and a more connected global economy.

FOSTERING SUSTAINABILITY AND RESPONSIBLE CONSUMERISM IS ON TOP OF THE AGENDA FOR MANY PLAYERS IN THE DENIM INDUSTRY. WHAT OTHER BRANDS DO YOU MOST RESPECT FOR DRIVING SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES?

We collaborate and partner with many brands to drive sustainability in the apparel industry. Some brands I really admire in other sectors are Unilever and Interface Carpets.

*This story first appeared on Euromonitor

Does Recycling Your Clothes Actually Make a Difference?

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DigitalVision | Ryan McVay

Fast fashion is now the global norm. Producers make more and cheaper clothes and people buy more clothes more often.

It’s a pattern we’ve all become familiar with — department stores with endless variety, clothes that seem to wear out more quickly — but the sheer scale of the situation has reached unsustainable levels. The only way many brands are able to turn a profit is through enormous, ever-increasing volume.

To get a sense of the industry’s size, here are a few startling facts:

  • Eighty billion pieces of new clothing are consumed each year around the world, a 400% increase from two decades ago.
  • In the US, 14 million tons of textile waste, mostly clothes, are thrown out annually. That’s approximately 80 pounds per person.
  • Eighty-four percent of this clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators, where it breaks down, emits greenhouse gases, and releases chemicals into the ground and atmosphere.

Recycling has often been pitched as a solution to the industry’s problems, specifically the problem of ever-increasing demand for natural resources such as cotton, rubber, oil, and leather.

But it turns out that recycling has a long way to go before it can make a meaningful difference in retail, which has been called the second dirtiest industry in the world after big oil for its agricultural impact, the pollution it causes, and the energy it consumes.

The goal, ultimately, is for the fashion industry to become “circular” through improved recycling methods, minimizing its environmental impact in the process.

“Circular for apparel means that when clothing reaches the end of its useful life we will return it and make new clothing out of our used garments,” Jason Kibbey, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, told Global Citizen in an interview.

“Getting to circular will require many steps including technological innovation and retraining consumers to take back their clothing instead of sending it to the landfill,” he said.

True circularity is still a far ways off. As Alden Wicker of Newsweek recently wrote, “Only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fiber, according to H&M’s development sustainability manager.”

H&M is one of the pioneers of fast fashion and has invested heavily in a recycling program as a way to boost sustainability.

“We have set the vision of becoming 100% circular. In close dialogue with experts and stakeholders we will set time-bound milestones that take us closer to our goal,” said Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M in a press release. “To lead the change towards fully circular and sustainable fashion.”

Kibbey thinks that, while the model is currently insufficient, the investments are paving the way toward a good model.

“H&M’s current practices around recycling are a step toward retraining the consumers which, when combined with emerging recycling technologies, could create this circular model everyone strives for,” he said.

Why Isn’t Recycling Effective?

Currently, the vast majority of recycled clothes cannot be repurposed into quality fabric; a recycled shirt is more likely to become a windshield rag or floor mat then another shirt.

This happens for a few reasons. Modern clothing generally consists of hybrid fibers — polyester and cotton blends, for example — that are hard to separate and process. Fast fashion brands, in particular, use cheaper and often synthetic blends of materials that are hard to disentangle.

Recycling is further complicated by the chemical processes that were used to shape clothing and the chemical dyes that remain in garments. These chemicals can be difficult to remove and can degrade the quality of materials. Then there’s the erosion that occurs when wearing a piece of clothing over time.

So most clothes that are recycled don’t exist in a “closed loop.” Instead, they follow a downward trajectory, eventually ending up in landfills.

“When it ends up in the landfill, it’s a wasted material,” said Annie Gullingsrud of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. “There’s been an expense to the planet. There’s been an expense to the company [and] sometimes to the people creating the materials. And it creates a need to use virgin materials.”

How Can This Be Changed?

As Kibbey noted, a lot of technological advances have to be made before existing clothing materials can be effectively recycled.

Machines have to be developed that can reliably sort through and separate different fabrics and then restore integrity to the fibers so that they can be reused for new clothes — something that Wicker notes is at least five to 10 years out.

There are stories of successful recycling systems being implemented and scaled by large corporations that suggest circular systems are attainable.

For example, Levi is working on jeans made from 100 percent post-consumer cotton.

And then there are big companies like Patagonia that break the pattern by controlling more aspects of production and ensuring that materials can be readily reused, while also promoting the long-term value of the products they sell.

There also seems to be a gradual awakening throughout the industry that future profits hinge on the ability to effectively recycle and for resources to remain viable.

The ideal solution would be for manufacturers to standardize materials production methods. If this happened, then recycling would become exponentially easier.

“Fashion and clothing are indeed a very high impact industry, but the industry is making considerable progress,” Kibbey said. “Nearly 40% of the industry is supporting the Higg Index to measure and improve the impacts of apparel and footwear products.

“Some companies have just released ambitious goals such as Nike’s goal to double its growth and halve its impact,” he said. In Kibbey’s view, Inditex (Zara) and H&M have made bold statements toward circularity.

“There is still a long way to go but I’m optimistic the industry that brought us into the industrial revolution will lead us into the sustainability revolution.”

What can you do in the meantime?

The best thing you can do is buy less and higher quality clothes. This approach has a few benefits. First, it allows you to hold onto clothes for longer, generating less waste and reducing your environmental impact. Second, it signals to companies that they should be developing more sustainable models. If all consumers adopted this approach, then fast fashion would rapidly change.

If you’re interested in taking a more active role, here’s some advice from Kibbey:

“Ask questions of all of the companies you buy from about their efforts to improve the social and environmental impacts of their products,” he said.

“If you aren’t satisfied with the answer you get from a sales associate or a person answering questions on their website, they probably aren’t part of the solution.

“Tell them you won’t shop with them any longer until they do better. Buy products with certifications such as Fair Trade, Blue Sign, or GOTS. They are a great start towards finding and supporting sustainable products. “

When it comes to deciding whether or not to recycle your clothing?

“At the end of the useful life of a garment people should recycle because it will mean the clothing will have the best chance of an afterlife and will likely avoid the landfill even if it doesn’t end up on another person,” Kibbey said.

“They should not recycle solely to free up their closet to buy more items–today that is totally unsustainable,” he said. “When we get to a circular future, that will be normal and sustainable.”

*This story first appeared on Global Citizen

Meet Benita and Jesus, Levi Strauss & Co Collaboratory Fellows

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Benita Singh: Founder and CEO of Le Souk, the first online global textiles marketplace.

Tell us about your business and the work you do.

Le Souk is the first online textiles marketplace where designers can search, sample and source directly from leading mills and tanneries around the world. Our mission is to provide unparalleled transparency to designers and brands looking to build direct relationships with trusted suppliers.

We started the platform to provide market access for suppliers who could not afford the high cost of attending trade shows. As the model began to prove itself, established suppliers, many of whom do attend trade shows, began to approach us to showcase their latest collections as well. Four years later, we’re hosting the online showrooms for suppliers in over 19 countries – from repurposed salmon leather from Iceland to vegetable dyed cotton from India.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

For us at Le Souk, it means bringing transparency to the sourcing supply chain. Too many designers don’t know where their materials come from, not because they don’t want to know, but because it’s simply impossible for them to trace where their fabric comes from. By working exclusively with textile mills and leather tanneries, we work only with suppliers who spin and weave (or tan) their materials.

This model means that designers can communicate directly with a representative at the source of production. This facilitates greater ease of access to information and certifications. And for suppliers , they’re closer to the market (and can increase their gross margins.)

How important is water to what you do?

It needs to become more important, which is why we’re thrilled to be a part of the Collaboratory. Water usage is largely overlooked when it comes to fabric sourcing, and it needs to become top of mind for more designers. Through the fellowship, we want to inspire and challenge our suppliers to re-think their modes of production while at the same time, bringing those materials that use less water to the forefront of Le Souk in a way that educates designers.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

More knowledge on water impact from industry thought leaders will better position Le Souk to be an even greater resource for our 18,000+ active designers – both in terms of content but also in terms of materials that are water efficient. It’s our job to communicate the importance of this issue to designers, and by participating in the fellowship with both brands and companies that interface with brands, we look forward to coming up with creative ways to inspire the industry to take a hard look at how it uses water.

What’s your Levi’s® story?

My relationship with Levi’s® goes back to 2006 when the non-profit that I co-founded, Mercado Global, was fortunate enough to receive one of its first grants to advance its work with artisans in Guatemala from the Levi Strauss Foundation. Ten years later, it’s a thrill and honor to be collaborating with Levi Strauss & Co. again.


Jesus Ciriza Larraona: Founder and executive director of The Colours of Nature, a natural dye company specializing in indigo.

Tell us about your business and the work you do.

In 1992, I spent time in Kashmir, India, designing Persian silk carpets and exploring manufacturing approaches. It was during this time, by the beautiful lakes around Srinagar, that I became aware of the environmental impact of the dyes and finishing processes used to make the carpets.

As I had also seen industries destroy rivers where I grew up in Spain, at this point I decided to try to find alternatives for the chemical dyes being used. Naturally, I looked to the ancient traditions of natural dyes, for craftsmen and industries alike. I founded The Colours of Nature (TCoN) in Auroville, India. TCoN is a company exclusively dedicated to the use of eco-friendly natural dyes. Over the years we have been dyeing organic cotton yarns and fabrics, as well as making fabrics, including batik and shibori fabrics, and garments. Last year we started to dye cotton fiber, which is relevant as dyeing at this stage, before yarn- or fabric-making, can really help reduce water.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

For me, both go hand in hand, as the pollution of the industry also, in many cases, affects those who work in it, by polluting local aquifers.

Whilst protecting the environment is the reason we are in business, we are also focused on improving conditions for workers. Exploitation of workers in the textile industry in developing countries can make it impossible for workers to lead dignified lives, in turn limiting their choices and power to create a sustainable future. So again, for us, social and environmental responsibilities go hand in hand.

How important is water to what you do?

It is well known that good drinking water is becoming increasingly harder to come by in many countries and that many industries all over the world do not pay enough attention to the environmental impact of their activities.

In 1993, working with dyers from a small village in India (Guledagudd), we recovered an ancient natural indigo dye fermentation process which was almost forgotten. This biological process works for many years using the same dyeing water. In fact, the natural indigo fermentation dyeing water currently in use at TCoN has been in use since 1993. We have a working prototype to up-scale this natural indigo fermentation process for industrial purposes at our premises. It’s a process that can be used by craftsmen or industries!

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

Our aim is to share our learning with regard to natural dyes, and to learn from the other Collaboratory participants.

*This story first appeared on Levi Strauss

Nike and Levi’s pile on for ‘fast fashion’ culture reform

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Shutterstock luanateutzi Even clothing industry executives say it’s time to end the wasteful clothing culture and begin making new apparel out of old items on a large scale.

Fast-growing, fast-fashion retailer H&M, which has more than 4,000 stores in 62 countries, sold $24.5 billion worth of T-shirts, pants, jackets and dresses last year. It also took 12,000 tons of clothes back. In a glossy, celebrity-studded video, H&M says: “There are no rules in fashion but one: Recycle your clothes.”

Recycling has become a rallying cry in the apparel industry, with H&M as its most vocal evangelist. The Swedish firm launched a €1 million contest to seek out ideas for turning old clothes into new, invested in Worn Again, a company developing textile recycling technology, and enlisted hip-hop artist M.I.A. to produce a music video called Rewear It that aims to “highlight the importance of garment collecting and recycling.”

Don’t miss The Circular Economy Gets Down to Business with Ellen MacArthur of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Cyrus Wadia of Nike and Kate Brandt of Google on Sept. 20 at VERGE 16.

With Nike, H&M is a global partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, whose mission is to drive a transition to a circular economy — an industrial system in which everything at the end of its life is made into something new, in contrast to today’s economy, where most consumer goods are produced, used and then thrown away.

“We have to change how fashion is made,” Karl-Johan Persson, chief executive officer of H&M, has said. “We have to go from a linear model to a circular model and we have to do it at scale.”

It’s not just H&M. American Eagle Outfitters, Eileen Fisher, Levi-Strauss & Co., Nike, the North Face, Patagonia and Zara all collect old garments (or shoes, in the case of Nike) in their stores, in some cases taking clothes from any manufacturer. Startups Ambercycle, Dutch Awareness and Evrnu are developing chemical processes to take cotton, polyester or blended apparel and transform them into new fibers. “Our ultimate goal is to harvest our raw materials from our consumers’ closets,” said Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability at Levi Strauss.

That H&M is leading the charge for the circular economy is no small irony. The company’s low-cost clothes — it sells women’s T-shirts for $5.99 and boys’ jeans for $9.99 — are one reason why the apparel industry is growing so fast and drawing fire from environmental activists.

It’s been estimated that the global apparel industry generates as much as $2.5 trillion in annual revenue and that it will double in the next decade. What’s more, despite efforts to collect old clothes by retailers and nonprofits such as Goodwill Industries, the overwhelming majority of items eventually wind up in landfills, at least in the U.S. Americans dispose of about 12.8 million tons of textiles annually, which amounts to about 80 pounds for each man, woman and child, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated.

Eileen Fisher, the founder of the apparel company that bears her name, has called the clothing industry “the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil,” a claim that can’t be verified because reliable data on fashion’s global footprint is scarce. But there’s no doubt that vast amounts of water, energy and chemicals are required to manufacture clothes — up to 200 tons of water, for example, to make a ton of fabric, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. In places where environmental regulation is lax, chemicals are routinely discharged into rivers and streams without treatment. The textile industry long has been one of China’s biggest polluters, and it has fouled rivers and ruined farmland in India, Cambodia and Bangladesh, as well.

Growing cotton, the most-used fabric in fashion, requires water and agricultural chemicals. (Organic cotton is an exception.) While cotton is grown on just 2.4 percent of the world’s cropland, it accounts for 24 percent and 11 percent of global sales of insecticides and pesticides, respectively, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition — an alliance of retailers, brands and nonprofits — has been working for about five years to measure and reform the industry’s environmental footprint.

In the long run, the industry will need to take more radical action, particularly if it wants to sustain current growth rates, sustainability executives say.

For Nike to achieve its “moonshot ambition” of cutting its environmental impact by half while doubling its business, the company “will need to forget the linear and move to a circular model,” said Hannah Jones, the company’s chief sustainability officer. “Incrementalism and efficiency measures will not get us there.” Anna Gedda, H&M’s head of sustainability, said the company wants to “decouple growth from resource use, so that economic and social development can happen, but within planetary boundaries.”

This will be a daunting task. Consumer behavior is one obstacle. Most people don’t bring their old clothes back to stores, despite incentives. In the U.S., H&M, Levi-Strauss and the North Face have offered a variety of discounts, sometimes for as much as 20 percent on future purchases, but they are collecting far fewer clothes than they sell, executives admit. (H&M won’t say how many tons of clothes it sells, but the 12,000 tons it took back in 2015 is clearly a fraction of what the chain sold.) San Francisco is one of very few cities to offer curbside recycling of textiles.

Some insiders say the hype about closing the loop in fashion is outpacing actual progress. John Mowbray, founder of MCL Global, a media company focused on textiles that last year published a 100-page report called Closing the Loop, said: “There’s a hell of a long way to go for the industry to get to meaningful scale, despite what the marketing people are saying.”

To see why the job ahead is so hard, it’s essential to distinguish between recycling and closing the loop. Conventional recycling of clothes doesn’t create feedstock for new clothes. Instead, garments that can be worn again are sold in thrift stores or bundled for overseas bulk sales at just a few pennies a pound. (Even at those rock-bottom prices, the U.S. exported $705 million of worn clothing last year, sometimes to the detriment of local economies.) Clothes that can’t be worn again are resold as rags; downcycled for use in products such as insulation, carpet padding and stuffing for toys; incinerated for energy, or sent to landfills.

By contrast, a closed loop or circular economy is “restorative and regenerative by design,” stated the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. For the apparel industry, this means designing a system that will keep textile resources in use for a long as possible, and then recovering the materials at the end of life to make new high-value products. No company today is doing this on a commercial scale, but several are trying.

London-based Worn Again began “upcycling” a decade ago by turning textile waste — including discarded McDonald’s uniforms, Virgin Atlantic airplane seats and prison blankets — into clothes, shoes and bags. But founder Cyndi Rhoades soon realized that making consistent products out of a variety of materials was “a very difficult business.” She turned her attention to recycling cotton and polyester, which poses a different set of obstacles. Mechanical recycling of cotton lowers its quality as chopped-up fibers get shorter and less soft, while recycled polyester costs more than new. Harder still is recycling clothes made from a blend of fabrics, which must be separated.

After several years of research, Worn Again joined forces (PDF) with H&M and the PUMA division of Kering to develop chemical processes that will capture polyester and cotton from old textiles that have been broken down to the molecular level. Said Rhoades: “The holy grail is a process that can separate blended fibers, recapture the raw materials and reintroduce them into the supply chain at a price competitive with their virgin counterparts.” The technology has been proven in a lab, but Rhoades declined to predict when it will be deployed more widely.

A partnership between Levi Strauss and Seattle-based startup Evrnu recently brought forth the world’s first pair of jeans made of post-consumer cotton waste. A preliminary lifecycle assessment of the product generated encouraging results, according to Paul Dillinger, vice president and head of global product innovation at Levi Strauss.

“Cotton cultivation versus Evrnu, we’re looking at a 98 percent reduction in water use,” said Dillinger, noting that cotton is cultivated in places such as China, India and Pakistan that are — or soon could be — water-stressed.

Stacy Flynn, a former Target executive who is the co-founder of Evrnu, said its patented process purifies cotton garment waste, converts it to a pulp and extrudes it as a clean new fiber that is softer than silk and stronger than cotton. Evrnu expects to announce partnerships with two more retailers soon, one of which wants to make knit shirts out of textile waste. The other will focus on footwear.

Flynn said: “Our goal — and we’re not there yet — is to use no virgin product in the creation of our fiber, and create no waste.”

*This story first appeared on Greenbiz

Meet Kavita and Rebecca, Levi Strauss & Co. Collaboratory Fellows

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091516_unzipped_hero_collab_fellows1Now through October we are highlighting the first class of Levi Strauss & Co. Collaboratory fellows. These 10 next-generation apparel leaders are making an outsized impact on their communities, and we’re excited to take them behind our doors to expand their commitment to sustainable practices and reducing their water impact.Kavita Parmar: Founder and creative director of the IOU Project, an experiment to rethink how goods are produced and sold in a way that empowers artisans and protects the environment.

unknownTell us about your business and the work you do.

The IOU Project was born from my frustration and desire as a designer to fix what I see as the broken system of fashion. To the detriment of artisan makers, local communities, the environment, designers and even the customer, I feel like the current structure of the apparel industry is only rushing toward a short-term profit with no regard to the real human cost.

At the IOU Project, we developed proprietary technology to provide full transparency and traceability along the supply chain to both the customer and the maker. We currently work with more than 15 heritage textile communities around the globe and produce all our clothing with traditional craftsman/ateliers in Europe. Our goal is to become the Wikipedia of heritage artisans globally and be a resource for designers, the brands they represent and consumers.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

We believe a more transparent system that provides full traceability would be a big step toward social and environmental responsibility. A sustainable system can only be made with full participation from the consumer community, as we need them to fully understand who and what is impacted by their buying decisions. In essence, we see value in empowering both ends of the supply chain.

How important is water to what you do?

Water is fundamental to what we do – and a huge concern for us – as we work with artisans who source locally grown cotton. Cotton is a thirsty plant, and dyeing and processing garments uses a large amount of water, which is unfortunately becoming a scarce commodity globally. Finding sustainable alternatives is a must.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

We are hoping to have a truly honest and open exchange of ideas between a company the size of Levi Strauss & Co. and our artisan communities. We believe there is the potential for real synergy in working together to solve the major problems we all face. As the quote by Marshall McLuhan goes, “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.”

What’s your Levi’s® story?
The first collection I designed included repurposed vintage Levi’s® 501s® that I would scour for at second-hand and vintage stores. I would open up the inseams and hand-print, embroider, dip-dye and create unique pieces that I sold at some of the most exclusive high-end retailors in Spain.

I have always admired the core philosophy of the Levi’s® brand and have used it many times as an example of how you can build a product for longevity, like the 501®. I believe if any brand can be a catalyst for change in the apparel industry, it’s Levi’s® that has the history and product authenticity to create the change many of us want to see.

Rebecca van Bergen: Founder and executive director of Nest, a nonprofit committed to the social and economic advancement of the fashion and home industry’s informal workforce.

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Tell us about your business and the work you do.
Nest is focused on advancing social and economic opportunities for the millions of women who are part of the fashion and home industry’s informal workforce. While we often think of apparel production as taking place inside factories, as much as 60 percent of contemporary garment production is done in homes and small workshops around the world. Nest’s work focuses on channeling sector transparency, needs-based artisan business development and widespread homeworker advocacy to empower women, alleviate poverty, and preserve traditions of artisanship. The organization arose from my life-long drive to support women to be agents of change through economic empowerment.

Our approach is business-needs based. We are tackling the barriers to market access and successful partnership with international, largely western, brands by looking at both the artisan and brand perspective.. Brands can contract Nest (without us acting as artisan brokers or middleman) to bring increased transparency, social responsibility and economic sustainability to their own existing artisan and homeworker supply chains. We also can help to source new partners, but transparency into vendors and artisan independence is key to our success and theirs!
What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

I’d like to address the ambiguity of the word sustainability head-on. Its origin is actually in ecology and is defined as the ability to make systems that remain diverse and productive indefinitely. I love using this definition because it reminds us that endurance is the key. If we want fashion to be around 10, 20, 100 years from now; if we want our planet to be around 10, 20, 100 years from now; if we want global craft traditions and artisan techniques to be not only around, but also thriving, we must practice responsibility both socially and environmentally.

At Nest, we are particularly bent on ensuring that this responsibility extends beyond factory labor to also acknowledge the millions of people and huge portions of the environmental supply chain that are non-factory based. The word “artisan” tends to carry negative connotations of being niche, hyper-localized, and outdated. Nest is challenging these stereotypes and repositioning this global population as a workforce to be taken very seriously.

How important is water to what you do?

Dyeing is a fundamental component of the production process for many artisan businesses, particularly those producing textiles. Unfortunately, improper disposal of wastewater can pose extreme risk to local environments, artisan health, and the wellbeing of community members who may be collecting drinking water nearby. In developing communities experiencing water scarcity, the dye process further depletes already limited resources.

While this issue has been explored from a major industry standpoint, wastewater management solutions that are affordable and applicable in small workshops and underserved communities have not been developed, leaving this population of workers and their surrounding home environments at risk. .

Nest is committed to creating practical and affordable solutions – across a broad spectrium of artisan businesses – to ensure more responsible wastewater treatment and disposal within the artisan and small workshop context.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

Nest firmly believes that change within the apparel industry must happen on a unified front to ensure collective progress and wide-reaching results. Through our participation in the Collaboratory, we will share our insights, resources and best practices, as well as learn from others, in our effort to build a scalable global solution for responsible wastewater management in home and workshop settings. We seek to determine how our work best merges with, compliments, and advances existing efforts. Our goal is to create model solutions the entire apparel industry can make use of.

What’s your Levi’s® story?
I bought my first pair of Levi’s® in my late 20s. I had just moved to New York City from my home in St. Louis with not a single pair of jeans (true story).  In “the big city”, ready to embark on the next chapter of my life, I wanted to find a pair of jeans that felt very authentic, high quality, and yes, fashionable. But alas, I could not afford the $200 price tag of many of the emerging denim brands.

Then I found Levi’s®, a name I knew to be classic and reliable. I bought a pair of slouchy boyfriend jeans for $40 – a purchase that has proven well worthwhile. These jeans saw me through adjusting to life in New York, through dating and marrying my husband, and they have even grown with me in having my two children (I cut them into shorts and they have a new life post pregnancy!). These jeans have grown and changed, just as I have, and still their style is timeless.

*This story first appeared on Levi Strauss