Denim giant Levi Strauss & Co has launched a global fellowship programme that will see it partner with socially and environmentally conscious entrepreneurs to accelerate innovation in sustainable apparel.

The Collaboratory curriculum has been designed by the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program, and will this year focus on water and helping participants reduce their water impact. The fellows will have the opportunity to work at Levi Strauss's Eureka Innovation Lab and tap into the company's network of people and resources.

"As an industry, we need to make sustainability a top priority and this means coming together to tackle the big social and environmental issues of our time," said CEO Chip Bergh. "The LS&Co Collaboratory embeds the principles we've followed over the last 163 years to help foster the next generation of designers and entrepreneurs so that together we can build an apparel industry that restores the environment and protects our most vital resources." 

Each year, the Collaboratory will focus on a specific social or environmental issue facing the industry, from textile waste and water shortages to workers' rights. On the heels of Levi's public release of its open source Water<Less techniques, the initial fellowship programme will target global entrepreneurs who are interested in developing new technologies and methodologies to understand and reduce their water footprint. 

Those interested in joining will be invited to attend a workshop at Levi's Eureka Innovation Lab in San Francisco. As fellows, they will work alongside leaders in design, innovation and sustainability to accelerate their water sustainability ideas. In addition to the workshop, they may receive up to US$50,000 in funding to implement their solutions. 

"Water is a critical resource – not only for the apparel industry, but for our planet and society as a whole," said Nancy McGaw, deputy director of the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program. "It is critical that the non-profit and private sector come together to create impactful and lasting change across the industry. With LS&Co we are setting the stage for a new generation of sustainably-minded apparel leaders who will define the new industry standard and we're proud to be part of this important initiative."
 
The programme is open to leaders of for-profit and not-for-profit organisations. Applications are now open and the 2016 fellows will be announced later this summer.

Levi's sustainability work recently led it into a partnership with textile technology start-up Evrnu to create what it says are the world's first jeans made using discarded cotton T-shirts.

Levi Strauss turns T-shirts into closed-loop jeans