Jeans giant Levi Strauss & Co is to eliminate thousands of chemical formulations from its supply chain and radically reduce time-to-market with a new end-to-end digital platform that “enables a responsive and sustainable supply chain at an unparalleled scale.”

The main focus of its new model, called Project F.L.X. (or Future-Led Execution), is digitising the design and development of denim finishing.

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By replacing manual techniques and automating the time-consuming, labour-intensive and chemical-reliant process of hand-finishing to create worn, faded designs on denim, the company hopes to reduce time to market and eliminate thousands of chemical formulations.

Instead, the company will use ozone and laser equipment developed by Jeanologia to cut finishing time dramatically – from two to three pairs per hour to 90 seconds per garment, followed by a final wash cycle. 

Among the chemicals that will be eliminated is potassium permanganate, an oxidizer that has been used industry-wide for decades to replicate authentic vintage finishes.

Ultimately, Levi’s goal is to reduce the chemical formulations used in its finishing process from thousands to a few dozen – a major step forward in the company’s commitment to achieving zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020 and furthers its goal of “pioneering more sustainable apparel.” 

Beyond eliminating many chemicals, Project F.L.X. is expected to reduce textile waste by more accurately making what the market needs and may also provide the opportunity to save water in the future. The company has already proved it can use nearly 100% recycled water in the final manufacturing stages, and is exploring the possibility of rolling out this water recycling capability more broadly over time. 

Other steps in its new digital platform will enable final product decisions to be made closer to the consumer.  

A new imaging tool built by LS&Co enables to designers to create “photo-real” finished garments digitally, helping to cut finishing design and development time in half (from months to weeks and sometimes days). It is also accurate enough for the digital files to be sent directly to the vendor and quickly scaled to mass manufacturing.

The company is also exploring ways to take advantage of on-demand and even hyper-local production capabilities by delaying decisions on final products until much later in the process. This will help LS&Co slash its lead times from more than six months to as fast as weeks or days in some cases, and be made possible by staging garments that await their on-demand finish order closer to the market. 

“Our goal was to tackle two predominant industry challenges – being able to respond quickly to changing consumer trends while making the manufacturing process more sustainable,” says CEO Chip Bergh. “We are addressing both agility and sustainability without compromising the authenticity our consumers expect from us. This is the future of jeans manufacturing, and LS&Co is well-positioned to lead the way.”

Built in-house at Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab by a team of designers, developers, chemists and engineers, the roll-out of the new digital platform will be phased over time, with the goal of being fully scaled in 2020. 

It is currently being piloted with strategic vendors, and Levi says it has started briefing some of its key customers, including Nordstrom. Benefits to retail partners include managing core replenishment more effectively, responding to seasonal trends with greater agility, and creating greater opportunities for customer exclusives.

“One of the biggest challenges we face as an industry is ensuring we have the right products at the right time, as well as the ability to respond to our customers’ evolving needs with speed,” says Paige Thomas, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s and kids at Nordstrom Inc. 

The roll-out of this new digital platform will be phased over time, with a goal of being fully scaled in 2020.

“With this new model, we can deliver the authentic and iconic products we’re known for in an incredibly responsive and responsible way,” says Liz O’Neill, SVP and chief supply chain officer for Levi Strauss & Co. “The advanced imaging capability is a game-changer for us and something that has eluded our industry for years. Key steps in the process are now concentrated into a digital file, eliminating time and waste.”