Levi-Strauss Has a Leg Up on Sustainable Blue Jeans

In January 2011, Levi-Strauss introduced a new line of blue jeans called the WaterLess jeans, which are manufactured in a way that uses up to 96% less water in the finishing process than average blue jean production.  Levi-Strauss estimates that 16 million liters of water will be saved in spring 2011 alone using this new method of low-water finishing.  WaterLess jeans also include a product care tag that instructs consumers to wash less often, use cold water and donate the clothing when finished.  In addition to their concern for water usage, Levi-Strauss has stated that they are investigating sources of sustainable cotton.

Levi-Strauss is one of the sustainability leaders in the apparel industry, but there are still some ethical glitches in their supply chain.  In a December 2010 report, Greenpeace revealed the pollution and health hazards caused by blue jean production in Xintang, China, a city nicknamed the “Jeans Capital of the World.”  Dye from blue jean production has literally turned the local river blue, and workers who are in constant contact with dye complain of infertility.  The Greenpeace exposé did not target Levi-Strauss specifically, since Xintang is home to 5,000 apparel factories and supplies 40% of the blue jeans sold in the U.S. under various brand names.

Levi-Strauss has not yet addressed any of the issues raised by Greenpeace, but after the Sustainable Apparel Coalition releases the Sustainable Apparel Index in April 2011, more of the ethical and environmental issues in their supply chain may be exposed.  Since the company has voiced its commitment to sustainability through the release of WaterLess jeans, perhaps they will renew that commitment by looking at the ethical and environmental issues of each step of their supply chain.

Levi's sustainability efforts may have a trickle-down effect of boosting the sustainability image of Global 1000 companies, such as Target or JC Penny, that sell Levi-Strauss products .  Levi-Strauss, Target and JC Penny are all part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an organization of apparel manufacturers and distributors committed to creating a more ethical supply chain.

Photo Credit:  Johan J. Ingles-Le Nobel