Levi’s will use lasers to ethically create the finishes on all of its jeans

Levi Strauss is introducing a digitizing technique that uses lasers to ethically create designs on its jeans in place of manual labor. Called Project FLX (which stands for Future-Led Execution), the technique will cut out harmful chemicals and reduce labor-intensive steps in producing jean finishes from between 18 to 24 steps to just three. Levi is also planning to scale this across the company’s denim supply chain.

“Our first step in the new process is to photograph the jean, and then we take that and illustrate it in a way that the laser can interpret. So what used to happen traditionally 8, 10, 12 minutes with manual applications, we can now execute with the laser in 90 seconds or so,” said Bart Sights, Levi’s VP in technical innovation, who leads Levi’s innovation lab called Eureka lab. The lasers use infrared to lightly scratch designs into the top layer of the jean’s surface, creating the faded outlines and tears.

Levi says for the past 30 years, the clothing industry has generally used hand-finishing and a chemical process to create the worn and faded designs on denim. The company has committed to achieving a “zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020,” and says it will reduce the number of chemicals used from thousands to a few dozen during the denim finishing process with this laser technology.

Photo: Levi Strauss & Co

As part of the project, Levi’s designers are also using a new imaging tool to create different patterns and finishes on jeans using a tablet to create a prototype. The platform allows designers to tweak colors, and control the design of rips and tears. While this isn’t new, Eureka labs reportedly tried to make the 3D graphics more realistic. Prototype jeans are usually created by using chemicals and manually ripping, tearing, or wearing down a physical pair of jeans.

The company states that this new digital tool will cut development in half, from months to weeks and sometimes, only days. Those digital files created can also be sent the laser machine to create a prototype or even to a vendor for large-scale manufacturing. Levi anticipates that the digital platform will be fully implemented in 2020.

This is hardly the first time lasers have been used to design clothes. Last year, Adidas let shoppers design their own sweaters using laser body scans and light sensors at a pop-up shop in Berlin, while other designers have used the technology to create laser-cut textiles and jewelry.

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