Levi's: The Beginning
When buying a new pair of jeans, do you think "I'm going to wear these for years to come?" Probably not.
That's not what fashion is all about. In its most common sense, fashion is related to following current trends. We buy something because we like it now, not because we want to wear it forever.
Now, Levi's wants to redefine fashion. They want to create timeless products that will be durable and fashionable for many years. But, in order to do that, they have to change people's perspective of fashion first.
However, sustainability is only one of the principles of ethical consumerism and one of the ways Levi's has been changing fashion forever. They were the pioneers of the movement back in 1991 and they have since been followed by numerous famous and smaller companies.
But, what exactly is ethical consumerism?
Ethical consumerism is a type of activism that includes buying only the products that were ethically produced and are not harmful to the environment or the society. It incorporates categories like human and animal rights and pollution, urging consumers to become aware of these issues and make informed decisions when shopping.
Being an ethical consumer means buying organic produce, fair trade goods, products made from recycled materials, energy-efficient light bulbs, etc.
While the face of fashion looks extravagant, what goes on behind the curtains is usually a completely different story. Sadly, most of the high-street fashion relies on overworked and underpaid factory workers working in less-than-safe conditions, and even child labour in the extreme cases.
It's easy to overlook these issues with gorgeous models flaunting their flawless bodies in stunning clothes.
There are two burning questions about ethical consumerism in fashion. Do people care enough about moral issues? And, does it pay off to promote ethical consumerism and adjust a business to it?
These two questions have caused a lot of pessimism about the topic and deterred the market from a change.
That didn't stop Levi's from starting their fight to do right in the fashion world more than 16 years ago. And, they're still going strong.
So, how did it all start?
In 1991, Levi's was involved in a huge scandal concerning the labour used to produce their clothes. It was revealed that the company used a contractor in North Mariana Islands where women from China and Thailand were sent to work in factories in horrible conditions. The women worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day for less than minimum wages.
Levi's didn't know anything about this, but as soon as they found out, they cut ties with the contractor and decided to make some serious changes. They immediately implemented a code of conduct including labour reforms and inspection practices in their offshore facilities.
The code of conduct set the standards for a healthier work environment, workers' rights and planet protection.
But, setting these standards was a risky move. They were worried that applying the new rules would drive up the costs and negatively affect the business. Instead, an amazing thing happened - other companies started following the same example.
Throughout the years, Levi's polished their standards and continued pushing the envelope when it comes to the movement. Aside from fighting for fair trade, labour laws and green manufacturing, one of their proudest accomplishments is the dedication to sustainability.
Their goal is to create a pair of jeans with timeless design and quality so that consumers want to wear them for years. But, not only that. They aim to make jeans that people love to wear and feel comfortable in so that they want to take care of them better and keep them longer.
Ultimately, their goal is to change people's perspective and inspire them to stop seeing clothes as something disposable. Quite an ambitious goal considering the opposite idea of fashion that is deeply rooted in today's society.
In an interview that Paul Dillinger, head of global product innovation at Levi's did with Fast Company, he explained the psychology of fashion and Levi's' efforts to change the whole story.
Dillinger says that most fashion companies today work on the same principle creating hyper-consumption. Their marketing is focused on encouraging consumers to change their look from season to season, always forcing new products as "trendy," thus stripping them of value as soon as the new trend sets in.
But, changing your wardrobe from year to year, doesn't just leave a strain on your wallet. It requires insane amounts of labour and waste.
How often do you really think about who made the jeans you just bought, how much these people earn for their hard work and how harmful the whole process is for the planet? Not very often, probably. The important thing is to look good and be fashionable each new season.
Levi's' idea is to educate the consumers and raise awareness about the fact that fashion is more than meets the eye. They want consumers to become conscious of the people making their clothes and the waste involved in their production; waste that is going to have an impact much longer than the garment itself.
So, Levi's wants to change the meaning of fashion. They want to create products that consumers will love. It may sound cheesy but it makes perfect sense. If you love a piece of clothing, you'll want to keep it longer.
But the idea is more than just creating great marketing that convinces people they should love their jeans. The foundation of this principle is designing a great-looking, comfortable pair of jeans that people feel good in. That creates not just an emotional connection with the product but with the brand itself. And that makes the principle work for both sides - the consumers and the producer.
Another crucial postulate of ethical consumerism is transparency. Instead of using the offshoring facilities to cover up the manufacturing process that violates the rules of ethical consumerism, Levi's makes sure the whole process stays sustainable.For example, the company publically discloses all their manufacturing locations and supports programs that improve workers' lives.
This requires educating everyone in the supply chain down to the people disposing of the products in the end on resource conservation and environment protection. They have partnered with the Project WET Foundation to teach their employees about the social and environmental impact of apparel, and their plan is to train 100% of their employees by 2020.
When it comes to resource conservation, the numbers speak for themselves - Levi's Water Less initiative has saved more than 1 billion litres of water in the manufacturing process, while Levi's Waste Less jeans are made with at least 20% recycled materials.
Not only that, Levi's has partnered with Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) on a project called Clean by Design to reduce water, energy and chemical use at the textile mill level.
And then, Levi's turns the spotlight on the consumers because the process ultimately ends with them. They work on educating the consumer how to care for their clothes to keep them longer and save resources along the way.
Levi's makes sure you become aware of the things you probably don't even think about as a consumer. They have come up withthe "Are You Ready To Come Clean?" quiz that helps the consumers realize how much water and energy they use and teaches them how to make reductions.
Some of their tips are not to wash your jeans every time you wear them and, instead of using the dryer, hang them to dry.
If you think these tips seem redundant, think again. Water and electricity may be a given where you live, but in some parts of the world, people are struggling without the essentials. Making these little changes is a great step towards resource conservation.
These are just some of their initiatives. The company is constantly making efforts in a variety of other fields such as using sustainable and recycled cotton, eliminating hazardous chemicals from their manufacturing process and conducting lifecycle assessments to determine the full environmental impact of their garments.
Finally, Levi's has been making a real effort to get everyone in the fashion industry involved. They host classrooms and conferences dedicated to educating other companies on the resource-saving practices. They share their valuable insights on water saving with their competitors and other industry leaders interested in these issues.
Of course, they are aware that there’s much more to be done but Levi’s is definitely making a real impact on the fashion industry right now switching the perspective from disposability to sustainability.
But the question that’s on everyone’s mind is: Does the effort pay off?
Well, actually it does in both ways. Their efforts have brought about measurable results for the planet and recognition for the company. Levi’s is still the world’s leading denim brand, plus it’s been named one of the most innovative companies on the planet due to their creative ways of fighting for sustainability and ethical consumerism.