The process of making a pair of jeans is time-honored—it’s also time-consuming. If anyone knows this, it’s Levi’s, the brand that invented denim in 1873 and still rules the industry today. Levi’s turns out close to 1,000 new styles every season, each with its own unique fit, wash, distressing, and embellishments. To achieve a specific look, a pair of Levi’s might go through close to a dozen stages of finishing before it finally hits shelves—the process is chemical-heavy, water-intensive, and requires a surprising amount of manual labor (think: hand-sanding)… The worst part: If the jeans don’t sell, it was all for nothing. Until now, at least.
Over the next several months, Levi’s is rolling out a new operating model, dubbed Project F.L.X. (Future-Led Execution), that will change its business—and possibly the entire denim industry—forever. Using laser technology developed in partnership with Spanish fabric innovator Jeanologia, Levi’s has essentially reduced a 20-step, 20-minute finishing process down to a three-step, 90-second one.
The design software the brand created to communicate with the laser cuts down on production time as well. Refined in Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab, the software allows Levi’s designers to photograph the distressing patterns of vintage jeans, adjust every stain and tear digitally, and send the “recipe” to the laser for immediate creation. Because the software is so detailed and the laser technology is so quick, the process of designing, waiting for and adjusting product samples is reduced to almost nothing.