This New Technology Could Change the Denim Industry Forever

Levi’s goes all-in on laser finishing

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Levi’s new Project F.L.X. laser technology at work / Courtesy of Levi’s

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.

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Levi’s new software allows designers to replicate vintage wear patterns / Courtesy of Levi’s

The laser process, meanwhile, not only reduces the number of chemical compounds used to create a pair of jeans—helping Levi’s achieve its promise to eliminate hazardous chemicals by 2020—it also essentially allows Levi’s to make jeans to order. Instead of deciding on washes months or even years in advance, the brand can see what’s selling and produce accordingly.

Clothing manufacturers have used lasers to finish clothing for years, but the comprehensiveness of Levi’s laser machinery, the sophistication of the design software and the efficiency in which the two work together represents a significant leap forward in clothing manufacturing. As Bart Sights, VP of technical innovation at Levi’s explains, “Lasers have been around for some time but no one really knew what to do with them… Using this technology in a meaningful, business-transforming way is something totally new.”

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A pair of vintage Levi’s essentially cloned by the brand’s new laser technology. / Courtesy of Levi’s

Bart Sights literally grew up making jeans in his family’s mill in Kentucky and is a denim purist in the truest sense—and yet he couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the idea of Levi’s finishing its jeans this way. Listen and watch as the denim OG explains F.L.X. in his own words.

As a cherry on this denim sundae, Levi’s is scaling the design software and laser technology down and bringing it into select stores beginning in Spring 2019. The Levi’s Customization Studio will allow customers to create their perfect pair of jeans on the spot, even clone their old favorites so they never have to live without them again. If you ask us, that’s totally worth the wait.

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