Levi’s arms robots with lasers to create sustainable jeans

Sustainable fashion: Denim brand Levi’s has combined lasers with robotics to produce its famous jeans in a way that’s better for the environment.

Judging how bad a pair of jeans is for the environment is a tricky business, but a good rule of thumb is that the more distressed they look, the more stressed the environment is likely to be. Vintage feel comes with an environmental price tag.

Fading denim and creating tears to look as authentic as possible relies on a number of harsh ingredients and gruelling manual processes. Sandpaper, chemicals, and multiple washes are permanent fixtures on the production line.

Speaking to Fast CompanyBart Sights, head of Levi’s innovation centre, the Eureka Lab, admitted as much. “Our company alone offers over a thousand different finish looks per season, which is mind-boggling,” he said. “They’re all produced with very labour-intensive, repetitive-motion jobs, and a long list of chemical formulations. That’s a pretty dark picture of how things have been.”

The sustainable robot

Fortunately for Levi’s public stance on sustainability, the company has developed a new methodology to give its jeans that authentic look. It has introduced new practices that reduce both its carbon footprint and the number of hazardous materials used in the manufacturing process.

These come together to form F.L.X: Future-led execution.

The main component is revolutionising the way jeans are finished. For years, hand-finishing has been common in the denim industry: it’s long been the best way to create worn and faded designs.

Instead of hours of washing, scrubbing and intensive manual labour, a robot has been tasked with using infrared lasers to etch off thin layers of indigo and cotton. The result: that familiar faded finish and tears that are just as precise, but in as little as 90 seconds.

Compared with two or three pairs per hour when using the manual process, the laser-equipped robots represent a huge step forward. “It’s definitely not an incremental change,” Sights said. “It’s radical.”

Levi’s have developed the laser finishing system with the help of Jeanologia, a company dedicated to finding eco-efficient solutions for fabric and garment finishing.

Levi's robots and laser are developing greener jeans
Manual processing

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Internet of Business says

While the focus of much public debate about robotics, automation, and AI has been on the potential impact on jobs or ethical practise, too little attention has been paid to their sustainability benefits. Personalised, automated, and localised production (PAL) processes will help minimise the need for offshore outsourcing, monolithic production, and global supply chains. And as Levi’s has discovered, they may also reduce the need for environmentally damaging production techniques that are harmful to human workers.