Creating Opportunity Free Enterprise Staff  | December 6, 2016

Levi Strauss Sews Partnerships With Fashion Startups to Zip Up Water Conservation

Welcome to #BizUnited, a new series highlighting innovative partnerships between large corporations and small businesses across America. Check back periodically for new installments.

For Levi Strauss and Co., environmental sustainability is – like the company’s iconic jeans – always in style. The American apparel brand founded in San Francisco in 1853, which has long promoted and supported sustainability initiatives, has partnered with a select group of eco-conscious fashion entrepreneurs to help the company further improve the environment.

As part of its new Collaboratory initiative, the company behind the world’s first-ever pair of blue jeans worked closely with 10 sustainable apparel entrepreneurs and the startups they founded to create solutions to reduce the companies’ water impact. Each participant received extensive feedback from fashion industry and environmental experts and mentors and is eligible to receive up to $50,000 in funding to implement their water-saving solutions.

“Our goal with the Collaboratory is to fuel the next generation of apparel makers and accelerate sustainability innovation, and we’re excited about what this group of fellows will accomplish,” Levi Strauss and Co. CEO Chip Bergh said in a statement announcing the program.

Created in partnership with the Aspen Institute, the inaugural initiative was anchored around an exclusive workshop held last October at Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab in California. The goal of the program, according to Levi Strauss’s blog Unzipped, is to teach social impact-focused fashion entrepreneurs practical ways to reduce “their own water footprint in a way that makes sense for their own organization.”

Among the fashion entrepreneurs to participate in Collaboratory were: Pauline Munga, founder and creative director of Home Abroad, a startup that sources and sells ethically fabricated African textile fashions; Jesus Ciriza Larraona, founder and executive director of The Colours of Nature, a natural indigo dye startup; and John Moore, co-founder and creative director of Outerknown, an environmentally sustainable menswear startup.

“As a start-up, we don’t have the buying power to persuade suppliers to think more responsibly,” Moore told Unzipped. “So it’s pretty special that LS&Co. has opened up its doors and created the Collaboratory to bring different minds and talents together around the common desire to do good. By allowing us access to their innovation, leadership and resources, we are increasing the dialogue amongst peers, and advancing our understanding of what is possible.”

To curb its own water footprint, Levi Strauss recently shared key findings with its competitors and peers from its innovative Screen Chemistry Program. The program used the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice Program and GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals guidelines to build a pioneering scoring system that ranks chemicals and chemical combinations according to their impact on the environment and their effects on human health.

On World Water Day 2016, the company also open-sourced its Water<Less technology, allowing others to freely use a technology that Levi officials say was designed to save up to 96 percent of the water expended in the denim finishing process.

Next year, also as part of its Collaboratory workshop, Levi Strauss will tackle a different, yet-to-be-announced environmental issue of particular significance to the fashion industry.