CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
March 29, 2020
Forward Thinking

Innovation at Levi's required radical supply chain changes

A focus on sustainability and new manufacturing processes has changed how the iconic denim company clothes its customers.

What does innovation look like when your product was created 150 years ago? That's the question Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), posed to Chip Bergh, president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., during the Tuesday morning keynote session at the RILA LINK2020 supply chain conference.

"Innovation is our life blood," said Bergh as he described the changes that the company made to resurrect the once struggling brand.

The key to improving its innovation program was using sustainability as a constraint, according to Bergh. "If you a have an innovation program that has no constraints, it's going to waste money," he said. "If you focus on something that you are trying to solve, that produces results."

Levi's, for example, has changed the way it manufactures jeans by using "waterless technology," which allows the company to use 96% less water in its denim finishing process. It has also cut down on the number of chemicals needed in the process by using lasers to give the jeans a worn-in look.

But the benefits of lasers go beyond sustainability. Lasers can also apply patterns, artwork, and other types of customization on the jeans that couldn't be applied by the traditional hand finishing method. Furthermore, they enable mass customization and late-stage postponement of the final jean finishing process, closer to the end customer, which reduces waste.

In fact, as complementary technology develops, Bergh believes that in ten years, there will be no need for sizes anymore. Body scanning capabilities could soon be embedded into smart phones, enabling consumers to more easily order jeans tailored to fit their exact dimensions.

"The technology is not too far away, and it will be scalable," Bergh said.

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