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OM in the News: Levi’s New Laser-Wielding Robot That Makes Ethical Jeans

March 11, 2018

You know those jeans that your students love, the ripped ones that look like they’re 30 years old? (Even though they just bought them.) You probably don’t realize it, but a team of designers took weeks to figure out exactly where to fade the indigo and position the tears for the most authentic vintage look, reports Fast Company (Feb. 28, 2018). Then, factory workers used sandpaper and harsh chemicals to make it look properly worn in. The jeans washed for hours, so that the blue color would fade out–even though those dyes end up polluting the groundwater.

At Levi’s, a brand that talks about trying to be as sustainable and humane to workers as possible, the ugly reality of what it takes to make jeans—especially when you are selling $4.6 billion worth of them a year—isn’t something that is brushed under the table. “Our company offers over 1,000 different finish looks per season, which is mind boggling,” says a Levi exec. “They’re all produced with very labor-intensive, repetitive motion jobs, and a long list of chemical formulations.”

But the firm has just introduced a brand new laser technology that will, in a snap, do what now takes much longer. The breakthrough uses infrared light to etch off a very fine layer of the indigo and cotton from a pair of jeans, creating the same kind of faded finishes and tears in 90 seconds flat. “It started as an idea for a change in a manufacturing process,” says Levi’s supply chain officer. “But it has actually evolved into a holistic digital transformation that covers the whole supply chain from end to end.” Using the laser-wielding robots in Levi’s factories has the potential to eliminate many repetitive, dangerous tasks that are an everyday part of the job for denim workers– and help cut down on the 13,500 workforce. The new laser tech saves time, effort, and the Earth.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Are your students aware of how faded jeans impact the Earth?
  2. Why is this a supply chain issue?


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