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Video Tip: Product Design at Levi Strauss

March 15, 2018

Levi Strauss’ new design lab has created video game-like software that allows designers to build new styles on an iPad, reports Fast Company (Feb. 28, 2018). This allows them to take one of Levi’s styles like the 501 in one of a few basic colors, then use buttons and levers to distress the jeans, add studs, rips, or other design elements. The lab makes the 3D graphics more realistic than other tech on the market. The digital file that the designers produce can be immediately sent to a laser machine, which will produce the design on a prototype of real jeans.

This is very different from how jeans are typically prototyped, which involves taking an image and having people manually re-create it on a pair of jeans using sanding and chemical treatments. With this new system, the images are realistic, and the laser turns that vision into reality within 90 seconds, reducing the prototype process to just 3 steps. Previously, with all the drawing, reiterating, and then manually creating prototypes, it took 12-18 steps.

That digital file can also be sent to a manufacturing facility, where an entire season’s worth of jeans can be made using automated lasers rather than manual labor. This creates a much safer environment for workers and reduces the number of harsh chemicals used. Levi’s is trying to phase out, for example, potassium permanganate, which has terrible side effects when inhaled, including sore throat, burning sensations, and labored breathing.

The process could radically speed up the time it takes to bring a new design to market. If a new trend emerges, a designer could whip up a prototype within hours, which could then be produced at scale within months. This is important because there is a lot of waste in the fashion industry, a sizable chunk of which comes from new clothes that were never sold. Between 80 and 100 billion never-worn garments are sent to landfills globally every year!

The Fast Company article includes a very interesting 5-minute video describing the design process. (Click on the photo called Lasers! Gas!)

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