Levi Strauss Taps Outerknown, Startups to Drive Apparel Industry Sustainability

When it comes to tackling climate change, Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) believes collaboration is key. This very ethos is the driving force behind the company’s sustainability approach, and the reason behind the brand’s decision to embark on a second year of its flagship Levi Strauss & Co. Collaboratory fellowship program.

Launched last year, the program sees emerging socially and environmentally responsible entrepreneurs in the apparel industry come together for three days to collaborate on sustainability solutions for their organizations.

Each year, the Collaboratory focuses on a different sustainability challenge facing the apparel industry. In its inaugural year, the program challenged fellows to learn, innovate and test ideas for reducing the water impact of their organizations. Progress is already underway, with one fellow, Mo Elliot, saving an estimated 1.5 million gallons of water by changing the fabric of one of his top-selling T-shirts in his spring 2018 product line to include recycled fibers.

The focus of the second class is climate change and how the apparel industry can transition to a low-carbon future. Following the workshop weekend, fellows have the opportunity to apply for up to $50,000 in funding to pursue bold solutions to reduce their organization’s or the apparel industry’s climate impact.

“Our hope is to inspire and support the next generation of apparel leaders to choose what’s right over what’s easy,” said Becca Prowda, Director of Community Affairs for Levi Strauss & Co. “We partner with up-and-coming changemakers because we believe that lasting change is possible when you build in responsibility from the beginning.”

LS&Co. has also announced a new partnership with Kelly Slater’s sustainable menswear brand Outerknown, which will see the brand expand its line to include denim. The collection, which embodies Levi’s Wellthread™ approach, consists of four pieces, including the classic Levi’s 511™ jean and Trucker jacket. Both items were made using Levi’s Water<Less® finishing practices and a new Indigo-dye system to help reduce water use. Ranging from $128–$185, the collection will be made available at,, select Outerknown international wholesale partners and select Levi’s retail stores throughout New York, California, Oregon, Colorado and Nevada.

Wellthread is Levi’s industry-leading approach to making sustainable denim. Each item in the collection is made with less water and centered around a single-fiber strategy that allows for 100 percent closed-loop recyclability, including buttons, labels and snaps. The denim utilizes extra-long Supima cotton grown in the US for enhanced durability and all products are produced in factories participating in the Levi Strauss & Co. Worker Well-being initiative.

“I’ve been wearing Levi’s my entire life and have always had a deep connection with denim,” said John Moore, co-founder of Outerknown. “Since day one at Outerknown, we’ve been searching for ways to make denim in a sustainable way. When I met with Paul Dillinger and the team at Levi’s, I knew right away that we spoke the same language and shared the same values. Levi’s Wellthread and Outerknown coming together was the solution to making the responsible denim we’ve been searching for.”

“There is this false notion that ethical fashion can’t also be good looking or cool — that ethics and aesthetics can’t exist together,” said Dillinger, VP and Head of Global Product Innovation at LS&Co. “Outerknown is helping us break that perception and show that we can make ethical, amazing looking products that don’t sacrifice sustainability.”

“We believe that, ultimately, it takes more than one company to make a difference. Working together with Outerknown with the goal to move the apparel industry forward is a huge opportunity and step in the right direction for sustainable apparel.”


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