Jeans have been around — and popular — since the late 19th century, so it can be a bit strange to contemplate adding cutting-edge technological innovation to their production because, well, they’re jeans. They’re the most old-school of the old-school fashion items.
But, thanks to the good people at Levi Strauss, jeans are getting a high tech — and environmentally sound — upgrade, thanks to the magic of lasers.
By using lasers, Levi’s can scratch, cut, weather and sand a new and immaculate pair of 501s so that they look a whole lot less new. Levi’s calls it Project F.L.X., and it is designed to allow consumers to customize their own ideally and uniquely distressed finish on their jeans.
Denim in the U.S. is a big and growing business — sales of jeans were up 4 percent in 2016, and reached more than $40 billion in global sales in 2016, according to P&S Market Research. Levi’s grew faster than the general denim market, with a 17 percent year-over-year increase in terms of revenue in the second quarter of 2018, and pre-tax earnings were up 15 percent.
By 2023, the denim market is expected to exceed $87 billion.
Though in the past, denim makers would use chemical processes and sanding blocks to get those distressed finishes — doing so is both water intensive and dirty, since it can involve the use of over 1,000 chemicals. And, because it is so labor intensive, it really isn’t a customizable process. Companies usually just put out a lot of jean finishes, and customers sort out the one they want.
Lasers cut out much of the manual labor and nearly all of the chemicals — and is much, much cheaper to deploy than older methods. If the company can make products on-demand, it could very likely reduce the products it needs to carry at any given point, therefore drastically reducing inventory risk.