Levi Strauss & Co.
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Sustainable Fibers

Building the foundation for sustainable apparel

The fashion industry consumes a lot of predominantly virgin fibers, with an estimate by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation putting the annual number at 53 million metric tons. Cotton is the most used raw material in LS&Co. products. It also represents about 25% of the virgin fibers used in our industry. Unfortunately, nearly three-quarters of all virgin materials used in the apparel industry are eventually landfilled or burned. This wasteful overproduction and overconsumption of not only virgin fibers, but other natural resources as well, is far from sustainable.

It is therefore imperative that we deliver consistent, meaningful and transparent progress on our efforts to explore and support the cultivation of more sustainable cotton, while also continuing to diversify our cotton sourcing to include organic and recycled cotton, alternative fibers like hemp, and next-generation manmade cellulosic fibers. More sustainable fibers are the building blocks of our products, so our efforts must begin from the ground up.

We took meaningful steps in 2020, launching initiatives that used and scaled more sustainable fibers, such as introducing WellThread® jeans with recycled Circulose® fiber, increasing cottonized hemp use across our product assortment, and continuing to support development of cultivation methods that use less water, involve fewer pesticides and promote healthy soil.

More Sustainable Cotton

Nearly 90% of LS&Co. products are cotton-based, which makes it critically important that we find more sustainable and resilient sources for that cotton, while continuing to investigate alternative fibers. This effort intersects with many other elements of our sustainability strategy, including action on climate change and water stress. At the end of 2020, 83% of our cotton came from more sustainable sources, including Better Cotton, organic cotton and recycled cotton. We intend to reach 100% more sustainable cotton by the end of 2025, while continuing to diversify our portfolio to incorporate more sustainable and less resource-intensive alternatives to conventional virgin cotton.

More Sustainable Cotton

Nearly 90% of LS&Co. products are cotton-based, which makes it critically important that we find more sustainable and resilient sources for that cotton, while continuing to investigate alternative fibers. This effort intersects with many other elements of our sustainability strategy, including action on climate change and water stress. At the end of 2020, 83% of our cotton came from more sustainable sources, including Better Cotton, organic cotton and recycled cotton. We intend to reach 100% more sustainable cotton by the end of 2025, while continuing to diversify our portfolio to incorporate more sustainable and less resource-intensive alternatives to conventional virgin cotton.

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides or fertilizers, compared to conventional cotton, which uses both. The impacts to human and environmental health associated with conventional cotton agriculture are well-documented, and life cycle studies by the Textile Exchange showed that organic cotton production can save water compared to conventionally grown cotton. We are committed to supporting organic cotton production and sourcing organic cotton for our WellThread® collection and other lines. The organic cotton we source is third-party certified to the Organic Content Standard (OCS) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

As demand for organic cotton has grown, there have been challenges to global supply. Organic cotton makes up a small percentage of the global cotton supply, with 51% of organic cotton grown in India and 17% in China. Starting in 2020, two significant events limited the organic cotton supply:

  • In October 2020, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) detected evidence of falsely certified organic cotton in India.  Approximately 20,000 metric tons of cotton had fraudulent organic raw cotton transaction certificates. These transaction certificates were eliminated, which reduced India’s estimated organic cotton supply.
  • In May 2021, a cyclone overwhelmed parts of India, including one of the country’s major cotton growing regions. This is symptomatic of an increasingly volatile climate and increasing risks of the supply chain and raw material disruptions.

As a result, LS&Co. is following a plan to incrementally increase our use of organic cotton to manage these challenges, increase the traceability of our cotton supply and reflect our continued commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Better Cotton

LS&Co. is a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and joined the initiative in 2010. BCI’s vision is to transform the cotton-producing sector by enabling more sustainable agricultural practices such as reduced water consumption, chemical use at the field level and increased market access for farmers. By aligning environmental and financial sustainability, reducing market barriers through a mass balance system and working with stakeholders at every stage of the supply chain, BCI has shown an exceptional ability to scale. By the end of the 2019-2020 cotton growing season, Better Cotton accounted for 22% of global cotton production and 2.1 million BCI farmers produced Better Cotton on 5.7 million hectares.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, BCI was able to work through its network of implementation partners and licensed farmers to provide personal protective equipment, updates on the pandemic and safety advice to remote cotton farming communities — proving its commitment to farmer wellbeing. For LS&Co., participating in BCI as a member and supporting Better Cotton demonstrates our commitment to improving cotton farming on a global scale, supporting farmers’ livelihoods and driving environmental sustainability at the field level.

U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

In 2021, we joined the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, a farm level, science-based program setting a new standard for more sustainably grown cotton. We also serve on the Trust Protocol Board of Directors as a representative of apparel retailers. Specifically, the Trust Protocol strives to brings quantifiable goals with verified impact to sustainable cotton production. The Trust Protocol offers several opportunities for us to drive more sustainable and transparent cotton cultivation. It supports ongoing efforts to make U.S. cotton production more sustainable, offers verified data in six key sustainability metrics, and provides a trackable cotton supply chain for all members. These benefits promise to help us measure progress toward our water and climate targets and communicate the impact of this work publicly.

U.S.-grown cotton makes up about 10% of the cotton in the LS&Co. supply chain, and our participation in the Trust Protocol supports greater sustainable practices in this region. It also aligns with our global sustainable fiber priorities. Our participation will allow us to further diversify our more sustainable cotton portfolio, which is both necessary and prudent given how much cotton we use.

Pioneering Fiber Innovations

Pioneering Fiber Innovations

Cottonized Hemp

Hemp requires less water and fewer pesticides to grow, but has traditionally felt too coarse on the skin for unaltered use in denim. We worked with other innovators to devise a way to soften rain-fed hemp so that it feels like cotton. This advancement aligns with our commitment to safer chemicals in the apparel supply chain and to responsible stewardship of the resources required to make our products.

Beginning in 2020, several Levi’s® WellThread® collections featured cottonized hemp, and the brand has since included it in mainline products, bringing the environmental benefits and comfort of soft hemp to even more consumers. Innovating and scaling the use of alternative fibers like cottonized hemp are key steps along the way to delivering more sustainable apparel.

Post-Consumer Recycled Denim with Circulose® Fiber

Through a new recycling technology that transforms used cotton and other cellulose fibers into a biodegradable raw material, we can make our jeans more sustainable than ever. The groundbreaking denim features organic cotton and Circulose® fiber, which is made from worn-out jeans and sustainably sourced viscose. Invented by Re:NewCell, Circulose® fiber closes the loop from post-consumer fabric to new garments, which can then be recycled again.* Our collaboration with Re:NewCell to develop these groundbreaking jeans was named a World Changing Idea by Fast Company in 2021.

*Circulose® is a registered trademark of Re:NewCell AB.

Responsible Manmade Cellulosics

We are committed to sourcing all fibers and materials used to produce our clothing responsibly. Fibers like viscose, modal and lyocell are produced using wood pulp. The sourcing of wood as well as the fiber manufacturing processes used to produce these fibers can have significant impacts on the environment, from air and water quality to biodiversity. We address the impacts of wood-based fiber production by sourcing 100% of our cellulosics from responsible sources.

In 2019, LS&Co. completed the shift of all manmade cellulosics — viscose (rayon), modal, and lyocell — from direct suppliers to Canopy “Green Shirt” suppliers who have earned a minimum of 25 buttons in Canopy’s 2020 Hot Button Ranking. This means they have eliminated or are on track to eliminate sourcing from Ancient and Endangered Forests in 2020. We have also moved away from generic viscose (rayon) to traceable viscose and expanded our use of lyocell, such as Lenzing’s Tencel™ fiber, which includes a process that continually recycles the chemical solvents used to produce the fiber and also requires less energy and less water than generic viscose.* As of 2020, we accept manmade cellulosics from the companies Lenzing, Birla, Tangshan Sanyou (for Circulose® fiber) and Kelheim.* All manmade cellulosic suppliers to LS&Co. must be Canopy Green Shirt-rated and committed to responsible manufacturing.

We source sustainable wood-based fibers consistent with our CanopyStyle commitment to work with suppliers to prevent wood-based materials from the world’s Ancient and Endangered Forests from entering our supply chain. Our work to address the impacts of manmade cellulosic fiber manufacturing is consistent with our Commitment to Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals and the Changing Markets Roadmap. Collaborations with innovators and suppliers aim to develop and scale next-generation fibers made with circular manufacturing processes and recycled or regenerative raw material input, such as Circulose® fiber.

Additionally, about two-thirds of the manmade cellulosic fibers used in our products are lyocell fibers, made with closed-loop manufacturing processes that recover and reuse chemicals and water. This drastically reduces the environmental impacts and natural resources required for production. We are also incorporating the pioneering Refibra technology, which involves upcycling cotton scraps from garment production into our products.** These cotton scraps are transformed into cotton pulp and added to wood pulp, with the combined raw material resulting in new Tencel™ Lyocell fibers to make fabrics.

*Tencel™ is a trademark of Lenzing Aktiengesellschaft. Circulose® is a registered trademark of Re:NewCell AB.
**Refibra™ is a registered trademark and Tencel™ is a trademark of Lenzing Aktiengesellschaft.

Animal Welfare

As detailed in our Animal Welfare Policy, LS&Co. aims to ensure that wherever materials derived from animals are used in the production of our products, their health and welfare is protected. Our suppliers are expected to use the international industry best practices known as the Five Domains for Animal Welfare. Additionally, we prohibit the use of animal-derived products and materials from any endangered species as identified by the IUCN Red List. We do not accept wool from mulesed sheep and we are working to ensure all virgin wool in new LS&Co. products will be Responsible Wool Standard-certified by 2025.

We are committed to the principles of the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), and 100% of our down products are certified to the standard. In 2021, we joined the Leather Working Group to support responsible leather processed using best practices by environmentally certified leather suppliers.

Synthetic Fibers

While synthetic fibers are a small portion of our fiber portfolio, we are committed to reducing our use of petroleum-based materials. Our expectation is to convert all virgin synthetic fibers to recycled or other more sustainable alternatives by the end of 2030.

Certification and Substantiation

LS&Co. uses the Textile Exchange Certified Fibers list and Preferred Fibers and Materials list to define our “sustainable materials.” One exception is hemp. Still considered an innovative fiber, hemp is not certified yet, but its significant sustainability potential is gaining recognition. In 2019 and 2020, we worked with third parties to substantiate water and chemical use reductions associated with hemp cultivation and the process we use for our cottonization. We are now working with industry associations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to recognize hemp as a more sustainable material.

During 2020, we worked extensively to substantiate water and chemical use considerations associated with innovative fibers, materials and input for dye processes. This included making sure the bio-based fibers we source are not food turned into textiles and are grown with responsible land-use practices. We engaged a third party to identify ways to substantiate our claims regarding water and chemical use with a high degree of confidence.

In 2020, we also began using post-consumer waste recycled denim as part of our partnership with Re:NewCell to incorporate their groundbreaking Circulose® recycled fiber into denim. While the Circulose® fiber is not third-party certified, our rigorous data tracking and substantiation process helps us ensure the overall product is sustainable.*

*Circulose® is a registered trademark of Re:NewCell AB.

What’s Next – Sustainable Fibers

Sustainable materials are just one element in our ongoing efforts to provide more sustainable apparel and support a circular economy, but they represent an important foundation. Today, more sustainable, next-generation fiber solutions are still emerging. We also will keep driving on each of these focus areas — sourcing fibers responsibly, engaging suppliers to address manufacturing impacts, and using next-generation fibers that are less resource-intensive — as we continue our work to deliver more sustainable products at scale.