Levi Strauss & Co.’s latest Sustainability Report provides an insight on where the company has been with hemp – and where it may be going.
Levi’s is a brand synonymous with jeans, which have traditionally been made primarily from cotton. Cotton is an incredibly thirsty crop that also requires a significant amount of land and pesticide. To make one pair of jeans can take thousands of litres of water, just for growing the cotton.
Levi Strauss & Co began incorporating other natural fibers into some of its product lines a couple of years ago.
“For example, one of our key fiber innovations, cottonized hemp, is much less water-intensive than conventional cotton production and has the added benefit of relying on rainwater instead of irrigated water that could be used for other productive purposes.”
Hemp fibre is rather coarse, but Levis treats it in a way that makes it soft – hence the “cottonized” name.
Among the first products were a jeans and a trucker jacket made with a 70/30 cotton-to-cottonized hemp blend. As the hemp was rain-fed, this reduced the water used in fiber cultivation by roughly 30 percent. Levi’s first use of rain-fed cottonized hemp a couple of years ago only involved around 12,000 units, but it has ramped up production and delivered more than a million units in less than two years.
Aside from the physical challenges using the fiber presented, there are other challenges that remain for the company to take it to the next level within its operations.
Levi Strauss & Co uses the Textile Exchange Certified Fibers list and Preferred Fibers and Materials list to define its “sustainable materials.” One material not on those lists is hemp as it is still considered an “innovative” fibre and isn’t certified as yet. The company has been working with third parties to substantiate water and chemical use reductions associated with hemp cultivation and its cottonization process.
The firm’s interest in hemp certainly seems more than just passing, with the term mentioned 28 times in its report. You can download the Levi Strauss & Co. 2020 Sustainability Report here – and learn more about hemp fiber here.