This is how the CEO of Levi Strauss wants to revolutionize the textile industry

Chip Bergh joined Levi Strauss & Co in 2011 to take over a company struggling financially. Bergh previously held senior management positions at Procter & Gamble for nearly 30 years. The bet was risky.

“A company with 166 years. It was an opportunity to be part of a brand with a great heritage. I call it my noble cause to go back to where I was as a kid, when everyone had to have jeans,” Bergh said at one of the CNBC Evolve Summits. “It was one of the biggest and most recognizable brands in the world and I believed that if I could change the brand I could change the company.”

After an evaluation, the businessman had identified Levis’ big problem: “He didn’t connect with consumers.” Bergh made some big changes to the brand’s business, like reducing the company’s reliance on wholesalers and refocusing on women’s fashion.

The Levis CEO turned the company around until it hit record sales of more than $5,500 million in 2018. This corresponds to growth of 8% compared to the previous year. With this poster as a premise, Bergh wants to go one step further and imagine what the textile industry will be like in the immediate future.

T-shirts with sensors that measure all kinds of variables, garments with liquid-resistant fabrics, products that don’t need ironing… But Chip Bergh moves away from these futuristic and inefficient models and focuses solely on the size of the garments.

Since taking office in 2011, the CEO of Levi Strauss has personally led the innovation center of the legendary denim company in Turkey. Experiments there have yielded an interesting finding: Within a decade, the traditional size model will disappear as body scanners and cameras allow customers to buy clothes that fit just right.

Bergh understands innovation as one of the basic pillars that must guide the company. For this reason, in 2013 she opened another innovation center in San Francisco called Eureka Innovation. It was in this place that the Water Less Technology and FLX projects were developed, which are of great importance in the industry.

Going by parts, in the past consumers bought pants stiff as a board, so they were very strong. This toughness provided miners, cowboys, bikers and so many others with the durable pants they needed to get their jobs done. Through the daily use of the trousers, they became unique. The sun spoiled them and formed almost permanent wrinkles.

Levi’s has tried to naturally mimic this model without having customers use them to achieve the desired finish. To achieve this look, the jeans go through a process known as stonewashing, which uses large amounts of water. Levi’s is working to reduce water consumption during the process as scarcity of this vital resource is becoming one of the world’s greatest challenges.

The brand invites its competitors to the Innovation Center to learn how to make garments while reducing water consumption. This technology has saved more than 3 billion liters of water when finishing jeans.

On the other hand, in the FLX project, Levi’s uses lasers to make the jeans. This allows the pants to be adjusted to the consumer’s measurements. Additionally, this technique reduces the time it takes to make the jeans as well as the chemicals needed to complete the process. The traditional process of making a pant uses thousands of chemical formulations, while the FLX project is reduced to just a few dozen.

Lasers allow jeans to end up in distribution centers instead of centralized manufacturing facilities, opening the door to custom orders. FLX has been in the market since 2018 and it’s still early to see results. “It’s informative, it’s revolutionary and it will ultimately change the supply chain,” concludes Bergh.