The fashion industry makes one of the biggest impacts on the environment out of any other industry in the world. Una Murphy is out to help change that. As Levi’s® senior innovation designer and one of the leads on our Wellthread™ collection (our capsule that serves as the pinnacle of sustainability here), she works with a team that factors environmental practices into everything they do.
Una sat down with us to talk about her design process, the latest Wellthread™ collection and what we can do to inspire positive change.
What do you do at Levi’s®?
I work on the innovation and design team, and we design innovation that can go anywhere in the brand — tops, bottoms, Levi’s®, Dockers®, etc.
What is Levi’s® Wellthread™ collection?
We treat Wellthread™ like a lab for sustainability in which we do research through practice. We focus a lot on creating and working with fibers that use less water and make less of an environmental impact. Everything is designed for recyclability, which is technically really difficult to accomplish, but it’s important. We build up our body of sustainability knowledge to use anywhere across our brands.
"I like how Levi’s® wear out and have a story to tell."
Did you have an interest in sustainable fashion early-on?
Not really. I’m a pretty conscientious person in general, I think, and I feel like a lot of my values align with the company’s values. Once you understand the impact of what you do and the environmental impact of what you’ve helped put out into the world, it’s hard to not want to do it in a more sustainable way. People want beautiful things, and they want them to be made in a way that’s the least impactful, with the least harm, and with fair labor. It’s great to be able to enable that behavior to happen.
Do you have any examples of how Wellthread™ design techniques factor in to Levi’s® products outside of the line?
We figured out a Water<Less® dye system on indigo that we’re in the process of rolling out. A lot of the mills we use are starting to use it, too. In darker, richer shades, it can save up to 70% of the water normally used in the finishing process. The great thing is that any mill can use this technique, so it’s not specific to one country or one place.
Tell us about the Fall 2018 Wellthread™ collection.
The entire collection is designed for disassembly and recyclability. It’s rare that people think about the end of life. There’s a statistic out now that says that six out of every ten garments created will end up in a landfill at some point in their lives, so that’s terrifying. Part of what we do is design for longevity. We design high-quality garments, and once they’ve lived their lives, they can be disassembled and made into new fibers. Every piece in this line works with a single-fiber strategy, meaning every single piece of the garment is cotton. Every piece of this collection also has an aspect of recyclability to it: the denim is made of recycled cotton scraps, the tees and shirts are made from post-consumer jeans and so on.
Sustainability can be a complex topic for us to understand, but what are some things everybody can do to help inspire change?
Some problems are too big for one company to tackle alone, but it’s best when we can work toward similar goals and align with other brands on getting some groundbreaking innovations to scale to make industry-wide change. If you can make something beautiful and sustainable, there’s no reason to not choose that thing instead of an unsustainable item. I hope people start to understand the true impact of what they buy and that sometimes paying a bit more for something is better. Trade it. Sell it. Don’t discard it. If you can’t trade it or sell it, think about why that is. Poor quality, perhaps?
Check out more of our sustainability initiatives, and the new Wellthread™ x Outerknown fall collection.