Destroying Denim…for Good

Levi Strauss & Co.
April 30, 2014

Ask Melissa Hook what she does for a living and her short answer is pretty simple: Destroy denim.

Melissa is a finishing development technician for Levi Strauss & Co. She’s one of those apparel artists who can “rough up” a brand new pair of blue jeans to make it look like it’s been worn—hard—for years and years.

A little more than a year ago, Melissa was a merchandiser charged with making the women’s product look as good as it possibly could at Bloomingdale’s in San Francisco. With a fashion design degree under her belt and a just-earned promotion, she had some traction in the hyper-competitive apparel business, but her work wasn’t quite as “hands on” as she wanted it to be.

Today, at LS&Co., it couldn’t be any more ”hands on.” SandpaperUsing tools like sandpaper and a dremel, Melissa and her colleagues can take a fresh pair of denim blue jeans and, following the instructions from a designer, turn it into the perfect pair to add to your wardrobe—with the wrinkles and wear patterns that make it look like an old favorite, rather than something brand new.

It’s not surprising she found herself at Levi Strauss & Co. As a child, she participated with her family in Gold Rush era reenactments near her hometown of Sacramento, Calif. It was the hard work of the gold miners and others building the American West that helped launch this company. In fact, Reno tailor Jacob Davis and dry goods merchant Levi Strauss invented the blue jean to meet those workers’ needs for a durable work pant.

Melissa Inline“Mom would make her clothes for the reenactments,” said Melissa. “The dress she made and wore when she was pregnant with me, she later altered so that I could wear it as a teenager.”

What stands out in Melissa’s mind is that the clothes of that historical era were made to stand the test of time and hard work.

“Given its history, I think Levi’s® gets it,” Melissa said, “Producing products that are made well and intended to last.”

In addition to fashion design and merchandising, Melissa also took many college courses in environmental studies. She loves fashion, but knows many industry practices aren’t sustainable.

That’s another reason she sought a job at Levi Strauss & Co.

“One reason I wanted to work for Levi’s® is that they’re focused on sustainability,” Melissa said. “They make clothes that last, and they’re also finding ways to use less water in production and make use of scrap fabrics and fibers.”

Moving from the floor of a department store to her hands-on finishing work was a big change for Melissa, but it could be just the beginning. She hopes to use her newfound understanding of where clothing comes from and how it’s made to help make a difference in the industry.

That fits in well with LS&Co.’s approach—driving change through leadership, collaboration and a focus on doing the right thing.

And just as she does on a daily basis with blue jeans, she may have to rough things up a bit in order to to make them better.