This past June, 12 entrepreneurs who are committed to building a more sustainable apparel industry came to Levi Strauss & Co.’s Eureka Innovation Lab for the convening of our second class of the Collaboratory. This fellowship experience is an effort by LS&Co. to empower the next generation of apparel leaders who want to advance a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry. Our fellows, who came to San Francisco from around the globe, sought to learn from and collaborate with our leaders and employee mentors as well as outside experts.
With this year’s class focused on the challenging issue of climate change and reducing the climate impact of the apparel industry, our fellows had to quickly embrace the guiding principle of collaboration. LS&Co. EVP & President of Global Retail Carrie Ask urged fellows to find their ‘tribe’ along the course of their careers, and to rely on other like-minded leaders to help energize and remind them of the importance of their end goal.
Carrie referenced an ancient African proverb: ‘If you want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.’
From open sourcing our Water<Less™ finishing techniques to sharing our Screened Chemistry program with peer companies, LS&Co. has a long history of open sourcing our sustainability solutions for the industry. Fellows got an inside look into the “how” behind these efforts. Michael Kobori, vice president of Sustainability, led a session alongside Bart Sights, vice president of Technical Innovation, and Linda Gallegos, senior manager of Design Development. The conversation focused on how sustainability imperatives can be used to drive innovation and result in business, environmental and community benefits.
“Innovation is fueled by putting constraints on a certain process or a way of thinking,” Michael said.
An incredible roster of external speakers also offered their insights and advice to fellows on how to move their efforts forward.
Reverend Kristen Snow Spalding, senior program director at Ceres, spoke about why every company should care about climate change and how to contribute to solutions. She emphasized how the consequences of climate change are a matter of human rights and economic justice with a clear tie to global business risks. She encouraged fellows to see the possibilities for companies that remain ahead of the curve in addressing their climate impact. From Reverend Spalding’s perspective, those are the businesses that will lead the future business landscape.
Bayard Winthrop, CEO of American Giant, talked about why he is committed to building a values-led business and how that passion has radiated across every aspect of his company to help it grow.
“We launched American Giant in 2012 with a men’s-only sweatshirt. I became obsessed in that process. Everywhere I looked and turned I was being told that it was not possible to build a domestic supply chain, produce great clothing in the U.S., and get that product to consumers at a reasonable price anymore,” Bayard said. “I was looking in the rearview mirror at 40 years ago and realizing that in the ‘70s there were brands everywhere that were doing that. I felt there was so much innovation happening that there was no way those two things couldn’t be figured out.”
Fellows wrapped up the weekend by sharing their ‘first draft’ ideas for using their business to help reduce the climate impact of the apparel industry. For each of the fellows, this was just the beginning. Each project idea is eligible for up to $50,000 in funding from LS&Co. These initial concepts were bold, though still under development, and will benefit from the wide array of perspectives and insights shared over the course of the weekend.
One of the biggest takeaways from the weekend? Leading radical change requires a level of tenacity that verges on obsession.
As Debbie Raphael, director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, offered: the world is run by those who show up. It’s our shared responsibility to create the space for other sustainability leaders to show up and put their plans into action.