Levi Strauss & Co.’s Eureka Innovation Lab has always been a place of reinvention and evolution. The lab itself experienced a moment of evolution in 2013, when it moved from Turkey to San Francisco, just a few blocks from our global headquarters. The reason behind the move? Then-new CEO Chip Bergh’s belief that innovation is critical to the company’s future, so Eureka — a living, breathing R&D lab with a mission to find ways to make jeans better — should be situated close to home and at the heart of our brand.
Over the past decade, the lab has been a guiding light in our efforts to evolve with the times, driven by an ethos that revolves around reevaluating old practices with fresh eyes, preserving what enhances our capabilities and reimagining what does not. This has led Eureka to produce a variety of innovations in different spaces that have contributed to the business and aim to minimize waste, maximize quality and reduce time to market, all while retaining the heritage brand identity that sets us apart.
On the product side, in 2015, Eureka played a crucial role in developing what was the then-new Levi’s® women’s denim collection. The line reduced the number of master patterns required from 65 to about 30, enabling us to cut costs and respond to trends more quickly. It also launched Lots 700 and 300, which included popular styles and fits like the 710, 711, 720, 721, 311 and 312 that we still sell and are loved by shoppers today.
The Eureka team has also made an impact on our sustainability efforts. In 2011, they developed our innovative water-saving finishing techniques, which, at the time, were industry leading and have now set the standard for denim finishing. Then in 2014, the team launched the Screened Chemistry program, taking a hazard-based approach with chemicals to identify and substitute best-in-class or better alternatives from the onset. Both processes were open-sourced and shared across the retail industry, promoting more sustainable finishing practices and chemistry on a broader scale.
Not stopping there, the team has also been developing new and experimental ways to digitize the design and manufacturing processes. In 2018, the team began experimenting with lasers and announced Project F.L.X., a new operating model that ushered denim finishing into the digital era by digitizing design files and automating parts of the jeans finishing process that had previously required far more time and labor. This led to the creation of Future Finish, a state-of-the-art advancement that uses proprietary laser-powered technology to let consumers customize their jeans with one-of-a-kind finishing details. This technology has been a show-stopper at consumer pop-up experiences ever since and was most recently on display at our celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the 501® jean.
F.L.X. has also served as the catalyst for the Eureka team to continue combining their technical skills and expertise with new digital capabilities, with team members who were once focused on the more mechanical aspects of manufacturing learning to develop software and redefine their roles in real time. This work came to a head in 2020 — with in-person meetings impossible given ongoing lockdowns and social distancing requirements due to COVID-19, the team developed a new digital technology that allowed for photo-realistic digital 3D renderings of denim and apparel samples.
The Eureka team’s ability to envision a different future and then chart the path to reach it is what has made their work so exciting — and there’s still so much left to do.
“Our most radical undertakings are the result of a team that’s willing to think unconventionally and take risks,” said Bart Sights, VP of Technical Innovation LS&Co. “When you can back up big ideas with technological capabilities — that’s where change happens.”
Congratulations to the entire Eureka team on 10 years of innovation in San Francisco. We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years hold.