How many steps go into making that pair of Levi jeans you might be wearing just now?
About 65, said Amy Leonard, senior vice president of product development and sourcing at Levi Strauss & Company in California.
Leonard, speaking at Minot State University during a distinguished alumni presentation, told business students that Levi's produces fabric in 35 countries and has mills in 20 countries. They also purchase large quantities of cotton from farmers, many of whom harvest the crop using oxen on farms tiny in comparison to those Americans are used to.
Leonard said her job involves making sure that the materials needed to make the product are on hand. She works with factories and distributors, a process more complicated than it might appear on first sight.
International relations and regulations have to be taken into account; for instance, India won't do business with Pakistan, which impacts where jeans are made and what materials can be used in that country. Other countries expect popular jeans, like Levi's 501 brand, to be in stock at all times, which means they need to be able to supply them quickly. Different factories that the company does business with also have different capabilities, which affects where some specialty brands are made. One factory might have an ozone machine or a laser that can be used to make special markings on the jeans.
Labor costs are also a factor, said Leonard, who said this is one reason why so much business is shipped overseas. If a department store wants to sell jeans for $40 apiece, the jeans can't be made in the United States where both the cost of labor and fabric are higher than in certain other locations. Jeans that are made in the U.S. tend to be the pricier brands.
Leonard said she would like to find a way for the company to make more jeans in the United States.
Levi's also pays attention to the environmental impact of the industry and is a member of the Better Cotton Initiative, which seeks to produce cotton in a more sustainable manner. Part of those efforts involve educating farmers about best business and farming practices, which can help them increase their profit margins as well as the company's.
The goal of the company is to have 20 percent of the cotton produced be "better cotton" by 2015.
The company is also trying to use recycled materials, such as recycled soda pop bottles, in some of its jeans.
Students in the audience participated in a group exercise, looking at different products Leonard passed out and discussing where they were made, who made them, what environmental impact the product might have and who the targeted consumer might be. Leonard gave Minot State University an insider's view, including the environmental impacts of the industry. People are becoming more conscious of where things might be made, said Leonard.