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TDP 29.06.2015

LEVI'S - Making a classic last longer

Neil Bell has been innovating denim for a large part of his working life. After having been global fabric innovation manager at Levi Strauss & Co (where he worked on the development of Levi’s ‘501 Strong’, using Dyneema®) for 14 years, he now works for DSM Dyneema on business and product development. San Francisco is his home base.

- Please introduce yourself and share why you do what you do.

NB: My name is Neil Bell and I work for DSM Dyneema on business and product development based out of San Francisco.

I come from a family of horticulturists and they had a huge impact on my early years. In addition, I have always loved creating things since I was very little. The idea of planting, creating and watching projects come to life, plus the concept of merging and crossbreeding plants to create new plants was a great influence on my career. I became passionate about textiles and how to create and fuse textiles by combining different technologies to create new and innovative material structures.

During my tenure at Levi Strauss and Co., I was incredibly fortunate to work with amazing designers and creators on changing the landscape of denim and fabrics in general. Whenever you set out to create a new fabric, we need to imagine an end state where the material has a reason to be, whether that be through, for example, added lifespan or less impact on the environment, it needs to have a purpose. Ideally it needs to be a jumping-off place for a new breed of materials. I think at Levi’s we were able to do this and now that I’m with Dyneema®, the journey is just beginning and I believe we can take Dyneema® technology to enhance, create and sculpt the fabrics and forms of the future. This is a very exciting place to be for me!

I believe we can take Dyneema® technology to enhance, create and sculpt the fabrics and forms of the future

- What led you to initially seek out Dyneema®? And how did you end up working for DSM Dyneema?

NB: Within Levi’s we were constantly striving to find materials of the future. We were inspired by space travel and the materials needed to create lightweight durable goods. This directed us to Dyneema® and its inherently light and strong properties. From there, we started to work with the most innovative partner spinners and material manufacturers we could find to create a new way of developing materials. The exciting result of this was used to create the Levi’s “501 Strong” story, which used Dyneema® within the fabric to enhance strength and durability. We collaborated with the DSM Dyneema R&D team to work out the most efficient ways to spin the yarn. This was far from an easy task, but between the genius of the creators of Dyneema® and the technical innovation skills within the Levi’s material teams and its partners, we created the “lightest, strongest” denim. This fabric maintains a look and feel of denim but with inherent enhanced strength.

This project was a catalyst for me to think about how we might take this concept of strong and light to create materials of the future – not just within denim but in the whole spectrum of products, from performance apparel to footwear to water sports, to outdoor. With the right approach, the sky’s the limit here. I was then very fortunate to be able to seamlessly move away from the incredible position I had at Levi’s and transition into the world of Dyneema®, to start a new chapter of creation and innovation at DSM Dyneema with my Levi’s roots and structure as a solid foundation for my beliefs.

- Given its extremely high strength, are there any complexities that designers and manufacturers encountered when working with Dyneema® develop the Levi’s denim?

NB: Indeed, many challenges were encountered and this forced us to work on a new approach to the material. We needed to work on new ways of cutting the fabric, new ways of stitching the garment and new ways of washing and finishing the garment. It was all extremely exciting and challenging and we needed the help of some incredible partners to overcome these challenges. But through trial and error we made it.

- Any exciting new project you’ve been working on recently that you can share with us?

NB: We are focusing a lot on motorcycling gear and using Dyneema® to create high-tenacity woven structures to further protect the rider while still delivering comfort and freedom of movement. This is especially exciting because it gives us the opportunity to create a new material that enhances use and gives riders the freedom to express themselves. I believe this research will force us to look at materials in a new futuristic way. I can’t wait to bring this to life.

- Could you tell us a bit about noteworthy new applications of Dyneema® fiber that are currently out there or on the horizon?

NB: There are many. The work DSM Dyneema is doing around protection and enhanced durability is fascinating and from this we are now developing lighter, stronger fibers. Those will in turn further enable us to create ever lighter and stronger materials – the potential and use of which is breathtaking.

We are also exploring ways to bring color to Dyneema® -- to bring some additional excitement and fun to the product. As we enhance the color opportunities and are able to create a whole spectrum of color, this will enable Dyneema® to be used in a new realm of material innovations.

We know that this will open the door to a whole new world of opportunities. Imagine for example a pair of bright pink, super-strong and super-lightweight motorcycle jeans. Or ultra lightweight, neon-colored climbing jackets – offering the adventurer in all of us to push ourselves to the limit.

- Would you share with us one innovation outside of your immediate professional field that you’re really excited about at this moment?

NB: The work of the Marin Carbon Project is incredibly exciting. It’s a local project from San Francisco. The idea of creating a carbon-neutral environment by changing the way we handle agriculture is incredibly thought provoking. Thinking about how we have the ability to change so many aspects of our lives through plants and soil brings me right back to my horticultural roots.

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