What happens when you bring left-brainers together with right-brainers? This semester, the Center for Responsible Business (CRB) partnered with California College of the Arts (CCA) to find out. Sustainable fashion design students from CCA were paired with students from UC Berkeley to work on the Levi’s Sustainability Undergraduate Case Competition. Participants were asked to create innovative solutions on how Levi Strauss can “close the loop profitably” with denim recycling, reuse, and resale.

Last Spring, the Center for Responsible Business worked with Target to put on an undergraduate case competition that utilized social media to engage students. This semester, we continued to challenge students to communicate their ideas through a 2-minute YouTube video and blasted helpful hints and tips on Facebook and Twitter during the two-week case competition.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the case competition was the CRB’s partnership with CCA. Three students from UC Berkeley were matched with two fashion design students, and  the cross-functional, multi-disciplinary teams were asked to collaborate on a solution, integrating design thinking with business knowledge. Each team’s final deliverables included not only a YouTube video and oral presentation, but also a physical prototype of the proposed solution or product.

Asking the teams to provide a physical prototype of their idea allowed students to commit and engage fully in developing their solutions. The prototypes included jean jackets, raw materials for textile production, a new type of stitching, a jacket made from recycled denim yarn, replacement pant pieces, and even handkerchiefs. The winning team – with members Zahin Ali, Leslie Chen, Cecilia Xia from UC Berkeley, and CCA students Jean Saung and James Zormeir – proposed that Levi’s create a one-of-a-kind “Levi’s Strauss” handkerchief. These handkerchiefs,made from recycled denim and cotton, have various uses, from napkins to a bracelet accessory. Although the team “shared a variety of ideas right off the bat,” team member Leslie Chen said, “what really brought our team together was when Jean thought up of the handkerchief idea. The conviction and energy we each had from the idea really fueled us for the rest of the presentation preparation process.” Check out their video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0dQEUXNi3o&w=425&h=349]

Jo Mackness, Executive Director at the CRB, was equally pleased with the outcomes of the competition. “The teams from the different schools were challenged to come together and develop a solution that was not only creative, but business viable, and of course environmentally sustainable,” she said.  “We were trying to create an experiential learning opportunity that mimics the cross functional context within which students will eventually operate in the ‘real world’ —interestingly, it was the students who collaborated the best—really embraced their team mates’ ideas, who came out with the best all around solutions.”

The goal of the competition was to further Levi Strauss’ commitment to sustainability by developing innovative ways to “close the loop profitably”. UC Berkeley and CCA students came together successfully to not only tackle the case from both a design and business perspective, but more importantly, apply the skills and knowledge they learned in the classroom (and studio, for CCA students) to a real-world business challenge.

We were blown away by each team’s creative and rigorous solutions to this case and look forward to what students have to offer in next year’s case competition!


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