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Levi Strauss Sees Green In Brown Denim

November 21, 1991

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Levi Strauss & Co., which made its name with blue jeans, hopes to see green with brown denims made from naturally colored cotton that needs no dye and deepens in hue instead of fading.

The leading brand-name clothing manufacturer is releasing a limited number of ″coyote brown″ men’s jeans in time for Christmas and plans national distribution next summer.

″We’re really thrilled about this. I had a jacket on the other day, and everyone wanted to come up and touch it. They were fascinated by the color,″ Levi Strauss spokeswoman Jill Novack said Thursday.

″Levi’s Naturals″ are made from cotton fiber that actually grows reddish brown and weaves into softer cloth than white varieties, said Sally Fox, who developed and holds patents on the ″Fox Fibre.″

″There’s a manufacturing advantage in that you don’t have to dye it. That saves (companies) a huge process,″ she said.

Because no dye is used, she said, the underlying cloth doesn’t whiten but darkens and looks more like suede.

Fox owns and operates Natural Cotton Colours Inc. in Wasco, a farming community in California’s San Joaquin Valley. She breeds cotton at her 35-acre nursery there and grows it in Texas and Arizona.

She has also developed a darker, less red, ″buffalo″ brown and a forest green. Other colors under development include various verdant shades and a brick red that becomes mauve when made into denim.

Levi Strauss has turned the fabric into its relaxed-style 550 jeans and will offer them starting Dec. 15 at several as yet undecided stores nationwide.

The wholesale price is $27 a pair; retail generally is twice that, Novack said.

The San Francisco apparel maker plans to distribute more brown jeans, along with denim jackets and shorts, in August 1992. Levi Strauss has made some green denim test pieces and is considering women’s styles.

Fox Fibre, grown and woven in a partnership involving Fox’s company, the American Cotton Growers Co-op of west Texas and Levi Strauss, began almost by accident.

Fox began breeding colored cotton in 1982 after earning a master’s degree in pest management from the University of California at Riverside. Trying to develop pest-resistant cotton plants in the San Joaquin Valley, she originally thought breeding cotton was boring.

But then she came across seeds of natural brown cotton collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Central and South America during the 1930s and 40s.

The plants were vigorous and resistant to pests, so Fox grew them - and was charmed by the color. She crossed brown and white to strengthen the fiber, then cross-pollinated subsequent brown lines, coming up with a plant yielding green lint in 1985.

″It allowed me to realize that if green could come out of brown, yellow could come out of brown, red could come out of brown, many colors could come out of brown. And maybe blue could come out of green,″ she said.

Fox quit her job with a San Diego biotech company and moved back to the San Joaquin Valley and got a breeder’s license in 1986. She planted her first nursery herself, using a hoe on the 2-acre plot.

In 1988, her brown cotton was successfully spun into fiber at Texas Tech. Since then she has sold Fox Fibre to manufacturers in Europe and Japan and to San Francisco-based Esprit de Corp.

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