You may like the thought of jeans with a worn-in finish, but that look frequently comes at a steep cost. It not only takes a long time to finish jeans (two to three pairs per hour), it frequently involves thousands of chemical formulations. Levi's thinks there's a faster and more environmentally responsible way. It recently introduced Project FLX, a system that uses lasers to finish denim. The technique involves taking photos of the jeans and illustrating them-- the laser then gently marks the jeans based on that illustration to create the simulated wear. This cuts the finishing time from several minutes or more to just 90 seconds, and whittles the number of necessary chemicals down to a "a few dozen."
As you might guess, this also opens the door to greater creativity. Levi's can make an authentic-looking wear if it wants, but it can also make ornate artwork. This also dramatically reduces the lead time for decisions on jeans from several months to weeks or even days, opening the door to more on-demand manufacturing and local production. You might not get to custom-design your pants, but you might not have to worry about supplies of your favorite pair, either.
This isn't a theoretical exercise. Levi's is testing Project FLX now, and expects to phase it into its supply chain over the course of 2 years. This doesn't completely eliminate concerns around the remaining chemicals in jeans production, but it could make you feel better about your next outfit -- not to mention save Levi's some time and money in the process.