The smoke is imperceptible at first. Soon, though, a wisp points the eye to where a laser is etching faded creases on to the pristine pair of jeans in front of it. Just as the pattern seems complete comes the coup de théâtre: flames flash across the knees, creating rips in the denim that conform precisely to the design on a nearby computer.

The show at Levi Strauss's innovation lab in San Francisco lasts just 90 seconds, but offers an insight into a company focused on the long term. Before it devised the laser process, workers had to scrub jeans

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