Jeans from Scrap Cotton

New Levi's Jeans Are a Load of Rubbish!

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the developed world's thirst for fashion is having a negative impact on the environment. The volume of water used in denim production and the huge quantities of garments which end up in landfill are two of the most serious issues. A new initiative by Levi's looks set to tackle both problems but does this development offer real hope for the future or is it another false dawn?

Levi Strauss & Co. has joined forces with Seattle-based textile technology company Evrnu to develop a new innovation in denim. This could prove to play a significant role in the future of jeans and addresses the problems of both textile waste and water usage.

The Textile Mountain

The available figures suggest that 13.1 million tons of textile waste are generated in the US alone every year. II million tons of this sadly ends up in landfill. We are no less guilty in the UK. On average we each produce 70kgs of textile waste every year. That is the equivalent of 100 pairs of jeans. We wear only 70% of the clothes that we own and typically keep our garments for only three years.


Our bad habits have a negative impact on the environment and this is compounded by the clothing manufacturing processes. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet after oil and voraciously consumes finite resources.



Jeans swallow up a huge amount of water over their life cycle. 68% of this is used during the cultivation of the cotton that they are made from.


Change is clearly required and Levi Strauss & Co. has positioned itself centre stage in the move towards more environmentally friendly practices.

Post-Consumer Waste

Repurposing is certainly the new black of the fashion world. Consumers are upcycling their own clothes to create new styles and the big brands are following their lead by utilising recycled materials in their garments.

Now, Levi Strauss & Co. in partnership with Evrnu have produced prototype jeans using fibres recovered from old t shirts. This innovation neatly ensures that the used textiles do not end up in landfill. It also means that less cotton is cultivated in order to make the jeans and so most of the potential water usage is rendered unnecessary. Indeed the recycling of cotton fibres means that 98% less water is used than when manufacturing denim from virgin cotton.

The new process has a patent pending and enables the recycling of discarded clothing to create usable fibres. The result has been the production of a prototype Levi's® 511® jean. It is hoped that it will be possible to create jeans which boast the quality and strength of the originals. Some virgin cotton is still used in the new jeans but the process considerably reduces the environmental impact of each pair made.

By utilising post-consumer waste, the new recycling technology represents a significant step towards a circular economy in which waste generation is minimised.

"By tackling water conservation through new fiber innovation, the apparel industry has the potential to significantly reduce its water footprint. As technologies such as Evrnu evolve over time, there will be greater opportunities to accelerate the pace of change towards a closed loop apparel industry." Commented Paul Dillinger, head of global product innovation at Levi Strauss & Co.

A Genuine Change of Direction?

The latest recycling technology represents an interesting development. However, earth friendly initiatives in jeans production are nothing new. In recent years, many of the significant players have developed a number of processes which have resulted in jeans which have recycled materials. Sadly the majority of these have been special ranges or limited editions. Recycling is unlikely to have a significant impact on the environmental impact of denim production until jeans manufactured using recycled materials hit the mainstream. This is where a huge stumbling block rears its ugly head.

The problem here is cost. If the earth friendly jeans are more expensive for the consumer this will seriously effect sales. Levi Strauss & Co. together with their competitors face a major dilemma. Do they offer jeans made from recycled fibres at a higher price in addition to their standard jeans or do they move towards applying the new technology to their entire ranges? If they do the former then the benefits to the planet may prove to be minimal. If they opt for the latter approach then they could find that their sales are significantly reduced. In such a competitive market, earth friendly but costly ranges would be a brave move.

The pace of change will be dictated by consumers and they are not known for their propensity to choose the most expensive options. How many people are really prepared to prioritise environmental concerns rather than their own finances? Nothing is ever simple is it? Using recycled cotton makes perfect sense in every possible way but people almost certainly still won't buy the jeans if they are more expensive than the alternatives. That could be very costly indeed for the planet.

What are your priorities when choosing your jeans - style, the environment or your wallet?