Levi’s 501s are now made from liquified fibers of old jeans

“There’s no hiding it: The apparel industry has a tremendous impact on the environment. As a brand that plays a role in this, it’s on us to do everything we can to create the styles you love, but do so in a way that still respects our planet,” says Levi’s in the brand’s sustainability pledge. 

Every year, the $1.3 trillion global fashion industry churns out more than 100 billion garments, the vast majority of which are made by extracting new raw materials like cotton and oil (which is used to create synthetic materials like nylon and polyester). There’s currently no reliable way to recycle fabrics at scale, so organizations around the world are trying to come up with solutions. Levi’s has solved a small piece of that puzzle.

When you buy a pair of Levi’s iconic 501 jeans starting this year, there’s a good chance they’ll be made from discarded jeans that have been dissolved with chemicals and then transformed into a new fabric by a Swedish company called Renewcell. Levi’s believes Renewcell’s cutting-edge fabric is now ready to scale, so it has incorporated it into one of its most popular denim styles, and hopes to roll out more garments made with this material soon.

Over the past decade, Renewcell, founded in Sweden in 2012, has been working on a process to transform old clothes into new clothes. It buys used garments and textile production waste that contains a large proportion of cotton and viscose; jeans are a good candidate, because many are made largely from cotton with a small quantity of stretchy fibers like nylon. A machine removes buttons and zippers, then remaining textiles are shredded and chemically dissolved. Any contaminants and noncellulosic content (like nylon) is separated out. What’s left is pure cellulose. This new material, which Renewcell calls Circulose, is packaged into bales and can then go through the apparel manufacturing supply chain as a replacement for cotton, viscose, or synthetic fibers.

Paul Dillinger, head of global product innovation at Levi Strauss & Co., is tasked with exploring the latest sustainable solutions in the fashion industry. In 2018, he visited Renewcell’s new factory in Kristinehamn, Sweden, where 20 full-time employees worked on this fabric-to-fabric recycling process. Two things stood out to him: First, Circulose appeared to be identical to virgin viscose, so it could be easily swapped into Levi’s denim supply chain. Second, the chemical recycling process seemed clean. “When you’re considering chemical recycling, you want to make sure that there aren’t any toxic chemicals that make their way into the fabrics,” Dillinger says.

Dillinger says these 501s are arguably the most sustainable jeans the company has made, allowing Levi’s to reduce its dependence on raw materials and making a big step toward creating a circular system, where its garments can be transformed back into clothes.

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Article source: fastcompany.com 

Photos: levi.com, levistrauss.com 

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