Levi’s Launches Recycled 501 Jeans Made From Liquefied Old Jeans

Levi’s Launches Recycled 501 Jeans Made From Liquefied Old Jeans

Levi’s is putting an innovative and sustainable spin to one of its most iconic product – the 501 jeans. Beginning 2022, when you buy a pair of Levi’s iconic 501 jeans, there’s a good chance they’ll be made with organic cotton, post-consumer recycled denim and designed to be recyclable. 

This fabric is recycled from discarded jeans that have been dissolved with chemicals and then transformed into a new fabric by a Swedish company called Renewcell.

Renewcell, a brainchild of scientists from Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology, were originally looking at ways to break down cellulose fibers found in cotton, wood, and viscose. Levi’s in collaboration with Renewcell is tweaking the formula to make it work for cotton and viscose.

“We’re taking the innovation from last year’s Wellthread™ collaboration with Renewcell and applying it to what could rightly be called the most iconic garment in all of apparel, the 501®. It shows how serious we are about moving in the direction of circularity. Not only will our circular 501® jeans be designed to stand the test of time, just as they always have been, but they’ll also be able to find a second, third or fourth life as new garments.”

Paul Dillinger, vice president of Design Innovation, Levi Strauss & Co

That morphed into the technology it’s now using to make old clothes new again. According to Renewcell, old jeans are excellent candidates because traditional denim is mostly cotton without other materials such as nylon. It calls the new material made from the discarded jeans Circulose—a nod to the circularity keeping the old materials in the supply chain for as long as possible.

Levi’s is using a mix of this Renewcell’s Circulose® fiber along with with organic cotton to create a a new version of the 501® Original jean. The process allows Levi’s to use far fewer natural resources and fewer chemicals to produce. The result is a new jean made from old jeans that’s designed with the potential to be re-made into new jeans – again and again.

501® Original Jeans

By replacing parts of the garment that would normally be made from synthetic fibers – like polyester pocketing, threads, labels, and interfacing – with 100% cotton alternatives, the company has removed pollutive elements that would otherwise disrupt the cotton recovery process.

“By producing our signature jean, the 501®, with recycled content and in a way that makes them recyclable, we’re hoping to show ourselves and the industry that it really can be done and that we can deliver more sustainable product that saves resources, still looks great, and meets the highest quality standards”

Paul Dillinger, vice president of Design Innovation, Levi Strauss & Co

In July 2021, Levi’s joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign Project with a commitment to grow their circular product portfolio. There was a natural alignment with the work that was already happening in the company’s Wellthread line, as exemplified by last year’s collaboration with Renewcell, and the circularity standards that EMF is trying to integrate across the industry. 

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 crude 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. In Hong Kong, for instance, the government developed the Green Machine, which shreds clothing into tiny fibers, separates different materials, then spins them back into yarn. Other companies, like Evrnu, Circ, and Sulzer, use chemicals to dissolve fabric into polymers, then transform them back into fibers.

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