In early 2022, Levi’s® will launch a version of its most iconic product, the 501® Original, made with organic cotton and post-consumer recycled denim, and designed to itself be recyclable. The launch is part of the ongoing partnership between Renewcell and Levi’s® and speaks to both the enduring nature of the 501 and Levi’s® commitment to moving towards more circular products and practices.
“We’ve been working with Levi’s for several years now to push the frontier of what’s possible for textile-to-textile recycling at scale. Incorporating Circulose® in the 501® Original and launching it in retail showcases Levi’s® innovative capacity and the promise that Circulose® carries to substitute significant shares of virgin cotton with recycled textiles in products widely known for their superior quality.” said Patrik Lundström, CEO of Renewcell.
This launch builds on last year’s release of a collaboration between Renewcell and Levi’s® Wellthread™ line on the 502™ for men and High Loose for women using the same materials, which was named a “World Changing Idea” by Fast Company. In each case, Levi’s® used a mix of Renewcell’s pioneering Circulose® fiber, a sustainably sourced viscose made in part from recycled denim, and organic cotton.
“Last year’s Wellthread collaboration with Renewcell showed that this could be done, that we could find man-made cellulosic fiber made with recycled denim that was strong enough and durable enough to meet our quality standards. That hadn’t been possible before with mechanically recycled denim,” said Paul Dillinger, vice president of Design Innovation.
“Now we’re taking that innovation and applying it to what could rightly be called the most iconic garment in all of apparel, the 501, which 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.”
Making these jeans with recycled denim content blended with certified organic cotton means the garment uses far fewer natural resources and fewer chemicals to produce. Reducing the environmental impacts of materials is part of Levi’s® broader strategy for resource conservation across the life cycles of Levi’s® products and is an important part of their Buy Better, Wear Longer message and campaign.
“In our ongoing research and development, we strive to improve our design practices and conserve environmental resources every way we can,” said Una Murphy, Levi’s director of Design Innovation. “By incorporating sustainable innovation, we learn what’s possible and work towards solving some of our biggest challenges.”
Levi’s® use of renewable and recyclable materials — like Circulose and certified organic cotton — is an important part of a broader holistic approach to circularity. Each and every material component going into these circular 501 jeans was developed and selected to align with a strict single-fiber strategy that enables efficient recycling at the end of the jean’s useful life.
By replacing those parts of the garment that would normally be made from synthetic fibers — like polyester pocketing, threads, labels, and interfacing — with 100-percent cotton alternatives, Levi’s® has removed pollutive elements that would otherwise disrupt the cotton recovery process. 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.
“We are still early stages in apparel’s move towards real circularity, which is so necessary given how consumptive and wasteful this industry can be,” Dillinger said. “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.”