By Christine Cooper
Images courtesy of Levi’s
My fascination with used clothing began back in high school. My friends and I would hit up the local Value Village, looking for pieces that would allow us to stand out from the crowds of Roxy hoodies and sweatpant-wearing teenagers, who filled the halls of my high school.
Today, spending hours sifting through racks of vintage sweaters and bad 1980s frocks, sounds like a great afternoon to me, but until recently I didn’t even consider the environmental impact of buying second-hand clothes.
Now to be perfectly honest, I don’t know a lot about sustainability. I recycle when I can and I love myself some public transportation, but I never aligned the environment with fashion. So to help educate myself, I attended the 2011 Sustainable Clothing Roadmap Conference, here in London, to see what actions the British clothing industry is taking to become more eco-friendly.
Since 2007, the conference has been put together by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on an annual basis, hoping to improve the sustainability of clothing throughout its life-cycle. This includes looking at the crops that are grown to make the fabric, the design and manufacturing of the garments, the transportation and distribution for retail, the consumer use and the end-of-life/recycling phase.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I looked at a pair of jeans I didn’t consider the amount of energy it took to create them. Let alone, the energy to get them to the store, or keep them clean once I bought them.
Leaving the conference, the most important thing I took away was the huge effect we, as consumers, can have on the environment. I’m not talking about buying a pair of eco-friendly organic cotton jeans that cost $300. Of course, that’s great, but that’s not a reasonable option for everyone. I’m talking about one simple change that every person can make to help out – washing your clothes less. I know it sounds gross, but let’s be honest, is it necessary to wash your jeans after every wear?
Michael Kobori, vice-president of social and environmental sustainability at Levi Strauss, couldn’t agree more. After completing a product life-cycle analysis of a pair of Levi’s jeans, the company discovered that 3,480 litres of water and 400 mega joules of energy were used to create the pair. In the finishing process alone, 42 litres of water were used to create the distressed look of a pair of jeans, which can take up to three to 10 washes to complete.
With this information, Levi’s set out to create a process that would use less water, and came up with the aptly named Water<Less Collection. The process reduces water consumption at an average of 28 per cent, and a maximum of 96 per cent. The main goal of Levi’s designers was to focus on finding a way to give jeans a distressed look, while using less water.
Each pair of jeans being offered through the Water<Less line uses less than one cup of water. The line will carry 120 different products that used the Water<Less process, which has contributed to a savings of almost 20 million litres of water.
But that’s not all: Levi’s want their consumers to make a change as well. Along with the Water<Less Collection, they’ve began a campaign urging customers to wash their clothes less often.
With the ingenious tag line, “Don’t wash the stories out of your jeans,” they definitely had me hooked.
Spreading the message online and via store displays, Levi’s also changed their care tags to say, “Wash less, wash cold, line dry and donate to goodwill.”
After discovering that the consumer phase was one of the greatest contributors to water use, it made sense to not only change their own practices, but urge customers to do the same.
Levi’s Water<Less Collection will be available in Europe in May, as part of the fall/winter 2011 collection for men and women.
It is already available for purchase throughout North America.
Leaving the conference, I was aware that my clothing choices have an effect on more than just the way I look. So I’ve made the decision to wash my clothes less, in hopes of helping out Mother Nature.
Besides, I hated doing laundry anyways.
Christine Cooper is a fashion blogger based in London, U.K. Her blog can be found at http://jesuislittlegarcon.blogspot.com/