How did Levis make jeans out of plastic

Are plastic bottles the solution for a sustainable fashion industry?

Let's not kid ourselves: our clothes pollute our environment. Consumers know that, but the big and small fashion labels also know that. That's why they come up with new solutions - and that is high time, because our resources are finite. The solution? Sounds simple: Sustainable production processes should become the rule and not remain an exception. But in practice it's not that easy.

But a rethink is taking place. And even if not everything is tip top today, there are already a number of initiatives, methods and processes that make the fashion industry more sustainable today than it was ten years ago. This is exactly what this focus is all about.

One can quickly think: It will never be anything! How is that supposed to get better? And while we are asking ourselves this question, we may be overlooking the innovations that are already there today. That's why we want to look at various options: We discuss how you can save water in manufacturing processes, which new natural materials have less impact on the environment, how recycling gets a new image - and how materials find their way into the world of fashion that are easy to use would not have thought. Plastic bottles, for example.

Plastic Fantastic?

Instead of asking ourselves what we have too little of, we can also think about what is more than enough of. Well, do you think of something right away? Exactly: plastic! It swims in the oceans, microplastics have long been in almost every cycle that you can imagine and the landfill sites are full of plastic. No, that's not good news. But product developers turn this bad news into good news - namely when they use plastic to make clothing.

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Plastic in fashion is actually not new: there are synthetic yarns, fabrics made of polyester or nylon, buttons and fasteners. Many other components of clothing can be made of plastic. Plastic does not always have a good reputation in the fashion industry. If, for example, plastic is produced especially for a piece of clothing, it is fair to ask why we don't just do without plastic - or recycle materials that already exist.

The fashion label Levi's® proves what that can look like: In the autumn-winter 2020 collection, the brand uses recycled plastic from PET bottles in its "Sustainably Soft" styles, along with other environmentally friendly processes and materials.

Sustainable or stylish - do you have to choose?

Clothes made from used bottles? Yes, it works. Parts of the collection, for example vests and jackets, are made from recycled plastic and plastic scraps, i.e. actually from waste products that would otherwise have ended up in the landfill. With the help of new processes, the bottles are made into Thermore®, a material made from 50 percent recycled polyester. In addition, the garments are lined with the down substitute EcoDown® - this material is made from 100 percent recycled PET bottles.

The whole process has several advantages: On the one hand, cotton is saved, the cultivation of which requires a lot of water and space. The process requires less energy compared to the production of classic polyester. And buyers no longer have to choose between sustainability and style.

Plastic jacket, hemp pants, extra soft?

Innovative fibers are mixing up the fashion industry. Clothing is no longer just made of natural materials like cotton, but now also made of plastic - and hemp. Cotton takes a lot of water to turn into jeans. Reason enough for the denim manufacturer to also think about other materials. One of them is hemp. The plant needs far less water and pesticides to grow to turn into jeans. However, until now the material has not been gentle, just comfortable, enough. In the meantime, that has changed. Levi's® has developed a process with experts in which hemp is "cotonized", i.e. made softer. As a result, it should be just as comfortable as a Levi's® made of cotton, according to the manufacturer.

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When we talk about the future of our planet, we have to rethink long-established processes - especially in the industries that bear responsibility. The fashion industry accounts for around seven percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. But already today there are also measures that counteract this by companies that want to make their contribution. It goes forward. And who knows? Perhaps in ten years' time our jeans will be made of a material that is even more sustainable and that we don't even think about today. We are excited.

Not everything stands still. Together with Levi's®, we'll look at the initiatives, technologies and inventions that are already changing the fashion industry today in three upcoming articles with different focuses. We change perspective - and answer the question: What is better today than it was ten years ago?