Jeans have become so popular in the past half-century that the apparel is now a staple in the wardrobes of both men and women. The image of jeans as a rugged choice or fashion statement has persisted for decades, but the pants have never been viewed as a force for good environmental policy. Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh last week tried to change that, associating jeans with sustainability and characterizing them as good for the planet.
Bergh appeared as a panel guest at the Brainstorm Green conference in California. The conference, put on by Fortune Magazine, collects corporate leaders, investors, and experts, bringing them together to discuss environmentalism and sustainability in a corporate context.
Bergh used his appearance to illustrate how individual decisions such as laundry can have a big impact on the planet. The CEO pointed out that jeans are particularly durable, lasting sometimes decades and often “longer than most people’s waistline.” Bergh also claimed that Levi’s is the “number one” brand in secondhand apparel stores.
In addition to the durability of his company’s clothing, Bergh stressed one strategy that can keep jeans lasting even longer. According to an assessment on the life cycle of jeans completed by Levi’s, around half of the water used in the make and care for jeans is used by consumers. To save water, then, Bergh is urging consumers to simply not wash their jeans. Bergh even revealed on-stage that the jeans he was wearing hadn’t ever been washed.
“We’re trying to educate the consumers,” said Bergh. “These are one of my favorite jeans. These jeans are maybe a year old and these have yet to see a washing machine. I know that sounds totally disgusting, I know it does, but believe me it can be done. You can spot clean it, you can air dry it and it’s fine. I have yet to get a skin disease or anything else. It works.”
Bergh went on to say that “denim aficionados” recommend not ever washing jeans. Instead, the strategy for cleaning the pants seems to be using a sponge, toothbrush, or other cleaning tool in conjunction with a bit of detergent.
Bergh’s entire discussion can be seen in the video below. In addition to the jean cleaning education, Bergh also discusses how Levi’s is trying to make jeans manufacturing more sustainable and data-based.