Levi Strauss has teamed up with Evrnu, a Seattle-based startup that reconstitutes old fibers into new, to create the world’s first jeans made up of more than 50 percent post-consumer cotton waste. The two companies created the prototype, a pair of Levi’s 511s, using five used cotton T-shirts and a technique that Evrnu says consumes 98 percent less water than those associated with virgin-cotton products. The jeans, according to Evrnu CEO Stacy Flynn, provide a glimpse of a future where textiles are regenerated not just once but multiple times, paring down waste. From its Water<Less finishing techniques to its Wellthread design process, Levi’s has long pursued water conservation with a near-evangelical zeal, but the denim giant has also spoken at length about its desire to facilitate a circular economy, one where the products and byproduct waste serve as feedstock, not fodder for the landfill.

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“[Levi’s] was the perfect first partner for us to demonstrate our technology and capability as they are an iconic American company with a product that’s recognized around the world,” Flynn said in a statement. “Our aspiration is to build a pair of Levi’s jeans that are just as beautiful and strong as the original and we’re making great progress toward that goal.”

Levi’s is the first apparel company to harness Evrnu’s patent-pending technology, which breaks down cotton at the molecular level before extruding the resulting pulp into pristine fibers.

“This first prototype represents a major advancement in apparel innovation. We have the potential to reduce by 98 percent the water that would otherwise be needed to grow virgin cotton while giving multiple lives to each garment,” said Paul Dillinger, head of global product innovation at Levi’s. “Although early days, this technology holds great promise and is an exciting advancement as we explore the use of regenerated cotton to help significantly reduce our overall impact on the planet.”

RELATED | Evrnu Recycles Old Cotton Garments Into New Fibers

In a life-cycle assessment conducted by Levi’s last year, the company discovered that denim’s cotton-growing stage was also its thirstiest.

Comprising 68 percent of the total agua used in the life cycle of a single pair of jeans, cotton presents the biggest opportunity for cutting back on the wet stuff, Dillinger said.

“By tackling water conservation through new fiber innovation, the apparel industry has the opportunity to significantly reduce its water footprint,” Dillinger said. “As technologies such as Evrnu evolve over time, there will be greater opportunities to accelerate the pace of change towards a closed-loop apparel industry.”

Other companies that have toyed with recycled denim include H&M, which has parlayed some of the clothing from its global textile take-back program into a collection of jeans, jackets, jumpsuits, and hoodies.

Introduced in 2014 and expanded in scope the year after, the remade line consists of 20 percent recycled cotton—the maximum amount the Swedish retailer says it can employ without compromising the fabric’s integrity.

Sounds like H&M should get Evrnu on the horn.

+ Evrnu

+ Levi Strauss