Levi’s make first ever 100% recycled cotton jeans from old t-shirts

Using a new fabric recycling technology developed by Seattle start-up Evrnu, Levi’s have created the first pair of 100% recycled cotton jeans by dissolving old t-shirts and then turning the dissolved material that results into a high-quality thread that is actually stronger than the original fabrics. As an added bonus, this new type of cotton recycling could replace water-intensive traditional cotton growing.

To date, the recycling of cotton clothing such as t-shirts has mainly involved ‘downcycling’ as processes for recycling fabrics are unable to carefully unweave fabrics but instead rely on more or less shredding fabrics, resulting in a much weaker thread. As a result, only a small amount of recycled cotton can typically be used in new clothing as it must be mixed with new fibres to gain the necessary strength.

By contrast, this new cotton recycling process developed by Evrnu involves dissolving rather than shredding fabrics. Paul Dillinger, head of global product innovation at Levi Strauss & Co explains, ‘By changing the idea from just shredding up the garments to actually kind of melting them, dissolving them down to their molecular structure of cellulose, and reconstituting the fibre, it eliminates the pollutants. We’re re-extruding it as a continuous filament fibre, so it doesn’t have reduced strength – it actually has improved strength quality.’

These new recycled jeans don’t quite yet actually feel like traditional Levi’s denin, however the jeans brand innovator plan to work together with Evrnu to develop the technology so that the end product of their cotton recycling process is consistent with the jeans we are already familiar with.

Beyond reducing waste clothing textiles in landfills (of which the US alone generates approximately 11 tonnes per year), making cotton textiles this waste is estimated to use 98% less water than growing virgin cotton farms and also reduces the carbon footprint. The chemical used to dissolve the used clothing are fully reused within a closed loop.