How Upcycling Your Jeans Can Help Others In Need
That one perfect pair of jeans that has seen you through high and low, thick and thin. You’ve cuffed them, patched them, turned them into cutoffs, passed them on to a younger sibling — whatever it takes to keep them alive and kicking.
But despite a sentimental state of denial, you know they need to go.
Most of us are used to disposing usable clothing when it doesn’t fit or no longer reflects our personal style. But what to do with a garment that is simply worn out?
The local charity shop can’t take your blown out jeans. And somehow tossing them in the trash doesn’t feel right either.
“Denim is an iconic fabric, and so people have a very personal relationship with their denim,” says Andrea Samber, director of strategic alliances at Cotton Incorporated.
The organization behind “The Fabric of Our Lives” commercials, Cotton, knows we have a hard time letting go of our old jeans because we’ve lived in them — they’re full of memories and stories.
Since Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss first starting outfitting gold miners in their dungarees 150 years ago, they’ve grown to become an American emblem. Blue jeans are versatile, comfortable and downright ubiquitous. They hold up to countless washes and years of wear and tear, but alas, they will eventually wear out.
We know landfills are filling up with clothes and consumer goods, and many of us are reluctant to add another garment to the heap. But where should our jeans go when they die?
Blue Jeans Go Green™: Giving denim garments a second life
Cotton has been collecting worn-out denim since 2006 and giving it new life through its Blue Jeans Go Green™ program. It’s an innovative program that empowers consumers to help their communities and the planet while keeping unwanted clothing out of dumpsites.
“Really, the program strives to make the world a little bit greener, and make it a little bit easier for people to feel good about giving up worn denim,” says Samber. “The natural quality of cotton allows denim to be broken down into its original cotton fiber state, and when it’s recycled from there, it can be transformed in creative ways to help make a cleaner world.”
The denim garments collected by the Blue Jeans Go Green™ program — over 2.5 million to date — are stripped of zippers and other hardware, converted back into fluffy fibers, and later turned into green building insulation.
"The program strives to make the world a little bit greener, and make it a little bit easier for people to feel good about giving up worn denim."
- Andrea Samber, Cotton Incorporated
Well, technically it’s blue, but UltraTouch™ Denim Insulation gets a thumbs up from the US Green Building Council, is free of toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, and can help save energy in buildings where it’s used.
“It has great thermal absorption, like the cotton in your clothing and bedding,” says Samber. “It keeps you warm in winter, cool in summer.”
Another thing that makes denim insulation unique is the ease of use. Anyone who’s rummaged around in an unfinished attic knows the itch-factor associated with the classic pink fiberglass insulation.
“When we give it to recipients like Habitat for Humanity,” says Samber, “they’re super appreciative of this particular product because it’s volunteer-friendly. There’s no protective gear that’s required to be worn like some of the alternative insulations.”
By contributing to community building projects like museums, college campuses, and Habitat for Humanity programs, Cotton brings the entire life cycle of America’s favorite fabric full circle.
“I think we’re mindful of the impact of every step in cotton production,” says Samber. “And through this particular program, our goal is to help people be aware of how their fiber, their fabrics, and their fashion choices can affect the earth. From how clothes are made, to where they go when they’re worn out.”
While it may be difficult to let go of your favorite jeans when they’ve passed their prime, finding a good home for them (literally) may make parting a little easier when it’s time.
Closing the loop: How you can get involved
Since it’s 2006 inception, the Blue Jeans Go Green™ program has been collecting denim clothing on college campuses and through participating retailers.
With the help of student clothing drives and retail drop off locations at American Eagle Outfitters, Madewell, Levi’s, and Rag & Bone, they’ve already made a significant impact. They’ve diverted more than 1,200 tons of textile waste from the landfill, and have covered nearly 5 million square feet in sustainable insulation.
They’ve done a great job of raising awareness among younger, urban consumers who already have an interest in living greener lives. But what about folks who aren’t in college or don’t live near a major mall?
That’s where Zappos comes in.
At Zappos, we’re committed to building a more sustainable fashion industry and are excited to announce our partnership with Cotton and its Blue Jeans Go Green™ program. From the very beginning of our Zappos for Good and GIVE programs, we’ve been trying to help our customers find solutions for conscious living while still enjoying the products they know and love.
Our “make everyday giving easy” mantra originated with our shoe donation and recycling programs. Now, thanks to our partnership with Cotton, it extends into denim clothing too.
By sending in your used jeans and denim apparel, you’re keeping textiles out of landfills and putting them to work in the community.
“I was truly compelled by the fact that the Blue Jeans Go Green program is doing that same thing of killing two birds with one stone,” says Zappos senior product manager Tasha McKenzie.
“People are actually caring about this, they’re worried about this, they want to help make the world a better place.”
- Tasha McKenzie, Zappos for Good
She had already seen the outpouring of support for our footwear recycling program and knew the power of removing barriers for consumers who wanted to help fight waste but didn’t know where to start.
“People are actually caring about this, they’re worried about this, they want to help make the world a better place,” says McKenzie. “It’s just — real life sometimes gets in the way.”
At Zappos, we know people have busy lives; that’s part of what makes online shopping so great. So, we’ve taken the same level of convenience — click, ship, done — and applied it to collecting clothing.
We pay for the shipping on any Zappos for Good contribution. All you need to do is print out a free label, pop your used items in a box, and send it our way.
“Zappos for Good makes it more accessible for anybody, anywhere they are, to participate, and on a level that they’re comfortable with,” says Samber.
By partnering with Blue Jeans Go Green™ program, Zappos for Good can accept any clothing items made from denim as long as they’re at least 90% cotton. Any brand, any color, any condition.
From there, we pass your recycled clothing along to Cotton and begin closing the loop on textile waste. There are plenty of reasons someone might put off getting rid of old clothes. Therefore, we strive to remove those roadblocks, so everyone is free to give back and do a small part to solve a big problem.
“We’re there to take the friction from people being able to do good, and make the world a better place one small action at a time,” says McKenzie.
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