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June 19, 2010

Levi’s Blue Jeans (begin to) think Green. ~ John Spina

All-American? Nope. Green? Not really. But getting better? Yes.

Since their creation in 1853, just after the California Gold Rush, Levi Jeans have been a symbol of the all-American hard-working, gritty ideal.  Now, the company is again looking to embody American culture by going environmentally-conscious by sponsoring a contest, Care to Air Design Challenge, where they “seek the world’s most innovative, covetable, and sustainable air-drying solution for clothing.”  In doing so, Levi is also hoping to raise awareness about sustainability and wasteful practices.

Levi itself has begun to look at its own product from an environmental perspective. In a third-party study, it was found that 60% of the climate impact from a pair of jeans comes after purchase and during the consumer phase, 80% of which is derived from the ineffective, energy intensive method of drying. Thus, Levi is encouraging simply air-drying their jeans, along with the rest of one’s clothes. Still, We the Consumers might not play ball: hang drying your clothes is time consuming, a major deterrence to our incredibly speedy, busy, fast moving American culture.  In addition, many communities around the nation have banned the use of supposedly unsightly clotheslines. Subsequently, despite the negative effects to the environment, the average American household continues to use wasteful machine dryers.  And so Levi hopes their Care to Air Design Challenge will help create new, stylish, and most importantly more energy efficient ways of drying clothes by hanging $10,000 in prizens in front of a group of finalists.

While this competition and advertising campaign is a great step for Levi, ironically they continue to emply questionable business practices.  Over the last few years, despite their long standing relationship with the American workforce, they have closed manufacturing plants and laid off workers in Georgia, California, Texas, Tennessee, and Canada, outsourcing their manufacturing plants to foreign countries.  Though they did pull their investments out of Burma (props!) due to concerns about the unstable and oppressive regime, in other countries around the world, such as Saipan, Mexico, and Turkey, they have been accused of exploiting their workers and subjecting the employees to sweatshop conditions.

Nonetheless, Levi’s progress in environmental awareness along with their excellent overall record gives hope that the company will once again be a brand we can love and identify with. With international attention on their lack of free and fair labor practices along with pressure from numerous NGOs, perhaps Levi will develop into a model humane and environmentally-responsible company in the near future.

John Spina currently attends the University of Vermont in Burlington where he will graduate with a double major in history and political science in 2011.  He writes sports for the school paper, the Vermont Cynic, as well as publishes weekly articles in the Mountain Ear, a local Nederland paper, and works as an Intern for the Elephant Journal. He loves spending time doing anything and everything outdoors with his dog, McKinley, and loves being home in Colorado working for the summer.

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