Levi’s is underwriting a new nonprofit program that teaches farmers around the globe how to irrigate cotton using less water. Are they doing this to help create an eco-friendly image? Well, that’s only a small part of the initiative. In fact, the company is concerned that any possible future water shortages could be really bad for business. As a preventive measure, they’re trying to substantially reduce the estimated 919 gallons of water that goes into one pair of jeans (that number spans cotton irrigation to fabric development to the consumer’s own laundry). Let’s look at how they’re doing it:
- First, the company introduced Water<Less, a line of men’s and women’s denim that claims it saves 16 million liters of water in a single season.
- The company is adding tags to all its denim lines, encouraging the wearer to wash the jeans less and only use cold water when they do throw them in the laundry. (And not washing one’s denim — particularly men’s — is gaining traction across the board. J. Crew, using male staffers as models and spokespeople, had the employees offer style advice. They all claimed to avoid throwing their jeans in the wash as much as possible.)
- The company also joined the Better Cotton Initiative in 2009, which promotes water conservation through better irrigation technology.
- At this point, Levi’s says about 5% of its denim comes from cotton grown as a result of more efficient irrigation techniques. Its goal now is to increase that number to 20% by 2015.
Those irrigation techniques help small farmers around the world grow more cotton using less water — The New York Times quoted a farmer in India, who said the new method cut his water use by 70%. There’s even more promising news from the retail end. Though the company doesn’t reveal exact numbers, they said this year that the brand’s Water<Less denim sold faster than regular Levi’s marketed at the same price point.
So from the farmer to the customer, there’s a strong preference for more water-efficient denim. And that might just be the most hopeful sign these eco-initiatives will become mainstream.