The first style of jeans ever created is getting a circular update. Levi’s revealed that it will renew its iconic 501 design to include organic cotton, post-consumer recycled denim and other recyclable components.
Renewcell’s breakthrough fiber, Circulose, a sustainably sourced viscose made in part from recycled denim and organic cotton, is one of those new ingredients. Circulose is created through a polymer recycling process, which is powered by renewable energy and requires no water, making it possible to sustainably manufacture fabric from preexisting materials.
The fabric consists of 60 percent organic cotton, 24 percent wood pulp from sustainably managed forests, 10 percent Circulose made from industrial textile waste and 6 percent Circulose made from post-consumer denim waste.
In comparison, traditional 501 jeans are currently made with 99 percent cotton and 1 percent elastane.
Circulose is catching on in the fashion world. This month, Swedish retailer H&M increased its investment in Renewcell, becoming the company’s second largest shareholder with 11.51 percent ownership.
Additionally, the new 501 replaces synthetic fibers in pocketing, threads, labels and interfacing with 100 percent cotton alternatives. The circular 501 style will be available Jan. 12 and will retail for $128—comparable to the original style’s $90 price tag. Both the original and circular styles will continue to be produced.
“By producing our signature jean, the 501, with recycled content and in a way that makes them recyclable, we’re hoping to show ourselves and the industry that it really can be done and that we can deliver more sustainable product that saves resources, still looks great, and meets the highest quality standards,” said Paul Dillinger, Levi Strauss & Co. vice president of design innovation.
The updated 501 follows the July 2020 launch of Levi’s WellThread’s “most sustainable jean yet,” which were made with the same circular ingredients, including Circulose.
The 501 was the first style of jeans developed in 1873, when dry goods salesman Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob David were granted a patent to put rivets on pants to reinforce them for mining work. Jeans have since become a global fashion staple across all demographics. Levi’s has offered different interpretations of the 501, debuting stretch in 2016 and a slouchier ’90s fit earlier this month.
Like most of the denim industry, the brand has doubled down on its circular initiatives in recent years.
In April, it launched its “Buy Better, Wear Longer” campaign to raise awareness about the shared responsibility of the environmental impacts of apparel production and consumption. The brand also promotes circularity through its resale initiative, Levi’s SecondHand, its first buy-back program allowing customers to purchase secondhand jeans and jackets. The brand is also including upcycled items in limited-edition collections like drops with Naomi Osaka and Miu Miu and more recently with Bentgablenits.
In July, Levi’s joined the Ellen MacArthur Jeans Redesign initiative, a set of principles created to increase the quality and recyclability of new denim, and later released a sustainability report that outlined its commitment to incorporating more sustainable fibers like organic cotton and hemp in future collections.
“[The update] shows how serious we are about moving in the direction of circularity,” Dillinger added. “Not only will our circular 501 jeans be designed to stand the test of time, just as they always have been, but they’ll also be able to find a second, third or fourth life as new garments.”