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Levi’s New Collection Explores African-American History

Levi’s new collaboration with Tremaine Emory, founder of Denim Tears, draws inspiration from the story of cotton in the U.S. and a legacy intertwined with slavery.

The collaboration continues the narrative Emory began in 2019 with the release of his first Denim Tears collection, which debuted on the 400th anniversary of the day slavery began in the U.S. This time the designer and storyteller explores cotton’s history with slavery.

The four-piece capsule collection, Levi’s described, is a mixture of “contemporary design language with vintage styling.” And in the case of the denim in the collection, actual Levi’s Authorized Vintage clothing comes into play. Using vintage denim was important to Emory, Levi’s stated, as his intention was to transform “something old into something new” and to make sure no new cotton was used in the collection’s 501 jeans or Trucker jackets.

The vintage denim is updated with an all-over screen print of white cotton wreaths. The prints are in a shade of white chosen for its “ghostly quality,” Levi’s described, an effect Emory honed in on when a printer malfunctioned at Levi’s Eureka Lab in San Francisco.

Along with jeans and Trucker jackets, the collection includes a “plantation hat” made with of vintage denim and hand-stitched patchwork, and digitally printed T-shirts with black-and-white images of a cotton field superimposed over a red Levi’s patch.

Jonathan Cheung, Levi’s senior vice president of design innovation, said to work with Emory is to “work with a barometer of culture,” adding that his designs represent history, art and culture more than fashion trends. “Clothing is a reflection of the society, of its zeitgeist,” Cheung said. “These pieces, based on a foundation of upcycled vintage Levi’s, are a reflection of social zeitgeist through Tremaine’s eyes. You can read his artistic narrative, carried on pieces of vintage American history.”

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The collection, which will be release on Jan. 25 at a popup shop in Los Angeles and will roll out across major cities in February, boasts a special co-branded Levi’s x Denim Tears red tab, jacron patch and an interior Denim Tears pocket bag screen print. The initial indigo colorways’ release will be followed by a set of black denim colorways.

The collection’s retail price range is $70-$298.

A short-form video created in Emory’s hometown of Harlem, Ga., accompanies the release of the collection. Shot by his father, Emory explores the collection by featuring his own grandmothers on both sides of his family in conversation about their experiences as African Americans in the U.S. and growing up in the South during segregation post slavery.