How Levi’s and Outerknown Created the Most Recyclable Clothes … Ever?

The latest collaborative collection features brand-new denim, Western shirts and more

Levi's Wellthread Outerknown Sherpa-Lined Trucker Jacket
Every piece in the latest collection is able to be recycled, even this must-have sherpa-lined trucker jacket.
Levi’s Wellthread x Outerknown

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Most of the time, companies collaborate in a thinly veiled effort to grab some headlines. It’s less about creating something better together and more about creating some buzz together. That, however, has not been the case with Levi’s and Outerknown. 

The denim giant and Kelly Slater’s sustainable surf brand just released the latest collection in their long-standing collaboration, which includes a trucker jacket, Western shirts, pocket tees and a new pair of jeans. While that sounds (and even looks) like traditional autumnal fare, previous collaborations have produced 100% recyclable clothes and industry-leading sustainable production, and that mission is continued here.

There are two things that make this latest Levi’s Wellthread x Outerknown collection much different than anything else you’ll buy this fall: recyclability and cottonized hemp. Now, we’ve championed hemp before, but this new material is a blend, unveiled by the companies last spring, that combines the comfort of cotton with the sustainability of hemp — and here it’s offered in classic indigo denim for the first time (in both the sherpa-lined trucker jacket and 502 jeans). As for the first point, every piece in this collection is, according to the press release, “designed for 100% recyclability.”

Levi's Wellthread x Outerknown Trucker Jacket and Denim Jeans
Both the trucker jacket and jeans are made from cottonized hemp, now offered in indigo for the first time. (Levi’s Wellthread x Outerknown)

What does that mean, exactly? Most people have probably never recycled a piece of clothing, and it seems impossible with all the different materials involved. But that’s just the point, these items are made entirely from single materials. For example, the Western shirt is not only 100% cotton in the main garment — the thread, tabs and buttons (yes, buttons!) are also cotton. As for the trucker jacket, the 100% polyester lining is detachable from the cottonized hemp exterior.

But isn’t this more of Levi’s and Outerknown saying to the fashion industry at large, “We need to do better,” rather than a call for customers to recycle their clothes after they’ve been worn to bits? And when it comes to cottonized hemp, doesn’t that blend exempt it from recyclability? 

Una Murphy, Senior Innovation Designer at Levi Strauss & Co., had this to say: “Regarding the recycling — both are true. The garment is designed to be fully recyclable — everything is purposefully chosen to maximize its recyclability. Cotton and hemp are both cellulosic and can be recycled together. We want people to recycle garments after their useful life and we design in a way that facilitates that.”

Levi's Wellthread x Outerknown Western Shirts and Pocket Tees
See the buttons and tabs on these shirts? They’re made of cotton, too. (Levi’s Wellthread x Outerknown)

Of course, this is all long-game here. This is still Levi’s we’re talking about, and despite all the design breakthroughs, sustainability initiatives and maximized comfort, what they’ve released for this fall/winter 2019 collection is another set of garments that you’ll be able to wear for years to come (and then donate to someone else who will wear it for even more years). 

And don’t worry if when you’re shopping the collection you come across this phrase: “Last chance to get a piece of this collaborative history! This is the final Levi’s Wellthread x Outerknown collection.” We asked about that too, and while this is the end of one chapter, the brands will continue to collaborate in new ways in the future.

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