150 years is a long time to be making jeans. It’s enough time, some might say, to create the jean that outshines all other jeans. Over the last century and half, the Levi’s 501 has evolved from a working-man’s workhorse to an everyday staple (and everything in between). The straight-leg cut, 5-pocket design and red tab detail have made it a favorite across the world and across every culture. Whatever you think of it, the 501 is one of the most iconic pieces of clothing ever.
So, how do you build on a 150-year history? Where does Levi’s go from here? Forward, we’re happy to say. To celebrate this pretty monumental occasion, Levi’s is releasing three forward-thinking, innovative versions of the 501: one made from cottonized hemp, one made from recycled materials that can then be recycled to produce new jeans and one that’s really caught our eye — the Plant-Based 501.
Now, this might seem a little strange. Why is a pair of jeans not already plant-based? Well, in addition to the cotton that makes the denim, a traditional pair of 501s also contains about 10 percent (by weight) petroleum. From the polyester thread stitching on the back pocket to the carbon black ink used to print the authenticity certificate, and the acrylic Two Horse patch, Levi’s 501 are hiding a lot of oily secrets.
In the Plant-Based 501, each of these iconic features has been replaced with a natural, plant alternative. Instead of polyester thread, it uses organic cotton; the carbon-based pigment has been replaced with BioBlack TX, derived from wood waste and made by Nature Coatings; and Two Horse patch is now made with MIRUM by Natural Fiber Welding — a leather-alternative made from responsibly sourced natural rubber, cork powder and coconut husks.
“The back patch on the jean is made from MIRUM® by NFW. MIRUM® is naturally circular, comprising 100% biobased, plastic-free input, has the iconic leather like look of the classic two horse patch and a much lower environmental impact. We are thrilled to see MIRUM on Levi’s most iconic jeans, The 501, one of the most recognizable garments in fashion history, now in a new plant powered version. NFW congratulates Levi’s on their 150th Anniversary and we look forward to collaborating with them in the future.” – Oihana Elizalde, Vice President MIRUM® NATURAL FIBER WELDING
In total, a pair of Plant-Based 501s are made from 97 percent renewable sources. The indigo dye, which is usually synthetic, is now naturally-sourced. It is produced by Stony Creek Colors which works with farmers who are transitioning from tobacco plantations and using regenerative agricultural techniques.
It’s always surprising just how much petroleum turns up in the products we buy. While the Plant-Based 501 might not be a revolution in jean style, it does mark a big change; one that we hope might start to infiltrate the rest of Levi’s products.
While these could have become a one-time item, to capture some media attention, Levi’s has said that the Plant-Based 501 is going to stick around. “We’re making good future vintage,” says Paul Dillenger, Levi’s Head of Global Innovation. “It’s going to be the same old friend that you keep around for years. You’re not going to know we spent years of R&D. You’ll just know it’s your favorite jean.”
This would be an ideal scenario to reach. One where we don’t have to think or worry about what our clothing is made of, because it’ll all be Earth-friendly. But, until that point, we still recommend choosing wisely and carefully. The Levi’s Plant-Based 501 might just be the easiest choice you have to make.
The plant-based Levi’s 501 is available now, directly from Levi’s.