Finding the perfect pair of vintage Levi’s used to require hours at a thrift store, endless eBay searches, and often a few visits to the tailor. For some of us, it was among the most noble of fashion pursuits; for others, it was just too much work. Today, Levi’s is making it a little easier with the launch of Levi’s Secondhand, a recommerce site for previously-worn Levi’s jeans and denim jackets. Some of it will be hand-picked vintage, but most of the garments will be sourced directly from Levi’s customers: Starting now, anyone can turn in any Levi’s denim—even if it’s damaged—for a gift card towards a future purchase.
It marks a significant turning point, both for Levi’s and the fashion industry as a whole. Levi’s is the first denim brand of its size to create a buy-back program like this and effectively take responsibility for the full “life cycle” of its garments. It’s an example of true circularity: You could buy a brand-new pair of Levi’s tomorrow, and you’d know exactly what the “end use” might be, should you tire of them in a few years. For conscious shoppers, that’s often the difference between buying something or… not. How long will I wear this? Is it built to last? What will happen to it when I don’t want it anymore?
That’s the same consumer who likely prefers to buy secondhand clothing, which by nature has a lower environmental impact than brand-new items. The growing popularity of thrifting, vintage, and consignment was the real driver behind Levi’s Secondhand (not to mention the fact that Levi’s is apparently the most-searched-for denim brand in vintage and secondhand markets; it no doubt wants to capture some of that market share). As chief marketing officer Jen Sey points out, nearly 60% of Gen Z consumers already buy secondhand clothes. “They love the hunt, they love finding a really unique item, and it makes it even better that it’s a sustainable choice,” she says. “Buying a used pair of Levi’s saves approximately 80% of the CO2 emissions, and 1.5 pounds of waste, compared to buying a new pair. As we scale this, that will really start adding up.”
Some other useful stats: Globally, consumers “miss out” on $460 billion of value a year by throwing away clothes that could be worn by someone else. That’s wasteful from a creative standpoint, and extending a garment’s life by just nine months can reduce its carbon, waste, and water footprint by 20 to 30%. By that logic, a vintage jean from the ’90s might have a footprint close to zero.
Here’s the more pressing, big-picture takeaway: If the apparel industry continues to expand at its current rate—last year, the Global Fashion Agenda estimated it would grow 81% by 2030, though the number could be slightly lower due to the pandemic—fashion will use 26% of the world’s budget for staying within a two-degree rise in temperature by 2050. (This refers to the Paris Agreement’s top-line goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature below 2°C, and ideally under 1.5°C.)