Wardrobe Crisis Podcast: Clare Press Meets Michael Kobori

Let’s make keeping denim for longer the new trend. Jeans were originally designed to be durable, so why are we so obsessed with distressed? asks Clare Press, as she interviews Levi’s vice president of sustainability Michael Kobori in the latest episode of Wardrobe Crisis podcast. 

They’re still out there, those skinny black jeans with slashed knees. In blue too. And white, which is even worse, like noughties Liz Hurley tripped over the pavement. ASOS has got loads of them in all colours and all sizes, with all sorts of descriptions. Tempted by “busted knee jeans”, “seriously shredded rips”, or (please no) “light stone wash with bum rips”?

Cheap Monday has gone to the trouble of making theirs with recycled and organic cotton – then torn them in three destabilising places across the front leg. For commitmentphobes, Levi’s offer a pair with one ripped knee.

If you prefer DIY, there are videos on Youtube, though why you’d need one, I can’t fathom. Basically, it goes like this: take one perfectly good pair of jeans, grab some scissors, cut a slit across each knee… et voila, a completely ruined pair of jeans.

Michael Kobori talk all things sustainability at Levi’s on the Wardrobe Crisis podcast this week. Listen to the interview here.

But perhaps the tide is turning, as conversations around durability and extending the life of your clothes reach a wider audience. According to WRAP, increasing the active life of clothing by nine months would reduce the annual carbon, water and waste footprints of UK clothing by 20-30% each, and cut resource costs by £5 billion.

Denim is an obvious apparel category to target because it’s so ubiquitous – we wear jeans on average 3.5 days a week. With just one pair you’d reach #30 wears by August. But if the groaning thrift store racks are anything to go by, one pair is rare. A Shopsmart poll revealed that the average American women owned ten or more pairs back in 2010. Bet it’s worse now. The fashion director of UK Cosmo has 68 pairs. I know an Aussie influencer who admits to 70.

Our consumption is out of whack, and it has implications beyond our cluttered wardrobes. We’ve all seen that Instagram posts: it takes up to 2,700 litres of water to make one pair of jeans. Slowing the fuck down is one solution. But how to encourage that?

Customisation might help, Levi’s vice president of sustainability Michael Kobori tell me on the Wardrobe Crisis podcast this week. Stamping a garment with personal idiosyncrasies turns it “into something you want to keep” – hence more durability.

Levi’s are rolling out “Tailor Shops” in their stores, that offer embroidered monogramming and patch-sewing services as well as repairs and alterations. “There is a slight charge,” says Kobori, “[but] this is the beauty of it. It’s more sustainable, but it’s also a business opportunity.

“If it’s ripped we’ll repair it, [or] we’ll patch it. What we’re seeing from our consumers now is that they’re more interested in repairing old clothes. This idea of mending of keeping something that is durable, that is high quality, and keeping it for a longer period of time, is starting to take hold.”

You can do your bit by leaving those knees intact and putting the scissors in the kitchen drawer.


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