A fashionable problem  

Written by: Siobhan O’Connor

Photo credit

Clothes and I have a love/hate relationship. Somedays I wake up eager to express my thoughts through my threads, while other days I wish public nudity wasn’t illegal, and finding matching socks wasn’t a thing (please, for time management’s sake can we homogenise all socks in future?). Apart from avoiding the legality issue mentioned above, choosing to cover our bodies in clothing has some other, perhaps more surprising, effects when it comes to the environment.

Global apparel and textile exports were worth a combined 900 Billion New Zealand Dollars in 20111, and over the past fifteen years production has doubled3. This has led to increased pressure on natural resources and the environment2.

Annually, the textile industry emits 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions,  and relies on 98 million tonnes of non-renewable resources and extensive chemical use2. The environmentally flawed ‘fast-fashion’ model pollutes and degrades the environment at every phase of its products’ lifecycle, as depicted in figure 12,3,1.

Figure 1: The Fashion Industry’s environmental effects depicted in an Ellen Macarthur Foundation report on the textiles industry. Credit.

When you think of jeans you probably think of Levi’s, right? Levi Strauss & CO. (Levi’s) begun making jeans in 18735, and have managed to preserve them as  fundamental aspects in our wardrobes ever since5.  We love them, but according to Levi’s themselves, jeans don’t love the environment4. On average, the lifecycle of one pair of Levi’s 501 jeans produces 33.4kg of carbon emissions and uses around 3,781 litres of water5. As confronting as these statistics are, the fact we have access to this information serves as a glimmer of hope for the future of fashion and the environment. Levi’s is one of many companies now seeking to better understand and communicate its environmental practices to its customers.

I’m no stats nerd, but when I read what Levi’s had developed with the help of statisticians and scientists, I got pretty darn excited. E-valuateTM is a peer-reviewed quantitative method created to calculate and compare the environmental impact of a product’s entire life, from “cradle to grave”4, 6.

Figure 2: The Lifecycle of a Levi’s® 501® Jean as shown in LS&CO.’s Lifecycle Assessment Study. Credit.

The E-ValuateTM method takes into consideration six environmental ‘impact categories’ which it uses the results of to determine its design, production and supply methods4. Their impact categories are;

  • greenhouse gases released into the environment
  • water intake
  • water consumption (net water intake minus water returned at same or better quality)
  • eutrophication (oxygen depletion as a result of nitrogen and phosphorus deposit into freshwater or marine environments)
  • land occupation
  • abiotic depletion (depletion of non-renewable resources that includes fossil energy, metals and minerals)

The Fashion Industry has historically shied well away from transparency7. If companies are transparent with critical environmental impact measurements we as customers can have a better understanding of the natural resources and environmental effects associated with our clothes, and make choices accordingly. Levi’s and E-ValuateTM are proving that using science and statistics to bridge the gap between our environment and our clothing can influence more sustainable practices- and more sustainable jeans for us to hesitantly put on when we’d still rather be naked!


  1. Fukunishi, T., Goto, K., & Yamagata, T. (2013). Aid for trade and value chains in textiles and apparel. World Trade Organization, IDE-JETRO and the OECD, Paris.
  2. Caniato, F., Caridi, M., Crippa, L., & Moretto, A. (2012). Environmental sustainability in fashion supply chains: An exploratory case based research. International journal of production economics135(2), 659-670.
  3. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (2017, https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org )
  4. Levi Strauss & CO. (n.d.). The Life Cycle of a Jean: Understanding the environmental impact of a pair of Levi’s® 501® jeans(Rep.). Retrieved March 08, 2018, from http://levistrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Full-LCA-Results-Deck-FINAL.pdf
  5. Levi Strauss & CO. (n.d.). Our Story. Retrieved March 15, 2018, from http://levistrauss.com/our-story/#heritage-timeline
  6. Gloria, T. P., Kohlsaat, C., Bautil, P., Wolf, B., Early, D., & Ben-Zekry, B. (2014). A statistical approach to interpret relative environmental performance within product categories. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment19(3), 491-499.
  7. Doorey, D. J. (2011). The transparent supply chain: From resistance to implementation at Nike and Levi-Strauss.Journal of Business Ethics103(4), 587-603.