If you build it, they will come. In this case, the “it” was a series of bright red drop-off bins installed at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Nov. 2 – set up by the iconic jeans maker and Goodwill to collect enough old denim to cover the stadium’s field and build a “Field of Jeans” to bring attention to the enormity of the country’s textile waste.
And, true to the famous movie quote, they did come. Fans who gathered to watch the San Francisco 49ers play the St. Louis Rams brought old pairs of jeans and other unwanted pieces of clothing to donate, as did Bay Area residents who dropped off their used apparel at Goodwill stores as part of the two-week campaign. In exchange for their donation, participants were rewarded with a special Levi’s discount coupon.
Altogether, the used clothing drive collected more than 18,850 pairs of jeans – 12 tons of denim that otherwise might have ended up in the landfill. The unwanted jeans saved from the dump also prevented 171,000 pounds of carbon emissions from being released into the atmosphere – the equivalent of the pollution emitted from driving a car from San Francisco to New York for 36 round trips, Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) said.
Twelve tons of material kept from the landfill and 171,000 pounds of carbon emissions: A pretty big collective achievement from individual clothing donations, no? That’s exactly the message that LS&Co. wanted to convey when the company commissioned San Francisco-based artist Hannah Sitzer of Antlre Creative to transform the donated denim into a “Field of Jeans.” It took her and more than 50 helpers over 16 hours to construct a giant recycling symbol at Levi’s Stadium that LS&Co. said represents how the small, simple act of donating clothing can have a tremendous impact on the U.S.’s staggering amount of textile waste.
“The ‘Field of Jeans’ initiative is another way we are encouraging consumers to think differently about their jeans,” said Desirae Early, LS&Co.’s manager of sustainability strategy and innovation. “In 2009, LS&Co. launched the Care Tag for the Planet, encouraging consumers to wash less, wash in cold, line dry and donate when no longer needed to help chip away at the 26 billion pounds of textiles that end up in landfill every year [in the U.S.]…The images and video of the ‘Field of Jeans’ will be critical to continuing this consumer education about the big impact they can make by choosing to donate their used jeans instead of throwing them away when no longer needed.”
Indeed, LS&Co. has been promoting its “Field of Jeans” display to media outlets, on social media and on its blog Unzipped as way to encourage consumers to donate, rather than toss, unwanted clothing. And in its “Field of Jeans” video, the company reminds consumers of all the basic tenets of its Care Tag for the Planet, in addition to donating old apparel: wash less, wash in cold water and line dry.
In keeping with the theme of giving old clothes a second life, after the “Field of Jeans” was disassembled, all pairs of jeans were sent to LS&Co’s partner Goodwill for sorting and reselling.
LS&Co.’s “Field of Jeans” isn’t the first visual representation of our country’s waste stream: Artist Chris Jordan’s pieces beautifully express our overwhelming consumption and disposal statistics, and, in another corporate-sponsored example, Glad Products Co. commissioned a photo series on individual family’s trash habits. But, unlike this other artwork, the “Field of Jeans” focuses on the positive – the actions we can all take to make a difference (in this case, donating clothes) – rather than the problem (the 26 billion pounds of landfilled textile waste each year). And, although both Jordan’s work and Glad’s photo series are very important to promoting environmental awareness, seeing a piece of art with an encouraging, constructive message is, frankly, a breath of fresh air.
Image credit: Jed Jacobsohn, Getty Images for Levi Strauss & Co.
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for various Bay Area cities and counties for seven years. She has a degree in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley.