Are Laser-Distressed Jeans Amazing, Or The Start Of The Robot Uprising?

Are Laser-Distressed Jeans Amazing, Or The Start Of The Robot Uprising?
Rips, fades, whiskers, and honey-combs designed by robotic lasers: Awesome or...inauthentic?
Are Laser-Distressed Jeans Amazing, Or The Start Of The Robot Uprising?

There’s no dispute: I love blue jeans. You love blue jeans. Andrew loves blue jeans. As Americans we all love blue jeans, to the tune of 450 million pairs a year.

The more interesting question is, why?

There’s lots of reasons: they’re cool, ubiquitous, versatile, comfortable and – or used to be – reliably durable.

I think there’s another reason, too. The X factor of why jeans have taken the whole world by storm: nostalgia.

Denim breaks in like few other fabrics. A quality pair of jeans can last decades. Like other objects in our lives – a vintage car, watch, or boots, for example – a pair of jeans can, with time, transmute from being a thing to a treasured part of our personal history. You put them on and think, “I’ve done lot of living in these.” Jeans become more than just… pants.

Which is why the latest innovation in modern mass-market denim technology reported by Bloomberg is noteworthy:

Levi Strauss drew great press attention for its plans to completely replace hand labor with lasers to distress its jeans. The announcement marks yet another step in the computer-driven transformation of apparel manufacturing from a labor-intensive industry to a capital-intensive one.

The gist is this: manufacturers can take a pair of cheap – and cheap-looking – jeans and distress them in a fraction of the time using lasers. While the technology to do this has been around for a while, it’s just now going mainstream amongst the major consumer denim brands.

Industry touts the benefits: reduced cost, less environmental impact, and the return of jobs to more developed countries.

laser distressing jeans levis

Computer-driven laser distressing allows manufacturers to completely replicate a vintage pair of worn jeans.

The reduction in water and chemicals required to accomplish what is, essentially, a cosmetic procedure speaks to demin’s toughness, and the gains from laser distressing are significant:

Levi’s told the Wall Street Journal that its new process will cut the number of chemicals it uses to produce jeans from 1,000 to “a few dozen.”

It’s hard to argue with a product that is less costly to wallet, wetlands, and American jobs (though the handful of jobs that return will largely be monitoring new denim robots, not human employees).

designing distressed jeans

Is designing distressing on a computer a little…un-earned?

Still, isn’t there something odd about having your jeans distressed by a robot in the quest for cheaper, faster … authenticity?

Whatever your feelings about lasers and jeans, the technology’s ability to basically clone real vintage jeans is pretty amazing. Whether you’re a denim fanatic or a strict bargain hunter, expect to see laser-worn denim on store shelves very soon.

What's your take on robot-driven denim distressing?

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Stillman Brown is a writer and TV producer who has created prime time content for National Geographic, Discovery, Travel Channel and many others. His interests span science & the natural world, personal growth, and food. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

  • Rob

    I still don’t understand why I’d want to wear artificially distressed jeans of any kind — especially if someone’s been using them for target practice. All that effort to break them in before they’re sold only shortens their lifespan.

  • Ryan N

    Not sure how it’s all that different from buying hand-distressed jeans that you purchase that way.

    Isn’t the real authenticity gained from wearing them threadbare yourself?

  • Serafin

    Do androids dream of electric pants?

  • http://Batmannananana.com/ Caesar Merlin

    just wear selvedge folks!

  • Bald Rick

    I’m sure that the industry will reduce the end-price to the consumer by using less chemicals and lasers. More likely that they will reap bigger profits and keep the production off-shore further reducing costs and improving their profit margin.
    But…really??? ….Perfectly cloned jeans like everyone else is wearing? Not my sense of style . But thanks anyway

  • Joey Lenz

    Not into the distressed jeans look, and every pair of jeans I’ve worn has had the crotch blow out before anywhere else starts to look like its getting worn in.

    • Bettie Bedford

      Better than the as blowing out I guess.

    • Ed Patrick

      My problem, too – but when I went to synthetic blend boxer briefs that seemed to cure, or at least slow down, the wear in the crotchical area. Just my experience, YMMV.

      • Joey Lenz

        Longtime user of the Adidas climalite but I don’t think that has helped other than being more comfortable.