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.
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).
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.