Save water — wash less!


Just seen this endearing little video on the web, heralding the arrival in our shops of Levi’s ‘Water<less’ jeans — with more than a nod to the classic commercial ‘Laundrette’ which boosted sales of 501s (and, apparently, revived the fortunes of boxer shorts) as 80s heart throb Nick Kamen removed his to the delight of a gaggle of laundering ladies.

In Marketing Talk’s humble opinion ‘Water<less’ is a slightly misleading act of branding. The jeans are not waterless in the sense of having banished water from how they are made (cf ‘meaningless’). Instead Levis has found a way of finishing the garments which uses less water than its previous processes did. The ‘less than’ symbol (<) clarifies the point in written manifestations of the brand, assuming you’re famliar with mathematical notation of course. Somehow ‘Lesswater’ jeans does not have the same ring, though it’s possibly more accurate.

Still, let us not take away from this step in the right environmental direction. Even the company itself underlines in its press release about the new development that the vast majority of water that goes into a pair of jeans happens before they are manufactured (in cotton irrigation) and after they are sold (as consumers subject them to frequent washes between short bouts of wearing them). But the new development means that in the finishing process (where new pairs of jeans go through a number of washing cycles in order to improve their texture) water consumption is reduced by an average of 28%.

On its own, perhaps this is not such a dramatic environmental claim. But it’s part of a wider branding strategy aiming at sustainable production and consumption. While researching more water-efficient ways of cultivating cotton, Levis is also co-opting consumers in its water-saving effort. The new care tags in each garment feature instructions about reducing the environmental impact of clothes by washing them less often, washing in cold water, line rather than tumble drying and recycling via charity shops when no longer needed.

Cynics might see this as a way of passing the environmental buck to the much put-upon consumer. After all, the majority of global warming takes place because of the activities of organisations rather than individuals. Why not sort out cotton growing and manufacturing before lecturing the jeans-wearing public that they are overdoing it on the washing front?

But perhaps a better way of understanding the ‘Water<less’ launch is as an illustration of how manufacturers and consumers need to act together to create a more sustainable economy. Marketing isn’t just about organisations making and selling things, it’s about consumers using and disposing of them. — a complete system where changes in how manufacturers act need to be complemented by changes in consumer behaviour if they are to have a positive environmental impact.

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