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Yesterday, Levi's CEO Chip Bergh made waves at Fortune's Brainstorm Green conference when he urged denim aficionados to stop washing their jeans. There is a sustainability issue on hand: Bergh says that Levi's studies show that 50% of water usage for the lifecycle of jeans comes from washing them at home. But there are times when a little spritz of vinegar and a night in the freezer just won't get rid of the smells and stains. So we tapped Puretergent's founder Julia Fry for denim washing tips. Fry is a former fashion designer (Esprit, Nicole Miller), and her SF-based company is focused on all natural, high efficiency, grey water safe detergents. "We at Puretergent love jeans—especially Levi's!—and never fear, you can wash them and keep them looking great," Fry tells us.
What method do you suggest for washing denim?
"Washing denim can make people nervous, but it's simple. Throw them in the machine and put them on the cold water setting with your other darks. You have to be careful to use a low pH, residue free detergent not to stress the indigo dye. Our calm Puretergent ($13) is perfect for denim. It keeps colors vibrant and rinses clean, so you won't feel or see any lingering residue, and the indigo won't fade. To maintain the stiffness of your denim, air dry or line dry after the wash cycle is over. Air drying will also keep them from shrinking."
What should we expect for a first wash?
"Raw denim has never been washed, so the first time you wash it, the "reverse face" (the inside of your jeans) will actually get darker, because water spreads the indigo dye to the back side of the denim where the undyed cotton yarns are woven. Indigo from raw denim will bleed the first time you wash it, less so on cold - but you want to be careful to wash it with black stuff only, and not leave them sitting on other light fabrics when they're wet, or there may be dye transfer onto other garments."
And why should we choose Puretergent detergent?
"I created Puretergent because I wanted people to know how easy it is to take good care of your clothing. Using a quality detergent will really enhance the life of your textiles—you don't need a lot of fancy tricks when you use a good detergent! We love Levi's and denim—there was a great quote in the New Yorker recently from designer Charles James when he said that denim was the fashion industry's only true art form. We agree!"
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