Since when do three-year-olds start a revolution?
In George Powell's case, the REUSE Jeans founder had an Oprah-like a-ha moment when he took his three-year-old son to the recycling center four years ago on a routine trip to turn in cans and bottles.
"Why do we re-use?" he asked his dad. After Powell answered, the "why?," questions didn't stop until the son asked, "Why don't we re-use everything?"
"These kids, they get it. I'm the old man. I need to change," said Powell.
This got dad to thinking about his own industry. Powell worked for the past 25 years in denim production for brands such as Levis, American Eagle and Gap, producing jeans from his manufacturing mills in China. He realized there was so much waste from excess materials.
"There are 12 and a half tons of textile waste every year. Twenty-three percent of the soot in Los Angeles is from trash burned in China," said Powell.
There is a science to the madness. To recycle yarns, you can either have a soft opening or a rough opening. A rough opening makes items like mop heads, but soft openings yarns used in denim are re-spun, turning the waste into a brand new yarn. The end result is a jean that is made from 80 percent recycled cotton, 18 percent virgin cotton, and one-and-a-half percent spandex. The recycled denim is made up of denim scraps, waste yarns, knit scraps, recycled cotton and raw cotton.
"Growing cotton can be a thirsty business," said Powell. Thirsty like a fish. It takes two pounds of cotton to make a pair of men's jeans and 1,600 gallons of water is used to make one pound of cotton. The math isn't hard, but painful.
"We've got this story of saving water, saving the landfills. We are going to step ahead of the industry. We've just decided we're going to lead the change," said Powell.
Powell started REUSE Jeans—he acronymed the name into "Recycle. Environment. U. Save. Earth"—by wholesaling them to different retailers around the country, now in over 350 stores.
"The consumer is resonating with this concept, the obstacle is with the retailers. In this tough economy, they are resistant to make change. We are an innovator," said Powell. "Tons of people out there, even schools, are teaching sustainability in design. Instead of using organic materials, we are reusing that which we've already developed."
Powell had no ambitions of opening his own retail store, but he wanted a place to tell the story of REUSE Jeans and spread the word. He chose 1020 South Coast Highway because of the even mix of local, domestic and international foot traffic. The old Billabong test store was the perfect location.
"I like this location. Some of the stores are moving out of downtown, rents are ridiculous, no parking," said Powell.
The store itself "is the perfect size footprint," said Powell. The interiors feature bamboo wood, sustainable paint, and dressing room curtains made out of recycled fabric. Every purchased jean goes home in a denim tote bag instead of a plastic bag. Alterations are free and take only 15 minutes, so you don't have to waste fuel and emit exhaust fumes driving around town for alterations. Water is offered to guests—not in bottles, but out of a filtered dispenser in plastic cups made from corn.
Powell rarely uses the Escalade he purchased before his new environmental crusade. He has since purchased a Prius, and calls that his new ride. He divides his time between his residences in Texas and Laguna Beach, where you can find him working his boutique at least three days a week.
REUSE Jeans will be introducing colored denim next month in a wide variety of shades featuring a four-way stretch.
Top sellers at REUSE Jeans:
- Relaxed fit straight-leg jeans for men
- Slim straight in gray for men
- Patch jean
- Signature jeans in white, medium wash and gray.
- Women's skinny jeans
All jeans are competitively priced evenly at $95 for women's, $75 for shorts and skirts, $125 for men's jeans, and $75 for jackets. Everything on the jeans is recycled including labels, hangtags and the biodegradable poly bags the jeans are shipped in.