Jeans seem like lifetime investments to me. Not just because they can have a steep price point ($1,200+…gasp!), but because it’s such an ordeal to find the perfect pair. So when I do find a pair, I want to wear them forever. Unfortunately, forever only lasted twelve years, and then my favorite pair was done beyond repair. Rather than toss them, I was determined to find a way to recycle my jeans. Thanks to the denim recycling program at J Crew and Madewell, I did exactly that.
What is denim recycling exactly?
Let’s get one thing straight. Recycling, in this case, is exactly what it sounds like: taking something you no longer need and turning it into something else that you do need. More specifically, J Crew and Madewell have a denim recycling program that turns jeans into house insulation. So this isn’t like DSW shoe recycling where it’s more about upcycling new and gently used products. Nope. This denim program creates something entirely new.
Why would I recycle my jeans?
Um. It’s Earth Week, so it’s only fitting.
Recycling your jeans is actually probably a last alternative. But for me? I was definitely there with this pair. I purchased these babies on vacation at Mall of America in undergrad. Actually, I was researching my thesis at the Walker, but shopping was kind of my thing so I had to go. The stars aligned at the GAP, and I found the perfect pair. (My thesis on Frida Kahlo also turned out really well, but that’s another story.)
I wore these jeans religiously on casual Friday, and apparently all that scooting and kneeling next to my students finally wore them down. Because they split at the knee in such a way that they couldn’t be patched. I thought about rocking the distressed look, but it’s not really middle school teacher chic. I could have turned them into jorts or recreated a jeans bag that I made and carried for exactly one week in fourth grade. But none of these options seemed particularly…good.
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sell these jeans. I thought about donating them. But let’s be serious. If they weren’t suitable for me to wear or sell to someone else to wear, I have no business donating them either. Giving people clothes that I have deemed unwearable is lame. Charitable contributions aren’t supposed to be a more palatable way to dispose of things.
But I didn’t want to toss them because the environmental guilt is real in my life.
RELATED POST: Toss or Use? The Green Decluttering Debate
So finding a program that would take worn-out jeans and give them a new life was perfect. And thanks to J Crew and Madewell, it’s actually a thing.
How does denim recycling at J Crew work?
Remember my voyage into DSW? The donation bin was poised right next to the door. There were decals on the floor marking my journey. The sales associate was effervescent with enthusiasm when I told her what I was doing?
Yeah, J Crew wasn’t like that at all.
Months ago or maybe longer, I saw signage in the window advertising a denim recycling program at J Crew. I filed it away apparently because when my jeans ripped, that was my first thought. But I hadn’t been in a J Crew in forever. The signs were long gone, so I took to Google. Things looked promising! Page 1 of Google has a lot to say about recycling your jeans at J Crew and Madewell.
The problem? It’s a bit dated. And none of it links directly to their sites. Unless you count a random Facebook post for J Crew. So I didn’t have a ton of confidence in the fact that it still existed.
Nonetheless, I marshaled my sense of adventure, loaded up my car, and set off on a quest to
find something to blog about recycle my jeans.
If you’re not a J Crew shopper, I’m not entirely sure how to describe the shopping experience. Forget the LOFT where they practically hit you over the head with sale signage when you walk in. J Crew is definitely a few pegs above, and the sales associates act it.
As soon as I stepped foot in the door, the associate asked if I was shopping for anything in particular today. I got as far as, “No, thanks but, uh…” before she fluttered away.
Then, I looked around the store. No signs. So I walked around the store. No signs. Finally, I loitered by the cash register, hoping that maybe there would be a teeny sticker or postcard-size advertisement by the checkout lines. Still no signs.
I even had the wherewithal to check near the sustainable denim line. If you’re going to advertise denim recycling, that seemed like a prime location.
So, I spoke up. And it was entirely painless. The sale associate couldn’t have been more kind or more excited. She took my jeans (plus a pair of my husband’s jeans), and she seemed genuinely delighted. After our exchange, I did notice her whisk them away to the back of the store, which is definitely a different strategy than DSW, who displays their shoe recycling for all to see.
What kind of jeans can I recycle at J Crew or Madewell?
So you have jeans you’d like to recycle. Awesome! If you’re like me, though, you’re probably wondering if they have to pass a certain muster to be recycled by J Crew.
I got the best news when I asked the sales associate for more information about the program. She informed me that not only do they accept any kind of denim (pants, jackets, an entire outfit a la Britney and Justin, you name it!), but the denim can be any brand. It can also be in any condition. I’m assuming that the material shouldn’t be laden with paint or things like that, but that’s just an assumption. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.
The reason why your jeans can be in any condition when you recycle them is because J Crew is actually partnering with Habitat for Humanity and Blue Jeans Go Green to create insulation from them. That’s pretty sweet. This initiative keeps jeans out of landfills and contributes to an essential part of housing construction. Saying goodbye to my favorite jeans seemed a whole lot easier once I realized this.
What do I get for recycling my jeans?
The denim recycling program doesn’t work the same way the shoe recycling does at DSW. Each pair of shoes you donate at DSW lands you $2.50 worth of shopping points. You can either make future purchases with them or donate the points to charity. There’s nothing like that at J Crew.
Instead, when you drop of your jeans at the J Crew and Madewell Recycling program, they simply hand you a card with a coupon code for $20 off your next pair of jeans. You can use the card in store or online. However, you can’t stack it with any other discounts.
It does seem like you can probably land better prices if you wait for sales at J Crew. However, if your favorite pair of jeans ripped and you’re in a bind, $20 off is a pretty good incentive. For me personally, I was just happy to get the jeans out of my house in a more eco-friendly way.
However, if J Crew ever wants to add a slight bootcut silhouette to their sustainable denim collection, I would totally give them a whirl.
Final Thoughts on the Denim Recycling Program at J Crew
The EPA estimates that over 10.5 million tons textiles turned into municipal solid waste (that’s fancy talk for garbage) in landfills in 2015. That is significant. Only 15% of textiles were recycled that same year.
That figure is complicated. It might be easy to chalk it up to Americans being apathetic or lazy, but I think it’s more complicated than that. Most people opt to recycle given the choice. The problem is that many of us still don’t know how or what to recycle, and it’s not like we can just toss our jeans in the blue bins we put on our curbs.
Part of the landfill problem is about knowledge. Or, rather, a lack thereof. I don’t think my first instinct would have been, “Hey, I can totally recycle my ruined jeans!” had I not noticed that signage at J Crew all those months ago. If the idea of recycling jeans hasn’t even been mentioned to you, there’s a good chance you’re probably not going to Google, “What do I do with my old jeans?”
But now that you do know how quick and painless it is to recycle your jeans, spread the word. The denim recycling program at J Crew and Madewell is ongoing, and it’s definitely worth doing.
So Tell Me…How do you get rid of your clothes when they no longer deserve a place in your closet?