Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh Says You Don’t Need To Wash Your Jeans

Chip Bergh is the CEO of Levi Strauss and his jeans are dirty. Well he says they are fine even though Mr. Bergh claims the pair he was wearing at the time were a year old and hadn’t been washed yet. He quipped that he still hadn’t gotten a skin disease. And if you want to do your part for sustainability, Bergh has another idea: Stop washing your jeans.  Granted, Mr. Bergh works as a CEO meaning he isn’t doing a lot of physical work in dirty environments so his 501’s may not get as grimy as the pants of a hard-working laborer. But still. Really?

Fortune.com hosted its 7th annual conference,  Brainstorm Green:Sustainable Solutions to challenge attendees to take the corporate sustainability movement to the next level. Discussing ways to save the earth can’t be all bad. And the CEO’s seemed to be in the mode of leading the way rather than just telling others what they should be doing. On the other hand the conference was held in Laguna Niguel in southern California at the Ritz-Carlton Resort, one of the poshest of 5-Star resorts on our fragile earth. The fact that the edifice is despoiling the coastline still riles many hard-core environmentalists.

One speaker,  Rick Ridgeway, vice president of environmental initiatives at outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia, wants to see fewer goods sold. Including fewer clothes by his own company. Patagonia has a Worn Wear program where they buy back used apparel and then resells it. They “encourage customers to think twice about whether they need to purchase anything in the first place.”

Lee Clow, the legendary advertising sidekick to Steve Jobs on Apple campaigns is working on a series of ad with the message, “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.” He was talking about using marketing to save the planet. There is a thin line between marketing and brainwashing. With marketing he hopes to overcome a big hurdle in saving the planet by “educating, convincing, cajoling and otherwise pulling all the levers of modern marketing to get consumers to do the right thing.”

Here at NincompoopNation I believe in being open to different ideas and having long held assumptions challenged. But I want to be able to challenge “old rich men” who think they have come up with all the answers and now they just have to convince the great unwashed (pun intended) to fall in line. I assume that Mr. Bergh has never heard the adage, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, or maybe just doesn’t care. What worries me is he claims to be doing this in the name of sustainability. Because not washing your jeans saves water.

While these CEO’s have decided that we should all be wearing second hand threads and washing them once a year to save water. Other experts are telling us we can also save more water by not bathing as often. CBS New York did a story with “experts” saying you probably don’t need to shower every day. We are all different and while one person may shower multiple times a day others may skip a day or two. Certainly before it was so convenient folks didn’t bathe even once a week. But with the ability to stay clean Americans have tended to use common sense and bathe when they feel necessary. Of course if your jeans haven’t been washed for a couple of years, what difference at that point does it make.

Sheryl Crow’s view on environmental issues include using one square of toilet paper. In her Stop Global Warming College Tour a few years ago, she touted the idea that the average person should use “only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required”. She also has no use for paper napkins which is wasteful and of course hurts the environment. So the industrious Ms. Crow has designed a clothing line which features a detachable “dining sleeve” that wearers can use to wipe their mouth while eating.

Truly, I believe in a sustainable environment. Within reason. But the image I get from Ms. Crow and Mr. Bergh is not pleasant. The discussion on how best to preserve our environment is one that deserves to be Thought about and good ideas seriously considered and promoted. Just don’t ask me to shake hands with Ms. Crow.


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