Levi’s Wants to Buy Back Your Old Jeans — and Sell Them

Levi Strauss & Co. is launching its first buyback and resale program.

Dubbed Levi’s SecondHand, it launches Tuesday, allowing customers to turn in their worn jeans and jackets at stores in exchange for a gift card; and buy secondhand jeans and jackets on a new marketplace on levi.com.

“It makes so much sense for the brand,” said Levi’s chief marketing officer Jennifer Sey. “We already have the dominant share of the vintage and secondhand jeans market.”

The brand has been strategizing its entry into re-commerce for a while, she said, and how it could curate product. “Young people in particular have a really high engagement with the secondhand market. They are shopping secondhand at higher levels than any other generation. Something like 60 percent of Gen Z shops secondhand and I can speak from personal experience, that’s what my teenagers do. They love the hunt. They feel they get something a bit more unique when they are shopping vintage and in this age when Eighties and Nineties retro looks are so in, they prefer to buy the real thing.”

The when and how to enter accelerated during the pandemic. “There’s been added attention to making more sustainable choices. We’ve all seen when we do less and buy less it has a positive impact on the environment. So for all those reasons and the acceleration of digital shopping, that prompted us to do this sooner rather than later.”

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So how does it work? Customers bring their Levi’s into a store, they are reviewed and assessed to determine their worth, and a gift card is issued for between $15 and $25, applicable toward a future purchase. The denim is then priced according to its value, from $30 to $100. And if the piece is determined not to be up to resale standard, customers still get $5 toward a future purchase and Levi’s will recycle the denim responsibly.

The global denim brand has leaned into vintage before, with its Levi’s Authorized Vintage program, and LVC, which sells archival reproductions of storied pieces, all at premium prices.

“But this is not about precious vintage items,” Sey said of the accessible price points for the pieces that will be sold online at the SecondHand marketplace. “If someone brings in a really special, old, rare piece, we’d price that accordingly, but the goal is to have something priced commercially with Gen Z in mind.”

When it comes to sustainability, the brand is hoping to keep more of its denim in circulation, even if that means producing less in the long run. “If we all chose to buy a used pair of Levi’s instead of a new pair, it would save 80 percent of CO2 emissions, and about 1.5 pounds of waste,” said Sey, while also pitching some of the brand’s sustainable denim production processes, including Water<Less finishing, which uses 96 percent less water, and alternative fabrications like cottonized hemp.

Historically one of fashion’s most polluting categories, denim has been leading the industry toward sustainability with innovations that curb excessive water use (it takes between 500 to 1,500 gallons to make a single pair of jeans), reliance on virgin cotton and harmful dyes.

The SecondHand program fits into the company’s three pronged sustainability goals, Sey added. “We are encouraging consumers to buy less and buy better, and to buy things they will wear more than that three-time average before it goes to landfill or is incinerated. We also want them to buy smarter, and upcycled, recycled and circular is smarter. The third piece is if you are gong to buy something new, buy something you know is made with sustainability in mind.”

If Levi’s becomes part of trading its own re-commerce, it could one day make less new product. “That’s certainly possible; if you’re buying more secondhand Levi’s, you’re buying less new. But we’re in the early phases. It’s a pilot program, just in the U.S., we want to gauge demand,” Sey said.

Levi’s tapped e-commerce logistics start-up Trove, which has worked with Patagonia and Eileen Fisher, among others, to handle the logistics of laundering, measuring, sizing and photographing the denim.

And it’s enlisting friends of the brand, including Jaden Smith and stylist Karla Welch, to create content around the endeavor, including social media posts and how-to videos. Hailey Bieber and her stylist Maeve Reilly made a video on how to style and tailor secondhand jeans, for example.

“For us it’s a win. Yes, it’s more sustainable, but for young people in particular, it’s more stylish,” Sey said. “We’re leading with that.”

Hailey Bieber in Levi’s SecondHand Courtesy

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