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Denim Shoddy

Dr. Bodil Birkebæk Olesen, Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia

Dr. Lucy Norris, Department of Anthropology, UCL

Denim Shoddy

This research project is the outcome of overlapping interests of two different projects:  The Waste of the World, an ESRC funded collaborative project, and The Global Denim Project. It investigates the recovery of both preconsumer (from e.g. jeans manufacturing units) and postconsumer denim waste into cotton fibre, known as shoddy, a material that has a number of applications.

denim drive

Inferior in quality to virgin fibre, shoddy is nevertheless a useful and valuable material particularly as it is a cheap alternative to virgin cotton fibre. Denim shoddy can be respun as yarn and used to make, for example, cheap kitchen towels and rags. It can also be processed in its non-woven form and is used in the car industry, as cheaper alternatives for pillow or mattress stuffing, and for insulation building material.

ultra touch baby

A forthcoming publication, How Blue Jeans Went Green: Denim Shoddy and the Recycling of Values, discusses the socio-cultural dimensions of the production, circulation, and consumption of denim shoddy. It focuses on Cotton Incorporated’s Cotton From Blue to Green campaign, an annual charity campaign that asks consumers to donate a pair of jeans that are turned into Ultra Touch, a recycled denim insulation material, and used to construct houses for under-served Americans.

It traces the complex, inter-connected ways in which the material propensities of cotton fiber, the technology of non-woven textile production, and political economic factors are factors in facilitating this campaign, and shows how practices of disposal and divestment merge with and sustain normative ideas of individual compassion as well as cultural ideas about the nature of environmental and cosmological well-being.

Forthcoming October 2010:

Birkebæk Olesen, Bodil "How Blue Jeans went Green: The Materiality of an American Icon" in D Miller and S Woodward (eds) Global Denim, Oxford: Berg