Levi's CEO hasn't washed jeans in a year, admits it sounds disgusting

Levi's CEO hasn't washed jeans in a year, admits it sounds disgusting
Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh said in an interview this week that 50% of the water used by a pair of jeans came from the manufacturing process, the rest from laundering over the life of the jean. Above, a pair of Levi's 550 jeans. (Ben Margot / Associated Press)

The debate over how often — if ever — a prized pair of blue jeans should be laundered has been raging for years, with some hard-core denimheads even preferring to pop their pants in the freezer over the washing machine as a way of keeping malodorous microbes at bay.

Until comments made by Chip Bergh, president and chief executive of Levis Strauss & Co., during an interview Tuesday, it's always been framed as an aesthetic choice, designed to control the inevitable fade of the fabric. But at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference on Tuesday, Bergh seemed to frame the "to wash or not to wash" debate in terms of eco-friendliness.

"In real rough terms, 50% of the water usage is consumed by the time the consumer gets their jean," Bergh told Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer , citing the results of the company's 2008 life-cycle assessment study, "The other 50% is after the consumer buys them in the store and is washing them all the time."

Then Bergh pointed to the dark denim Levi's he was wearing and noted that although they were a year old "they have yet to see a washing machine." Then he quickly added: "I know that sounds disgusting."

When asked how often jeans should be washed, Bergh responded: "Not very often." Instead, he suggested that spot-cleaning with sponges, toothbrushes and Tide pens and air-drying would usually be sufficient.

It made for a great sound bite, sure enough, but Levi's isn't new to dipping its toes into the world of water conservation. The 141-year-old company debuted its Waterback in January 2011. At that time the company noted that thousands of additional gallons of water would be used over the post-manufacture life of each pair.

What Bergh's comments — not to mention the year-without-a-wash pair he was sporting — did was bring the wash vs. not wash debate back to center stage. Where do you stand?

In our opinion, what people do with and put on their own bodies is, for the most part, their own business. So feel free to let 'em hang high and dry. But we have to draw the line if and when those five-pocket pants become palpably pungent to any nose but the wearer's. (Call this the sniff test.)

Actually, this brings to mind a new product we caught wind of recently — and one that might actually help the boxer-brief crowd hedge their bets a bit. It's a line of scented men's underwear called Le Boxair. According to the website UnderCover MensWear, the exclusive U.S. stockist, the men's under-trou, by a French company called PSR, is available in three styles and is described as "contain[ing] complex notes that are sensual and sexy."

Which raises a whole lot of other questions, namely, what fragrance — specifically — wouldn't be more alarming than pleasing wafting from that particular part of the wardrobe? Burning peat moss? Barbecue spareribs? Sandalwood?

If anyone cares to weigh in, we'd love to hear your 2 cents (make that scents) on that topic as well.