September 16, 2009

Denim Drive
Denim Drive
Over the past five months, blue jeans piled up in a Lexington home - 600 pairs of jeans to be exact. Collected by a Lexington teenager and stored in her supportive parents' basement, the towering pile of apparel wasn't a case of a pack rat gone over the brink. Julia Mead had a purpose behind her collection: to see the used clothing turned into environmentally friendly home insulation for those rebuilding along the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike.

When Mead turned her donation in to the University of Kentucky Department of Merchandising, Apparel and Textiles recently, she unofficially kicked off the School of Human Environmental Sciences' sponsorship of this year's Cotton From Blue to GreenÒ denim drive, Cotton Incorporated's national collection campaign that converts old denim clothing to UltraTouchÔ Natural Cotton Fiber Insulation. Cotton Incorporated donates the environmentally safe insulation, which the company says is composed of 85 percent cotton fibers, contains no formaldehyde or chemical irritants and is mildew and mold resistant, to Habitat for Humanity affiliates along the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. The program started in 2006 and, as of August, volunteers have collected more than 100,000 pieces of denim, providing 180 Habitat for Humanity homes with insulation.

This is the second year UK has participated in the program. Participants collected more than 900 pairs of jeans in 2008, making the university one of the top contributors of the six universities who participated last year. Elizabeth Easter, professor in the Department of Merchandising, Apparel and Textiles, said Cotton Incorporated was very impressed with UK's collection efforts and invited the university to take part again this year. She said the project fits well with her department's mission to educate students in the latest manufacturing and retailing technology.

"I think it's very important to expose students not only to recycling but to sustainable ways to produce, manufacture and create projects in the retail industry," she said.

Mead's contribution means UK is well on its way to surpassing last year's total. She heard about the 2008 campaign through her mother, Marybeth McAlister, communications manager for UK Center for Applied Energy Research. McAlister attended UK's annual sustainability showcase Big Blue Goes Green last year and noticed the denim drive booth at the event.

Mead, a sophomore at Lafayette High School in Lexington who will receive a Girl Scout Gold Award for her work, said the project interested her for a number of reasons, but primarily because it had a positive environmental impact.

"It's a big recycling project, really, blue jeans to insulation. I also liked that it goes to Habitat for Humanity houses. That really interests me that it's not for profit, so it's a positive social factor," she said. "I think it's kind of a cool project. Everybody wears blue jeans."

Using word of mouth, flyers and donation boxes, she collected jeans from friends and family, schools, churches, her Girl Scout Troop and her parents' work colleagues.

"My initial goal was 500 because that's the number you need to make a 1,600 square foot house-worth of insulation, but they just kept coming in after I reached that goal," Mead said.

The Merchandising, Apparel and Textiles Club is coordinating UK's drive, which officially kicks off during Big Blue Goes Green Sept. 14 - 25. The drive will end Dec. 1. Donations of denim clothing can be dropped off at the Denim Drive booth from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 14 and 21 in the UK Student Center near Starbucks and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 15-18 and Sept. 22-25 on the UK Student Center patio. There will also be donation boxes stationed on each floor of Erikson Hall and in the lobby of Agriculture Science Center North until Dec. 1. Representatives of Cotton Incorporated will arrive on campus Oct. 12 to receive the items that have been collected to that point.

Nicole Depenbrock, Merchandising, Apparel and Textiles Club president, urged everyone to go through their closets and donate denim clothing that may have seen better days.

"I think it's great. Not only can you get rid of your old denim that you don't use anymore, but it'll go to a great cause," she said. "I think it's really a great project."

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Writer: Carol Spence, 859-257-8324

UK College of Agriculture, through its land-grant mission, reaches across the commonwealth with teaching, research and extension to enhance the lives of Kentuckians.