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Pepe's mission to create greener jeans

The denim industry can be enormously polluting. In an attempt to lessen its environmental impact, Pepe Jeans is introducing a new washing system to massively reduce energy consumption and waste

Trevor harrison (3)

Trevor Harrison

Pepe jeans aw18pc women  wiser wash 1

Pepe Wiser Wash

Denim and lifestyle brand Pepe Jeans London is cementing its commitment to greener denim with the introduction of washing system Wiser Wash, which reduces energy consumption and cuts down water waste, across ten bestselling styles for spring 18. Drapers talks to head of denim design Trevor Harrison about the future of denim and why the industry needs to clean up its act.

What is Wiser Wash and how did Pepe hear about it?

It is a new system of denim washing [the process of distressing, pre-ageing, fading and otherwise changing the appearance of denim]. We wanted to do something really innovative to mark our 45th anniversary this year, and a colleague read an article about Tortoise. We’re always trying to be more sustainable, so one of our Turkish [supplier] partners hopped on a plane to look at the process. He said it was like nothing he’d ever seen before. It eliminates the use of pumice stone and toxic chemicals, instead washing the denim with a combination of electrified water and ozone. The technology reduces water waste by 99%. 

 Why was it something you wanted to introduce at Pepe?

When you start to see the mess this industry can create, you have to start doing something about it. We don’t manufacture in Bangladesh [Pepe manufactures in Turkey and Tunisia], but I saw what goes on there on a trip to the country in 2012. It was a huge turning point in my career.  Some of the chemicals used in washing jeans are just being put straight on to the land. This kills the nitrates in the soil, and it can take 75 years for the field to recover. Every brand needs to be doing more. When you can wash a jean as beautifully as we now can without chemicals and tons of water, then why wouldn’t you?

Pepe jeans aw18pc men  wiser wash 2

Pepe jeans aw18pc men wiser wash 2

Beyond environmental reasons, why is it so important that the denim industry becomes greener?

I love this industry, but it can be a really dirty business. If you look back to the sandblasting scandal that happened around 2011 [when it emerged the process could cause the incurable lung disease silicosis in factory workers]. it shows the damage that can be done to the brand. [Pepe was among the denim companies to join an international initiative from the Clean Clothes Campaign to stop sandblasting in the industry.] Denim companies could be caught out and be exposed in a similar way when it comes to the chemicals they are using.


Do consumers care about ethical clothing?

The short answer is yes. Consumers are asking for sustainable and ethical products. We started our sustainability journey about five years ago with a range called Tru Blu, which used zero chemicals in the wash process and reduced water consumption. It was one of our most successful product ranges to date, and had the best sell-through. The styles themselves were relatively simple, so we know it was the sustainable, eco-friendly message customers were excited about.

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