Drapers speaks to brands about what they are doing to create greener jeans and how the denim industry can clean up its act.
Lifestyle brand White Stuff has launched a new sustainable denim collection for spring 20. Available in three core styles for men and women – skinny, straight and boyfriend – the denim is made using 98% recycled water and are 85% air dried, therefore reducing energy consumption. Buying and design director Paula Bonham Carter tells Drapers how the business approached creating the range.
The ethos of White Stuff is all about doing good stuff and we’re currently working on lots of different sustainable projects [including pledging to use only sustainably sourced cotton by 2024]. We want to focus on areas where we could make a real impact – there are many but we’ve started with denim.
Denim is an area where traditionally, White Stuff has not had a large product offer, so it was a real opportunity to tackle something afresh. We started by visiting denim trade show Kingpins in Amsterdam last year, where we met global denim mills driving sustainability throughout the industry.
Quality was key. We were looking for fabrics that were sustainable, and would wash and recover well. We also had to ensure we could achieve the washes we wanted with the fabric using the processes at the factory we’re working with [Saitex in Vietnam]. The factory uses recycled water, and heat from the factory floor to dry products and reduce energy. Waste sludge from the process is used to make bricks for building projects in the local community.
White stuff sustainable denim spring 20
One of the biggest challenges was getting the fits right. You can have the best fabrics and the best factory, but if the fit is not right, your denim offer will not be successful. There were a lot of Skype sessions with the factory so we could get the aesthetic right.
There is definitely appetite among customers for sustainable denim – and not just in the UK. Germany and France are big markets for us and there is equal demand in each, so we have to think about how we communicate the sustainability message across multiple markets.
Zahra Ahmed is the CEO of premium denim brand DL1961, which is stocked by Fenwick in the UK, as well as independent Feather & Stitch.
It is undeniable that consumers are more aware than ever of the environmental impacts of fashion. This, coupled with the ever-popular trend for denim, has meant we’ve definitely seen an increase in demand for sustainable denim. It is great to see the switch towards more sustainable product.
All DL1961 denim is made with fibres [including modal, Tencel and Refibra] from a renewable wood source that is biodegradable, meaning that at the end of the jeans lifecycle they can close the loop and re-enter the ecosystem. We use long-staple cotton that is Global Organic Textile Standard, Global Recycled Standard, Organic Content Standard or Recycled Claim Standard. We also track each garment’s water, energy and resource usage.
We own the factories [in Pakistan] that make DL1961 denim, so we have total manufacturing control, and can use energy-saving technologies. For example, DL1961 uses eight gallons of water to create one pair of jeans and our water-recycling system reintroduces 98% of the water we use back into municipal drains. [The industry average is 1,500 gallons, according to DL1961.]
As an industry, we need to educate consumers that their favourite products can be made more sustainably, without compromising on quality. It is up to them to urge brands to be more transparent and proactive. We’re trying to do our part but we aren’t perfect. We are pushing our products to be even more eco-conscious. For autumn 20, DL1961 is launching an ultra-sustainable rinse collection across men’s, women’s and children’s wear. These styles use even less water for washing and eco-friendly trims.
Dutch denim label Mud Jeans has long taken a pioneering approach to sustainability, making its products with up to 40% recycled post-consumer denim and offering customers the opportunity to lease a pair of jeans for a monthly fee. Marketing manager Danique Gunning explains how the brand is stepping up its sustainable credentials still further.
Our philosophy is all about being circular and we’re already known for using recycled content in our jeans, as well as reducing the water and carbon used in our production. Last month, we completed a lifecycle assessment for all our products. This allows us to map every detail of what goes into our jeans and the environmental impact of the product. Part of the reason we’ve done this is because the word “sustainable” is losing its meaning: big brands are using it without any certification or numbers to back it up.
Our impact data for each jean will be public, and we believe bigger brands should display theirs, too. It is a way of proving how sustainable your products really are – brands can say “We’re using less water”, but how much less, and is it being measured? How can consumers really tell which labels are sustainable and which aren’t?
You need to put sustainability at the core of your business to create change. Our company was created to show how the denim industry could make a change. It is good that the industry is starting to make changes and that awareness about the issue is being raised, but we still need to do more to adapt how we do business for the sake of the planet.
Making sustainable choices can eat into our margins. Recycled cotton is more expensive, for example, but we believe it is the right thing to do. It does mean we have to be creative and that marketing can be challenging. We have to be sure that the little money we have to spend is going to make the biggest impact.
Jordan Nodarse has had a long career in denim, including creating ranges for US etailer Revolve and cult label Reformation. He launched sustainable denim brand Boyish Jeans in 2018. It uses recycled cotton, deadstock fabrics and environmentally friendly washing practices. It is stocked at Selfridges and Black White Denim in the UK.
Some of the challenges of creating sustainable denim are quality and price. I like to put product first. We will never make something just because it is sustainable if it is not the right quality.
Quality and sustainability have to go together. This makes price a bit difficult from time to time but the good thing about sustainability is that it is all about efficiency. For instance, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition publishes the Higgs Index that assesses the lifecycle of fibres in textiles. Recycled cotton is at the top of that list as the least impactful and with least amount of resources needed.
If you work with your vendors to circulate cutting scraps to create a zero-waste manufacturing cycle, then you reduce your impact by using material that already exists. Boyish Jeans does this in two parts: first, mechanically with all materials that are 100% plant based; second, for those with polyurethane stretch fibres, our cutting scraps are sent to a company in Sweden called Re:Newcell, which can separate the natural and plastic based fibres, and then convert the natural fibre into a new one.
To become more sustainable, the denim industry should partner with organisations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign Project or Eco-Age’s Principles. Sustainability is more than just changing conventional cotton to organic cotton: it is about building products that last, with minimal impact, and creating more natural fibres that are produced by efficient methods, which, all together, create products within a balanced system.