WORDS BY ASHLEIGH GRIBBON
Denim is fashion’s fail-safe fabric: a great pair of jeans or a classic jacket form the foundations of a closet that doesn’t date. But while its reliability is assured, the production process of traditional denim is far from desirable, with its huge water consumption (studies have suggested that it can take more than 15,000 liters of water to grow the cotton to make a single pair of jeans) and toxic dyes widely recognized as environmentally damaging. But now the denim narrative is changing.
'We've seen a lot of innovation in sustainable denim in recent times,’ says Mhairi McClymont, head of content and community at Good On You, the world’s leading source for ethical brand ratings. ‘Partly because jeans are so ubiquitous, and partly because there are lots of ways to reduce the environmental impact of denim – from the raw materials like using organic cotton and Tencel, to reducing the use of water and toxic chemicals such as dyes and acids.’
'Denim is a flashpoint in sustainable fashion. Everyone owns a pair of jeans, and while they can be environmentally positive due to their enduring wear, they can also be incredibly environmentally intensive to make,’ notes Thomas Berry, Farfetch’s Director of Sustainable Business. ‘Thankfully, there’s an amazing range of brands out there who have pioneered innovations in the space, such as Re/Done, who restores old jeans to make new, or Frame, who has dramatically reduced its environmental inputs required in manufacturing.’
If you’re not sure where to start with eco-friendly denim, there are a few sustainable jeans brands that should definitely be on your radar. Find out more about how Stella McCartney, Acne Studios, Re/Done, Frame and Nudie Jeans make sustainable denim and shop their highlights from the season below.
RE/DONE’s Upcycled Denim
Ethical denim advocate RE/DONE understands that a well-chosen pair of jeans will be regularly rotated in closets for seasons – even years. It’s a notion that forms the backbone of its design ethos. Sujin Lee, the brand’s design director, explains the process: ‘We have two primary methods of making ethical denim. We reconstruct vintage Levi’s – sourcing pre-loved raw goods and upcycling them into new styles, using no water aside from the initial sanitation of the vintage jeans. So far, we’ve upcycled more than 90,000 pairs of vintage Levi’s. Secondly, we create responsible “new” denim, made in a Cradle To Cradle certified factory committed to circular fashion, focusing on material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness. Our new denim uses an estimated 71% less water than traditional denim washes – 27% of the water used in production is recycled to irrigate a community garden. And the pumice stones used in the wash process are also recycled to create bricks with thermal insulation properties, which are then donated to low-income areas in the community to build housing.’ In addition to these boundary-pushing practices, Re/Done is also launching a deadstock denim programme in the near future.
Frame’s Waste-Reducing Methods
LA favorite Frame has been synonymous with denim since its inception in 2008. And while its elevated essentials have been talking points in recent seasons, so has its ethical denim. ‘Our sustainable denim is made from organic cotton, recycled post-consumer polyester and reused cotton – fibers that are lost during the spinning stage of yarn creation that we add back to the jean to prevent waste,’ say founders Jens Grede and Erik Torstensson. ‘Our factories are committed to furthering their sustainability practices by installing skylights to reduce energy consumption, recycling used water and donating stone particles – a byproduct of the wash process – to local brick companies to help build homes for those in need,’ add the design duo. ‘Up to two thirds of a garment’s carbon footprint is actually the result of at-home laundry, so we recommend washing your sustainable denim every 10 wears or as needed on a cold wash cycle to conserve energy and protect your denim.’ When it comes to highlights from the season, there are two hero styles: ‘Le Piper in Blue Sky and Le Jane in Oakland – both are new fits and washes for this season, and timeless wardrobe staples.’
Stella’s Transparent Approach
A pioneering voice for sustainability in the fashion industry for more than two decades, Stella McCartney naturally has a strong sustainable denim offering. The British favorite’s eco-friendly jeans are made using organic cotton, which eliminates all toxic pesticides and fertilisers from the process, and is ‘grown in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, farmers or their communities,’ notes the brand, which is rated well by Good On You. ‘Stella McCartney continues to be a driving force of creativity in sustainable fashion,’ says Mhairi McClymont. ‘In January, she announced the arrival of a biodegradable stretch-denim collection.’ That collection was in partnership with Candiana, an Italian manufacturer known for its conscious credentials, and made with 100% biodegradable fabric. The innovative fabric is made with organic, plant-based yarns, wrapped around a natural, plastic-free rubber.
Acne Studio’s Recrafted Collection
With its latest eco-conscious collection Re-Crafted, modern minimalist Swedish label Acne Studios views sustainability through a fashion-forward lens. Brought to life in a considered edit of fresh sorbet shades, each piece in the unisex edit is made using a mix of organic cotton and in-house surplus fabrics, reimagined in a new context. Co-founder and creative director Jonny Johansson thought about sustainability throughout every step in the manufacturing process – note the bleached washes that were achieved with reusable synthetic stones, eco-friendly low-impact dyes and reduced water consumption. Proving Thomas Berry’s theory that ‘there really is no excuse not to choose positively when it comes to denim these days’, the result is a collection of sustainable denim separates underpinned with seasonless sensibility.