Sustainable denim is kind of like the Wild West — there are no rules, but everyone involved knows they desperately need them. So brands that are already doing it right, such as Australia-based Outland Denim, outlined their sought-after insights on becoming green; because as we know, it isn’t easy.
And to capture the mood of the denim market, Outland Denim’s powerful new campaign, #Whatdidyourjeansdo, highlights the brand’s sustainability efforts and its humanitarianism — to eradicate human trafficking through denim, via its unique business model — and challenges consumers to be more mindful when purchasing their jeans.
Here, James Bartle, founder and ceo of Outland Denim, discusses its “seed to store” process, myths about sustainability, and recommends sustainable partners for brands looking to green their jeans.
Seed to Store
Phase 1: The denim used in our jeans is sourced from organic cotton farms before arriving at a gin where the seeds are separated from the fiber, which produces cotton lint. Once the fiber is seed-free, it is pressed into a bale and sent to the spinning stage, where the organic fiber is turned into yarn.
Phase 2: Next, the yarn is turned into fabric by a process called weaving.
Phase 3: The final stages of the fabric’s production, dyeing and finishing, give the denim the desired color and “look.” This is where we receive the denim in our production facility, where the fabric is cut, sewn and finished with hardware by our team.
Phase 4: The jeans are passed on to our new wash and finishing facility, where the final touches are put on your jeans, including fades, distressing, and whiskering details. This facility is also where our team carry out their final quality checks.
Phase 5: The jeans are then packaged in biodegradable bags to protect them as they are transported to stores and distribution centers globally.
J.B.: It’s exciting to see that consumers are really passionate, particularly in the last couple of years, about the environmental impact of their clothes. Unfortunately, however, a race-to-sustainability approach by brands can lead to marketing statements that can be misleading. Water usage is certainly an example of that.
Where a brand may claim no or almost no water was used to make their jeans, they are often referring to only one step in the jean-making process, and not taking into consideration the water used to grow the cotton, or the fact that every denim wash requires a different amount of water to get the desired color and effect.
Sustainability, and what it really means
J.B.: True sustainability has to encompass three primary areas, or, as some may say, the triple bottom line: Social, Environmental and Economic. The term sustainability is thrown around a lot, without information backing how the product or idea is truly sustainable in all three areas.
We at Outland Denim have been committed to this holistic approach since inception, understanding that our product is not only sustainable but also humanitarian, which has been something we champion daily.
The problem with recycled plastic
J.B.: Available on the market now is recycled polyester, which has been made from plastic products such as bottles. We use this fabric in our pocket linings, and while recycled plastic is, of course, better than single use, it’s important to acknowledge that the ultimate goal should be no use of polyester at all. What many customers don’t know is that when you wash your clothes, small plastic microfibers are released from the garment and end up in our oceans and waterways.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this cumulatively contributes to over half a million tons of microfibers released every year. So recycled or not, all polyester is still contributing to ocean pollution.
Brands can introduce more 100 percent cotton jeans to try to mitigate this problem (our first is due to drop this February 2020), but ultimately we need to band together and work toward finding a natural alternative to elastane and polyester, and in the meantime educate consumers on how they can alter their laundry routine to reduce the release of microfibers.
Best in the Biz
J.B.: I recommend seeking out designers who have both a personal and professional interest in sustainability. You can have the highest sustainability targets in the industry, but it’s your design team, those who select the fabrics and hardware, who ultimately have the greatest impact on your social and environmental footprint.
Invest in a social and environmental impact team who use separate KPIs from your marketing team and can work with designers to assess each possible supplier to ensure they align with your values.
We source raw materials from suppliers who share in our mission and excel in social and environmental responsibility, such as Bossa Denim, which has been actively involved in environmental and ethical issues since its inception in 1951; YKK Group, which is a part of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals initiative and takes a holistic approach to supporting its staff; and Coats thread, which pays its workers a fair wage and has implemented various plastic and water recycling systems in its facilities.
Finally, connect and consult with like-minded communities and initiatives such as Global Fashion Agenda and Common Objective, which work to connect brands with sustainability solutions.
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