Denim brand DL1961 strives to be different. And, to its credit, its denim is definitely different — its cuts, colors and shapes present a more playful side of jeans, with each piece featuring uncommon elements such as cutout shapes, racer stripes and unusual patterns.

The New York-based brand offers sustainable premium denim for women, men and kids, exclusively using ethically sourced, U.S. grown premium cotton, natural indigo dyes and water-efficient fibers, according to the company. Leading with a “fit, fabric, function” approach, DL1961 employs premium materials and “smarter” fibers to create flexible denim that sculpts, in addition to an emphasis on high-retention, which means the denim keep its shape. But materials aside, when claiming sustainability, processes matter, too: While a traditional pair of jeans is made using 1,500 gallons of water, DL1961 uses less than 10 gallons and treats and recycles 98 percent of it; its factory is powered by solar energy and through its owned in-house power generation plant; and the brand tracks its water consumption and dye usage via Environmental Impact Measurement (EIM) software, created by Jeanologia.

And due to all of these efforts, the brand saved approximately 50 million gallons of water, which was also supported by its on-site recycling plant and efficient machinery, the company said. Its circular model includes the contribution of nearly 5,000 pounds of excess fabric to nonprofit Fabscrap, which upcycles commercial textiles, in addition to saving over 73,000 pounds of CO2, the equivalent of planting 865 trees, and updating its packing to a fully recyclable, compostable and biodegradable kraft paper, all according to the brand.

Zahra Ahmed, vice president of marketing, DL1961, told WWD, “DL was founded on a mission to do things differently. From Day One, we focused on how denim was made, and what improvements we could make on every step of the process. We use premium materials and innovative fibers alongside the most efficient production methods available to ensure a product that looks good, feels great but also does better for the environment.”

Ahmed said, traditionally, “denim has been a water-intensive good to produce. By pairing eco-friendly, renewably sourced fibers like Modal, Tencel and Refibra (all Lenzing products), with high-quality long staple cotton, the base of the jean is primed to reduce water consumption in later processes. We utilize Ozone machines to dramatically reduce water consumption while still being able to create a wide range of denim washes our customers love. Customers, now more than ever, are curious to learn more about the ecosystem surrounding production. At DL, we are proud of our transparency, highlighting our core values of sustainability on every product.”

Photo courtesy of DL1961. 

Ahmed added that DL1961’s material development process — which “starts from scratch” — is its secret sauce. “By using these branded, high-quality fibers we are able to use other technologies in the production process that reduce water. For example, Modal is naturally soft so in the washing process we don’t have to use abrasive processes like stone washing to achieve a comfortable hand feel.”

“It also blends well with cotton so we can do tone in tone dyeing (rather than different steps), again reducing the amount of water used compared to the more traditional blend of fabrics,” Ahmed explained. “Tencel Lyocell (which is created through the Refibra technology) is a smooth fiber that is able to pick up color well without fading, again minimizing the impact of the dying process. In addition, these fibers are compatible with Dystar 40 percent indigo vat solution, which is the cleanest indigo on the market.”

And regarding its successes in sustainability — most impressively, its water savings — Ahmed noted that “There are many steps along that way that result in minimal water consumption. Through the combination of these fibers and the right machinery/production methods we are able to minimize the final environmental impact when compared to the traditional pair of jeans. The two most water-intensive steps are dying [during the fabric phase] and washing, which occurs in the garment phase. The fibers allow us to employ eco-friendly production methods in both.”

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