Vertically integrated sustainable denim brand DL1961 is a family affair — and its mission to “do things differently” has evolved into an impassioned undertaking to positively impact the segment as it forges forward with cleaner and greener product offerings.
Led by cofounder and chief creative officer Sarah Ahmed, the New York-based family-owned brand uses less than 10 gallons of water to produce its average pair of jeans (compare that number to the industry standard of 1,500 gallons of water used).
Manufactured at the Ahmed family factory in Pakistan — where all DL1961’s premium denim is made from recycled materials — its vertically integrated, self-powered facility houses the brand’s botanic fibers, organic and certified cotton, clean dyes and energy-efficient machinery.
Designing denim and apparel for women, men, children and even pets, DL1961 shows up season after season with contemporary feminine looks, sexy, flattering cuts and a lineup of looks that continuously deliver. And this spring, DL1961 debuted the first high-performance circular jean, made in partnership with Recover.
Here, Ahmed talks to WWD about its differentiated take on sustainable denim, its partnership with Recover, and what shoppers will see next from DL1961.
WWD: How is DL1961’s approach to sustainability distinctive in the denim market?
Sarah Ahmed: We are one of the only vertical denim brands out there, overseeing the entire manufacturing process from fiber to finished garment. Instead of releasing sustainable capsules here and there, every single item we produce in our family-owned, self-powered facility is made sustainably.
The average pair of jeans uses 1,500 gallons of water to produce, but ours use less than 10 gallons. We accomplish this by using botanic fibers such as Modal and Tencel, organic and certified cotton, clean dyes and energy-efficient laser and Ozone technology. We also treat and recycle 98 percent of the water we use in our in-house water recycling plant. We are committed to creating the best jeans for both our customers and for the planet.
WWD: How would you describe DL1961’s aesthetic? What were some of the inspirations for the brand’s current collections?
S.A.: Our aesthetic is wearable, functional, chic, but not intimidating. It’s also a lifestyle aimed at premium quality and unparalleled comfort. The inspiration for the current spring collection reimagines the style influences of the ‘80s and ‘90s in the form of relaxed silhouettes, dreamy pastels, matching sets and breezy fabrications. Fall 2022 will be an extension of that — easy but elevated tailoring, jewel tones, low-impact washes, and 30 percent recycled cotton for a vintage-inspired style.
WWD: Tell us about Recover. What prompted that partnership?
S.A.: We partnered with Recover on a joint sustainability initiative to create the world’s first high-performance circular jean. Recover is a leading material sciences company and global producer of post-consumer waste cotton fiber. At DL1961, sustainability is not defined by one initiative — it is a multifaceted, ever-evolving process from fiber to finished garment, known for family-owned, vertically integrated sustainable manufacturing.
Now, with the Recover partnership, our manufacturing facility also houses one of the world’s largest textile recycling plants, taking excess goods from around the world, breaking them down and turning them into new, high-tech fibers. The result is a sustainable pair of jeans that outperforms others in terms of fabric, fit and function. For the first time, traceability, accountability and circularity merge to make the perfect high-performance sustainable jean.
WWD: What’s next for DL1961?
S.A.: We’re very excited to bring DL1961 international later this spring and produce an immersive, interactive exhibit called “Indigo” with Frieze at their London gallery, No.9 Cork Street. The concept is for people to experience the process of denim creation from broken down fibers all the way to a finished denim garment. To make the space come to life, we’re enlisting the help of creatives, artists, costume designers, painters, architects and sound engineers. The exhibit will also mark the launch of The Digital Tag Project, designed to combat the denim industry’s continued greenwashing and lack of transparency when it comes to sustainability practices.
The project will launch with the “Ella Jean,” which we created in partnership with Ella Richards, a gorgeous British model and granddaughter of music icon Keith Richards. The jeans will come with a QR code on the inside waist that will reveal exactly how much of each resource (water, energy and recycled materials) was used to make the jean. We hope to bring this function and transparency to all of our customers in upcoming seasons.
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