This article is an extended version of the same which appears in the WeAr Magazine Denim Special, out June 2015.
Words: Monica Fossati
In the beginning, the denim and jeans industry was green, since pesticides and GMOs didn’t exist at that point. Nevertheless, producing green clothes has always been a fashion trend, for a brand, a designer, a niche or a season. Over the past 15 years, the denim and jeans industry has made significant efforts to reduce its environmental impacts. Preserving water for denim’s treatment has been one of the main targets. François Girbaud, who launched the stone wash technique in 1965, which consumes lots of water, answered the first one in 2003, with his laser technique Wattwash. Many other waterless initiatives have been born since then. This is due to the growing awareness of the need to answer to the warnings of NGOs and governments, because the issues are real threats today: pollution, depletion of resources and working conditions.
Producing eco-denim is not that difficult, as it relies mainly on the material, the dye, the water and energy consumption and the treatments. First, the material: as organic cotton is rare and original treatments are key trends for denim. So imagination and research have been able to bring about new materials recycles from water bottles, linen or paper yarns. Meanwhile, textile waste, recycled materials, natural fibers and artificial fibers such as Tencel mixed together can provide many possibilities for eco-fabrics.
Dye remains natural in authentic denim, as indigo is a plant. The best eco-dyestuff is recognized thanks to labels like OEKO-TEX from Germany, which indicates the additional benefits of tested safety for skin-friendly clothing and other textiles to interested end users. It approves that a product is harmless for the environment, but also healthier for the wearer. The eco-design approach also analyses the whole lifecycle of a product. That means the whole way of production, so aside from less-water technologies, sewage treatments awareness and renewable energy developments are taking place into mills in developing countries.
A major impact on climate is transportation, so local sourcing as much as possible and greener, slower and optimized distribution help to reduce CO2 emissions that affect our climate. Plus, thinking ahead to the garment’s ending, the easy disassembling of the materials (textiles, metals) has to be anticipated, therefore some brands use stitches instead of metal rivets, and so on.
The fabric itself can be eco-designed, for example Kassim Denim does so with an environmental management system. But a pair of jeans includes other stages of manufacturing; it is a complete ‘lifecycle’. Levi’s made the first eco-designed jeans in 2006, with a 100% organic cotton denim, a coconut shell button on the waist and stitches instead of rivets. The indigo finish came from potato starch, mimosa flower and Marseille soap. The best eco-jeans rely on the whole chain: the store contributes to the global impact of the product, and the wearer as well, with the washing and the choice of ending waste.
Producing the best eco-denim for the industry is a mixture of all these ideas, aiming to reduce all environmental impacts as much as possible. Today, most denim manufacturers – the first witnesses of the whole jeans’ lifecycle – propose very smart products, such as ISKO, BOSSA and US Denim Mills. The good news is that whether you are a designer, a wearer, a buyer, or a manufacturer, every time you touch a denim, you can participate to make it greener at this stage of its life, with your choices and behaviour.