Thursday, February 22, 2024

Once One of the Biggest Emissions Producers, Denim Now Leads the Sustainability Shift


With new drops from Tommy Hilfiger, DL1961, Bethany Williams, and Mud Jeans, denim continues to lead the way forward to a more sustainable fashion industry.

While the skinny jean versus wide-leg denim debate rages on, one thing seems abundantly clear: denim is becoming increasingly sustainable. That wasn’t always the case for the closet staple. Historically denim is resource-intensive, requiring more than 1,000 gallons of water per pair. Denim is also a damaging pollutant; Levi’s own estimates suggest each pair emits more than 73 pounds of CO2. That’s akin to the emissions produced from driving more than 620 miles.

But companies are working to fix denim’s footprint. And as the first summer without lockdown restrictions for many in two years gets underway, a number of new sustainable denim collections are reason enough to leave the house in style.

sustainable tommy hilfiger jeans
Courtesy Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger Denim Progressed

Tommy Hilfiger has not been shy about its sustainability commitments. Its recent partnerships with singer Shawn Mendes and Ecovative, the mycelium leather company, signal big shifts ahead for the brand.

Its most recent drop of Tommy Jeans, dubbed Denim Progressed, sees the collection built entirely on recycled or renewable materials, including deadstock and lower-impact fibers such as hemp. The launch builds on the brand’s commitment to make 50 percent of its denim offerings sustainable by 2025, part of its mission to reduce its environmental impact “while delivering stylish, more sustainable denim.”

That collection features summer whites as well as classic black, among other shades. It also draws on ’90s inspiration with tie-dye effects and distressing on oversized Trucker jackets and cutoff shorts.

Sustainable denim Bethany Williams x Isko
Courtesy Bethany Williams

Bethany Williams x Isko

A new collection by LVMH prize finalist Bethany Williams in partnership with Isko brings 65 percent recycled materials to the capsule. The launch builds on the British designer’s sustainability ethos, following from her 2021 “All Our Stories” launch that featured repurposed flags.

The new collection features one-of-a-kind designs across six denim styles using Isko’s recycled materials.

“Our core values are aligned—from our intent to utilise and recycle pre-existing materials and reduce virgin material usage, to our passion for producing and creating garments in a responsible manner to protect our environment—and it’s these causes that we collaboratively want to continue to drive forward and make real change,” Melissa Clement, Isko’s Head of Product said in a press release.

“The garments used in this collection were all washed and finished at our brand-new London-based R&D centre which we are proud to open the doors of to further our goals,” Clement noted.

The new Williams collection features overalls, trousers, jackets, and vests in light and dark washes. The garments were washed in a recycled water system as part of a closed-loop process, which Isko says ensures the water is re-used for several weeks. This, along with other sustainability efforts throughout the manufacturing process reduces the water impact by 90 percent when compared to traditional denim production.

DL1961 denim
Courtesy DL1961

DL1961’s Ella Jean

It’s a process similar to that used by DL1961, which launched the world’s first “high-performance” circular jeans earlier this year.

The company, which launched in 2008, recently dropped a new collection with model Ella Richards, the Ella Jean, which the company says uses fewer than five gallons of water per pair of jeans compared to the typical 1,500 gallons.

The Ella Jeans include a QR code consumers can scan to get the full breakdown of water and energy use per garment.

sustainable denim mud jeans
Courtesy Mud Jeans

Mud Jeans Circular Denim

Now, Dutch denim label Mud Jeans says it has launched what it’s calling another circular fashion first. After more than two years of development, the denim label has launched jeans made entirely from post-consumer recycled cotton.

Mud says it’s using a solution that contains 50 percent mechanically recycled fibers along with 50 percent chemically recycled fibers. The process was developed in part with Saxion University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Mechanical recycling involves shredding fabric into a new fiber form while chemical recycling sees cellulose material dissolved through an organic compound that can be re-used.

Although brands like Levi’s, Reformation, and Good American have been touting sustainable denim for years, according to Dion Vijgeboom, Mud Jeans co-owner, making 100 percent circular jeans was “technically impossible,” until recently.

The company already uses 40 percent post-consumer fibers as well as organic cotton, which decreases water use by 93 percent and drops the CO2 emissions by 74 percent compared to conventional denim. But shifting to 100 percent post-consumer recycled fabric will help reduce the use of cotton—a concern, particularly in the wake of a recent exposé on India’s organic cotton industry.

“As a producer you have to take responsibility for your product,” Vijgeboom said. “We want to show that a world without waste—thanks to a circular economy—is possible and achievable.”


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