Jeans are a sartorial staple for consumers around the world, but denim is a ‘dirty’ business. The production process generates a considerable amount of waste water, which is often released — untreated — back into the environment, contaminating water sources and soil with chemicals and heavy metals. Poor practices and lack of regulation are having a negative impact on the health of local populations, with communities near denim manufacturing hubs demonstrating significantly higher instances of reproductive and fertility problems, as well as chemical poisoning.
The fashion industry is increasingly recognizing its role in turning the market around, with more brands taking strides to provide consumers with options with lower chemical and environmental footprints. Everlane and Marks and Spencer (M&S) are just two examples of retailers working to transform the denim industry.
Everlane, a brand built on ethical and transparent pricing and manufacturing processes, is venturing into new territory, adding denim to its portfolio of high-quality products with a minimalist aesthetic. To create the line, the brand teamed up with Saitex, a denim factory in the Đồng Nai Province of Vietnam specializing in sustainable production.
Founder Sanjeev Bahl designed the factory to be as sustainable as possible, equipping the facility with solar panels and rainwater harvesting systems. The factory also boasts technologies that allow the company to mitigate pollution-producing aspects of the denim production process. Saitex is currently able to recycle 98 percent of the water it uses back into production with the help of reverse osmosis machines that remove polluting dyes and chemicals left over from the dying and treating processes.
The reverse osmosis process leaves behind a sludge of sorts, which Saitex currently uses to create bricks, which are used to construct homes for people in need. The company is also exploring new ways to turn this byproduct into new revenue streams.
Everlane’s jeans, which launch on September 7, will embody the same effortless, timeless design as its other products, allowing the product to outlive trends, while the use of heavier material will help ensure durability — and therefore sustainability.
“We wanted to make denim from the beginning,” said Preysman. “Now, we can find the right partner and this partner is also interested in us. You’re going to see a lot more of this as we scale.”
Meanwhile, M&S is introducing ‘Sustainable Selvedge’ men’s jeans that use low-impact technology from industrial laser machinery producers Jeanologia. The technology allows the retailer to produce denim with five times less water than conventional manufacturing methods, as well as lower energy consumption and chemical use.
The jeans utilize cotton sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative and are fitted with biodegradable leather patches and recycled thread and zip tape. The line aligns with M&S’s Plan A 2025 commitments to source 100 percent of its cotton from sustainable sources by 2019 and having 100 percent of its products possess a Plan A sustainability attribute by 2020.
M&S has said it plans to expand the line to include women’s jeans in the near future.