There’s nothing quite like the right pair of jeans: their made-for-me fit makes them an iconic symbol of covetable cool. But there’s always room for improvement, and that’s why, in the face of mounting environmental and social impact concerns, denim companies are upping the ante with textile innovations to produce “clean denim.”
According to the American Chemistry Society, it takes an estimated 2,500 gallons of water—enough to flood an average-sized New York City studio apartment— to make a single pair of blue jeans. Other reports state resultant cotton waste and dyes used in the production process put at risk the health of factory workers and residents of developing markets in which jeans are made.
The good news is, the denim industry has taken hold of these concerns, and companies of all types are creating new practices to keep their jeans feeling good.
Conscious clothing creator Patagonia uses only organic cotton, and developed an alternative to the highly toxic dyeing process that can pollute waterways around conventional denim factories. Their process also uses 84% less water and 30% less energy, and emits 25% less carbon dioxide than traditional denim manufacturing.
“It took several years of research, innovation, trial and error, but the result is a new path for denim,” Patagonia’s sportswear business unit director Helena Barbour said in a statement.
Newer entrants into the market, like Everlane, are leveraging supplier partnerships to get on the green jean train. To create its denim line, Everlane partnered with Saitex International Dong Nai Co. Ltd., an ethical, eco-conscious manufacturer. Saitex recycles 98% of the water it uses to produce its jeans back to drinkable standards, air-dries its denim, and turns the waste it does produce into bricks to make affordable housing.
The cotton industry launched the “Blue Jeans Go Green” campaign in 2006, which upcycles old blue jeans into home insulation, keeping them out of landfills and giving the material a new lease on life. The program continues to thrive and bring companies into the eco-friendly fold. Designer brand Rag & Bone signed on, offering 20% off of a new pair to customers who donate old jeans in Rag & Bone retail stores.
Smaller, maverick jean manufacturers continue to push the revolution even further. MUD Jeans prioritizes sustainable production methods, and offers a unique “leasing” program for jeans, which allows customers to pay a monthly fee for jeans which they can exchange at any time. The program eliminates excess waste produced by tossed old jeans, along with the waste, pollution, and resources associated with new denim production.
“Sustainability is at the core of our company,” MUD Jeans says. “Just like our pair of jeans, it’s what’s inside that really counts.”
Kickstarter-backed Bluer Denim delivered on its pledge to make ethically—and environmentally—friendly jeans in the United States. Their jeans are produced start-to-finish in the United States, using an eco-friendly ozone laundry process. In a program that combines recycling and buy-one-give-one models, the company will also buy customers’ old jeans for $5, sanitize them, and give them to someone in need.
So what happens if you embrace a green model when it comes to your trusty blues? You make an impact on international textile industries, textile workers and the environment — and that might leave you with the most satisfying “fit” of all.