Denim. It’s the unofficial uniform of the world. According to British anthropologists Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward, authors of Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary, an average person wears jeans for three-and-a-half days a week. We literally spend half our lives in jeans!
But the sheer volume of denim produced globally exacerbates its sustainability issues. Cotton, while a natural fibre, is a very thirsty crop to grow, while the old-fashioned ways of distressing denim such as sandblasting and stone-washing, are now known to have adverse impacts.
So it makes sense for leading-edge denim manufactures, and designers enamoured of the classic cloth, to pioneer new ways to work with denim that are kinder to people and the planet. There is change happening. These new collections do good as well as look good.
LA-based label Tortoise has won accolades for reinventing the denim finishing process. “This innovation in washing denim without using any harmful chemical was born out of my natural curiosity and compassion. My increasing awareness of how the denim industry has harmed Mother Nature motivated me to find alternatives that will relieve the damaged caused by traditional washing methods,” says Kevin Youn, Founder and CEO of Tortoise Jeans. Its patented Wiser Wash system replaces traditional pollutants and corrosive chemicals with eco-friendly air oxidation - so you can get still that “vintage” distressed look.
Others are using “deadstock” in order to reduce their carbon footprint and fight textile waste. The phrase refers to factory surplus and unsold cloth, as well as unsold garments, which the industry too often destroys. But for innovative designers, this material is a fabric treasure trove that can be reimagined to exciting new pieces.
In Seoul, Jinwoo Choi and Yeon Joo Koo have joined the green movement. The designers behind the cult Womenswear brand J Koo have applied eco-friendly denim to some of their classic deconstructed silhouettes.
The trend is strong in Paris too. There, at Y/project, Creative Director Glenn Martens makes a virtue out of working with what he already has. Martens used to work for responsible fashion guru Bruno Pieters at Honest By, and the pair recently collaborated on a re-issue of Y/project styles from past seasons, using environmentally friendly fabrics produced in accordance with the label's strict transparency protocol. Now, for Lane Crawford, Martens has designed a unisex global capsule featuring four denim pieces in the brand's popular black and navy washes - the idea was to use only the denim stock the brand had on-hand, for a zero-waste approach.
In Hong Kong, R collective are to debut an exclusive to Lane Crawford capsule of up-cycled military jackets from US, China and Israel that is inspired by the collaborative and ingenious spirit of its collective design community.
The message is clear: the coolest new denim and streetwear is about rethinking processes, protecting precious resources and recognising the value in up-cycling.