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Ellen MacArthur Foundation Enlists Leading Brands to Transform Their Denim Production

Leading fashion brands and manufacturers are on a path to transform the way they produce jeans, tackling issues like waste, pollution and the use of harmful practices, with a commitment to new guidelines published Tuesday by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The “Jeans Redesign Guidelines” set out minimum requirements on garment durability, material health, recyclability and traceability, and the guidelines are based on the principles of the circular economy. The aim is for companies to make jeans that will last longer, can be easily recycled, and are made in a way that’s better for the environment and for garment workers’ health.

“We’re starting with jeans because we felt there was a very positive reaction from the sector to contributing to the circular economy,” Francois Souchet, lead of the Ellen MacArthur Make Fashion Circular Initiative, told Sourcing Journal. “This provided a very good starting point for aligning the industry toward a shared vision.”

As part of the Jeans Redesign effort, companies will work collaboratively to create innovation that will be shared with the aim of making a more circular supply chain and economy possible. And the Make Fashion Circular Initiative intends to then bring the approach to other product categories.

Jeans Redesign brought together more than 40 denim experts from brands, retailers, manufacturers, collectors, sorters and NGOs to develop the guidelines. Companies confirmed to take part in the initial stages of the project include Arvind, Boyish Jeans, C&A, GAP, Hirdaramani, H&M Group’s H&M and Weekday brands, HNST, Kipas, Lee Jeans, Mud Jeans, Outerknown, Tommy Hilfiger, The Reformation, Saitex and Vero Moda.

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“The volume we have committed today is small,” Souchet said. “We have about 350,000 pairs of jeans that will be manufactured in line with the guidelines. The aim is that the output that is produced under the guidelines increases year on year.”

The Jeans Redesign guidelines have also been endorsed by clothing recyclers Circular Systems, HKRITA, Infinited Fiber Company, Recover, Tyton Biosciences LLC, Wolkat and Worn Again, as well as campaign group Fashion Revolution.

According to Souchet, the guidelines build on existing efforts to improve jeans production, including the open source guide created following C&A and Fashion For Good’s joint initiative to develop Cradle 2 Cradle Gold Certified jeans. Many of the companies had already incorporated some or all of the guidelines in their operations.

Respect for health, safety and rights of those along the supply chain are key components of the guidelines, as is improving global working conditions in manufacturing.

When it comes to durability, jeans should withstand a minimum of 30 home laundries, while still meeting the minimum quality requirements of the brands. Garments should also include labels with clear information on product care. In material health, the Jeans Redesign guidelines say jeans should be produced using cellulose fibers from regenerative, organic or transitional farming methods, and should be free of hazardous chemicals and conventional electroplating. Stone finishing, potassium permanganate and sandblasting are prohibited.

And making products that can be recycled will prove a high priority, too.

According to the guidelines, jeans should be made with a minimum of 98 percent cellulose fibers by weight. Metal rivets should be designed out or reduced to a minimum, and any additional material added to the jeans should be easy to disassemble.

Looking at traceability, the guidelines call for information that’s readily available and that confirms each element of the requirements have been met. Organizations that meet the requirements will be granted permission to use the Jeans Redesign Logo, use of which will be reassessed annually based on compliance with reporting requirements.

The hope now is that more companies will join the Jeans Redesign effort and produce their denim in line with the guidelines. The first pairs of the redesigned jeans will be on sale in 2020.

“The way we produce jeans is causing huge problems with waste and pollution, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” Souchet said. “By working together, we can create jeans that last longer, that can be remade into new jeans at the end of their use and are made in ways which are better for the environment and the people that make them. This is just the start. Over time, we will continue to drive momentum toward a thriving fashion industry based on the principles of a circular economy.”