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Marks & Spencer Sets New Sustainability Standards for Denim

Marks & Spencer (M&S) understands the influence it wields over responsible denim manufacturing and purchases. The retailer reports that it sells one in every 10 pairs of jeans to customers across the U.K. Even during the pandemic, when most retailers have seen a dramatic shift to athleisure, M&S says it has seen a continued demand for denim, particularly for its best-selling jegging which it sells at a pace of two pairs per minute.

This steadfast interest in denim makes the category a main focal area for M&S’s sustainability efforts.

This week, the retailer introduced new sustainability standards for denim that center on better practices for sourcing cotton, finishing and dyeing. The action plan falls in line with Plan A, the company’s framework for a safer and more inclusive workforce, better products and reduced impact on the environment.

According to the standards, all cotton used for all M&S clothing will be responsibly sourced, with the majority through the Better Cotton Initiative, which helps farmers reduce their water usage and increase their profits. In the wash process, M&S is reducing its water intake by using technologies by sustainable finishing tech firm Jeanologia. M&S is also committed to switching out standard indigo dyes for cleaner alternatives that are safer for people and the planet and require less water and chemicals to produce.

The first collection of jeans that meet these standards launched online Thursday across women’s, men’s and children’s categories. The Spring/Summer 2021 products are made with 100 percent responsibly sourced cotton and wash techniques that require 86 percent less water compared to the industry average for denim garment finishing as reported by Jeanologia. And nearly half of the collection has been made with lower-impact dyes.

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Key items include a belted denim shirt dress, high-waisted flare jeans and boot-cut jeans for women and slim- and straight-fit jeans for men.

Consumers see value in better-made apparel. In a recent M&S survey, 58 percent of customers agreed sustainability is a key consideration when shopping for this wardrobe staple and 75 percent said they are looking for jeans that are made to last.

“Denim is a wardrobe staple for our customers—but we know now more than ever they want style where sustainability is built in as standard,” said Monique Leeuwenburgh, head of product technology for M&S clothing and home. “By taking collaborative action with our denim suppliers, we can give our customers the confidence that every pair of M&S jeans they buy for the family are not only stylish, great quality and fantastic value—but have been responsibly made too.”

The Spring/Summer campaign will show the jeans off with “energy, confidence and style,” the company stated, “highlighting the trusted value they offer as made to last, responsibly sourced items.”

Underpinning the new denim standards is the retailer’s wider ethical commitments to ensure workers are treated fairly and their human rights are respected. This includes transparently listing the locations and key details for every factory M&S works with including for denim on its interactive supplier map.

The retailer recently became one of the first companies to sign the Call to Action to ensure that its supply chains are not linked to the human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region. Last month, M&S also asked Oxfam to conduct a gap analysis of its supply chains in the U.K. and India to better understand the true worker experience and where it can do better along with the wider industry.