A sustainable leader known for spearheading a robust denim repair program, Swedish label Nudie Jeans only furthered its commitment in 2020. Despite the global pandemic that shuttered businesses throughout the industry, the brand remained focused on its goals, and still managed to collect 9,218 used jeans and repair 45,900 others.
On Thursday, the company published its 2020 sustainability report in which it mapped out the year’s accomplishments and future targets that will help further its ultimate goal of becoming the world’s top sustainable denim brand.
“In terms of our sustainability ambitions and work, last year made it even more clear that sustainability is one of our core pillars,” said Joakim Levin, Nudie Jeans CEO. “Much of our sustainability-related work was carried out as planned despite that the pandemic affected our daily life and other parts of the business.”
Fiber in focus
One of Nudie’s main areas of improvement in 2020 was in promoting the use of more sustainable fibers. Last year, the brand produced 98.6 percent sustainable products—which it defines as garments comprised of at least 70 percent sustainable fibers—representing an increase of 0.7 percent compared to 2019.
Part of this increase is attributed to Nudie’s increased use of Lenzing’s Tencel, fibers sustainably sourced from natural raw material wood. In a span of two years, the brand went from using 31 kg to 4,150 kg of Tencel, accounting for 1.2 percent of its total fiber use in 2020.
“By constantly sourcing more sustainable materials and turn these new possibilities into well-looking, useful, long-lasting and well-demanded products, the sustainability aspect is well integrated in our work,” said Daniel Larsson, a designer at Nudie Jeans.
In 2020, the brand became Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified, and calculates that 94 percent of its total fiber usage is organic cotton and/or Fairtrade cotton and recycled cotton. Due to lower production volumes compared to 2018 and 2019, the volume of organic cotton decreased.
In 2021, brands can’t discuss sustainability without also outlining their measures to provide better transparency. In 2020, Nudie confirmed its commitment to transparency, and mapped all supply chain emissions and water data in accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for the second year in a row. It found that 60 percent of its total emissions are generated in the production phase, followed by 22 percent in the transports phase, 11 percent in the user phase, 6 percent in business travel and 1 percent in energy usage.
The brand also provided transparency on the product level, and includes the insights on the product page of its online shop. It dove into transparency within its supply chain through partnerships with organizations such as Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), a third-party non-profit organization that verifies and improves conditions at suppliers. Nudie Jeans has been a member since 2009.
“Our membership with FWF is a key element in ensuring that everyone throughout the production chain works under fair conditions, and their Code of Labor Practice is incorporated into our Code of Conduct,” the company stated in the report. For the seventh year in a row, FWF ranked Nudie in the “Leaders” category.
To further demonstrate support for workers within its supply chain, Nudie joined forces with Outland Denim and IT company Precision Solutions Group (PSG) to launch the Supply Network Intelligence System, a program that seeks out and works to resolve instances of deliberate exploitation, slavery and unsafe working conditions. Nudie also joined the Sag Salim program, which offers a grievance channel and capacity building for cotton farmers in Turkey.
The company shifted its sights to better communication and education efforts in 2020 as well, and participated in more than 130 events, interviews and public speeches. “We believe that knowledge of the current situation and industrial history, from both internal and external perspectives, is crucial to understanding the challenges we face in the search for efficient solutions and for leading the industry toward continuous improvements,” the company stated in the report.
Ramping up publicity efforts helps hold the company accountable for its goals, which include equal representation within its workforce. According to the report, women make up 42 percent of employees globally, 47 percent of employees at its head office, and 39 percent of management.
Nudie collected its fair share of awards in 2020, including the Drapers Sustainable Fashion Award for circularity progress. In December 2020, Nudie teamed with United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as part of the EU-funded circular accelerator, SwitchMed, on a two-phase pilot project to test the recycling process at scale. Phase one involves combining 8,000 pairs of second-choice jeans with virgin denim material to make 20,000 meters of new fabric, while phase two involves developing a post-industrial denim recycling program with Tunisian designers to further circularity efforts. The company stated that the full results will be seen this year, when the project will have produced 15,000 pairs of new jeans.
In addition to new jeans, reused denim from collected post-consumer Nudie jeans was also downcycled and used as patches in the repair service. The brand even launched a Ture Blanket that it crafted from recycled, post-consumer jeans and recycled wool.
In 2020, sales for the reporting organization amounted to SEK 382.1 million ($45.2 million), with total revenues down 22 percent compared to 2019. Nudie experienced credit losses on trade receivables, and anticipates that the bad debt ratio will be higher than normal during 2021.
Despite the projections, the company is committed to aggressive sustainability goals, including using less harmful chemicals, reducing GHG emissions, offering living wages at its suppliers, scaling circular activities in the user phase and increasing transparency and traceability for the full supply chain. According to Levin, these goals will help position Nudie’s status as a leader in sustainable denim.
“Our vision is to become the world’s most sustainable denim brand, and we know that we’ve come a long way, but our work never stops because we know we have just as long a road ahead of us,” he said. “We are proud of what we do, and we hope that our work will inspire others to follow our example.”