The Swedish denim brand, celebrated for its use of organic cotton and its jeans repair program, will take its own jeans it considers to be “second-quality” and turn them into fabric for new jeans. Second-quality jeans are those with slight defects such as a discolored wash, inconsistent stitching or irregular cut. Historically, they are either sold at a discount or otherwise discarded.
“At Nudie Jeans, we are constantly exploring new ways that can improve our environmental footprint,” said Eliina Brinkberg, Nudie Jeans environmental manager. “Using post-industrial waste as recycled input to new denim fabric is one of the multiple methods we need to work with to decrease the resource use in the production of our products.”
Post-industrial waste recycling is a $350 billion opportunity in the Western hemisphere, according to a report from Accelerating Circularity, a collaborative initiative formed by sustainable materials community Textile Exchange. The denim brand teamed with United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as part of the EU-funded circular accelerator, SwitchMed, to bring denim recycling to Tunisia. Nudie Jeans produces the majority of its jeans in Tunisia through companies Denim Authority and Universal Colours.
In December, Nudie and UNIDO developed a two-phase pilot project to test the recycling process at scale. Phase one involves taking 8,000 pairs of second-choice jeans and combining them with virgin denim material to make 20,000 meters of new fabric. By May 2021, the project will have produced 15,000 pairs of new jeans. The second phase will then focus on developing a post-industrial denim recycling program with Tunisian designers to further circularity efforts. Tunisia has seen increased water scarcity in recent years, making circular design an even greater priority for the denim brand.
Nudie Jeans’ recycling project complements its commitments to repair and reuse. In 2019, the brand’s repair locations mended a total of 63,281 pairs of jeans and collected over 11,500 pairs of post-consumer Nudie Jeans for recycling at its repair shops.
In 2020, Nudie’s goals were to increase the number of repaired jeans by 26 percent globally and increase the number of collected jeans by 20 percent. It aims to achieve these goals in part by adding 50 new permanent “repair spots” in the coming years.