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Outerknown Changed its Mind About Making Jeans—Here’s Why

Outerknown is launching a line of jeans after once swearing it would never “do denim.”

Founded by 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater, the sustainability-minded men’s wear label debuted its Social Environmental Accountability (S.E.A.) jeans this week in three fits—tapered, slim, straight—and a dozen different finishes, washes and colors.

“We launched Outerknown saying we would never do denim,” said John Moore, the company’s co-founder and creative director. “[Slater] told this to a reporter before we ever launched product. I was sitting next to him and he was wearing a pair of jeans, and I was wearing a denim jacket.”

Denim is such an integral part of today’s lifestyle, he said, but “the truth is that it’s one of the filthiest manufacturing processes that exists in apparel, so unless we could figure out how to make jeans that would meet our strict social and environmental standards, [Slater] was right, we would not do them.”

Figure it out, Outerknown eventually did. To make its S.E.A. jeans, Outerknown hauled organic cotton from Italy’s Candiani and Turkey’s Isko to Saitex, a LEED-certified denim factory in Vietnam that recycles 98 percent of its water back into its production, runs on solar energy and converts its sludge into bricks for building affordable housing.

Outerknown joins other brands that have employed Saitex because of its “clean denim” ethos, including G-Star Raw for its “most sustainable jeans ever” and Everlane for its eco-friendly denim.

The company says it intends to be fully transparent about its supply chain—and completely accountable for its actions.

“We have an internal mantra, ‘Don’t expect what we don’t inspect,’ and our team has been there multiple times during the vetting, development and production process to ensure that we are delivering on all of our promises,” Moore said.

All jeans feature 100 percent cotton except for the stretch versions of the slim-fit Ambassador, which includes 2 percent spandex and comes in indigo, faded indigo and jet black washes. Both the Ambassador and straight-fit Local ranges incorporate 12 oz. denim, but they also offer “rigid” 13.5 oz. selvedge options yarn-dyed in indigo and made in small batches using vintage looms.

Rounding out the styles is the tapered Drifter, which is cut from 13.5 oz organic cotton twill and has been garment-dyed in bleached, ecru and faded khaki hues for a “soft, lived-in feel,” Outerknown noted. 

They’re backed with a lifetime warranty, meaning that Outerknown will repair or replace any worn or torn pants at no cost to the customer. It’ll also take back any castoff S.E.A. jeans for recycling so they end up as building insulation instead of in the landfill. 

Available at outerknown.com, the jeans start at $128 for a regular pair of Ambassadors and top out at $168 for each of the two selvedge variations.

Outerknown has championed better-for-the-planet materials in its other offerings, too, from recycled-polyester bomber jackets to board shorts made with regenerated nylon waste.

Last week the brand feted the 100 percent organic cotton S.E.A tee, which it claims saves 71 gallons of water, or 90 percent less agua than a conventional cotton T-shirt would require.

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