In a retail age that favors low costs, low risk and fast fashion, few denim companies—or any type of company—would ever dream of stepping back from the marketplace to unplug, regroup and attempt a comeback as a sustainable alternative. But that’s exactly what the sibling team behind Triarchy Denim did.
Founded in 2011 by siblings Adam, Ania and Mark Taubenfligel, Triarchy relaunched in July 2017 with a new sustainable goal. The mission? To conserve the planet’s most important resources by reducing the water consumption of its jeans.
The brand found that it takes 2,900 gallons of water to make one pair of cotton jeans—a mind-boggling amount according to Adam Taubenfligel, Triarchy creative director and designer. Particularly when considering that its home base at the time, Los Angeles, suffers from debilitating droughts year after year.
When Taubenfligel would ask factories and laundries in L.A. why there weren’t water treatment facilities on site, the owners would show him cleared lots that were prepared for a facility. However, the city wouldn’t grant permits to build them because less water consumption would mean lower water bills, he said.
Fired up after understanding the amount of water waste and the city’s unwillingness to save water in the laundries, Triarchy went “offline” in 2016 so it could overhaul its supply chain. “The denim industry is a pretty dirty one, we didn’t want to be a part of it,” Taubenfligel said.
The company uprooted its production to Mexico, where Taubenfligel said it found a factory that uses 85 percent recycled water. The factory filters water by using natural bacterial that consumes the indigo dye before reintroducing it to the wash process.
Triarchy also made a mandate for its women’s collection that requires jeans to be made using cotton and Tencel blends. “We try to use the most Tencel as much as possible,” Taubenfligel said, adding that the cellulose fiber requires 85 percent less water than cotton to process. The soft-feel fiber also adds a luxurious hand to the brand’s range of core basics, including medium rise or high waist skinny jeans.
For its men’s line of slim black and indigo jeans, Taubenfligel said denim is sourced in a way that allows the company to eliminate the need for washing. To do it, Triarchy sources raw denim with added benefits like comfort stretch.
The siblings have carried their sustainable mission down to the details. Triarchy’s unique hardware is made of nickel-free recycled sheet metal, like old metal signage and cans in a U.S. factory, with a closed loop water system that conserves as much as 80 percent of the water. The jeans’ leather labels are made using recycled leather through a process that shreds and then bonds leather scraps to make a new natural-feeling leather composite. Additionally, its care labels are made from recycled water bottles.
Sustainable options for denim are improving, but Taubenfligel pointed out that it is still difficult to connect the pieces that make the most optimized product.
“You have so many steps in denim, that even if you find some amazing sustainable fabric, you still have to find a sustainable way to wash it and achieve the results that you want,” he said.
Shrinkage remains a big problem, which results in a lot of back and forth to find the right recipe. “The main problem is the fabric’s reaction to sustainable washes,” Taubenfligel explained. “The mills and laundries are not at a place where sustainable is a norm. There’s a lot of testing and playing around with the sustainable processes.”
This lengthy process drove Taubenfligel to begin experimenting with unwanted vintage denim, a project that led to an off-shoot label called Atelier Denim. The small volume collection—with retail prices up to $725—is made with repurposed vintage denim sourced by Taubenfligel himself, to ensure both quality and that no wearable denim goes to waste. Highlights in the collection include lush denim fringe jean jackets, denim and linen jeans and jeans embellished with recycled plastic sequins.
In the coming seasons, Triarchy is focused on growth. Taubenfligel said the company recently hired a New York City-based rep to help expand its retail footprint. “We’ve done all sales in-house to date, so this is a big move for us,” he said. “Through them, we’ll be able to get real time feedback and can move forward.”
The brand is also stepping up to become an industry voice on sustainability. In April, the company was awarded the Fashion Impact Award and the H&M Sustainability Award at the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards. And in August, Taubenfligel will join the likes of Francois Gribaud and Adriano Goldschmeid in Las Vegas for a panel discussion at Sourcing at Magic about water conservation in the denim industry.
While Triarchy took a leap by closing up shop to reboot as a sustainable player in the premium denim space, Taubenfligel doesn’t turn his nose up to brands that are making small steps toward sustainability.
“If someone is doing something, even if its tiny, it is still better than nothing. I’d prefer to see a giant company make even a tiny effort,” he said.