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This New Book Dissects the Lifecycle of Jeans

As sustainability comes to the forefront and more consumers begin to question the origin of their clothing, content creators deliver a highly anticipated glimpse behind the scenes. A new book taps into this growing demand and focuses specifically on the lifecycle of denim.

In “Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment,” Maxine Bédat, an ethical fashion expert and founder and director of New Standard Institute, a “think-and-do tank” focused on transforming the fashion industry into a force for good, follows the journey of a pair of jeans. From a cotton farm in Texas, to dyeing and weaving factories in China, then to sewing facilities in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, Bédat follows the pair of jeans back to a warehouse in the U.S.

Throughout the book, Bédat highlights denim’s impact on the environment and people who make up the supply chain, noting that workers are pressed to “produce garments as efficiently as machines” and ship out items “as quickly as the robots primed to replace them.”

It also focuses on the issue of waste—a concept that the industry is collectively targeting with new initiatives intended to make fashion more circular—highlighting that jeans ultimately end up in landfills or shipped to developing countries where they’re “sold for pennies in secondhand markets or buried and burned in mountains of garbage.”

In an article for Vogue, Bédat called for real, immediate change, noting that while the industry talks about circularity, it needs more action as well as guidance from local governments. “Now is the time for legislative solutions, to create the guardrails for a modern fashion industry that can thrive within human and planetary bounds; whether we like it or not, they are one and the same,” she said.

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“Unraveled” arrives after a year when consumers learned more about the positive and unfavorable sides of fashion. Homebound consumers became a captivated audience to the news circulating social media indicating which brands were supporting their supply chain in a time of need, and which ones were adding to the problem.

The subject is what’s driven many throughout the industry to start producing jeans according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign guidelines, which provide minimum requirements for jeans on durability, material health, recyclability, and traceability. Brands such as Gap, Reformation, Lee and Wrangler have all launched collections based on these principles.

The guidelines are also the focus of a documentary released in 2020 that showcases the steps denim suppliers and brands are taking to make their jeans more circular. Featuring Outerknown co-founder Kelly Slater, 2020 Rivet 50 honoree Piyumi Perera from denim manufacturer Hirdaramani, and executives from brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Weekday, the film is just one of many visual displays of denim’s supply chain.

In 2019, denim brand 3×1 founder Scott Morrison debuted a documentary series “Common Thread,” produced in partnership with Convicts Media. The film series follows influential denim companies including Candiani Denim, Diesel and Tonello as they explore the historical, current and future landscape of denim. “RiverBlue” debuted a year prior in 2018 and followed international river conservationist Mark Angelo as he explained fashion’s destruction of rivers and the solutions the industry has in store for a sustainable future.