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Denim Minds Under 30: Hilal Öz

COVID-19 recovery is on the horizon but the pandemic's impact on sustainability, retail, product development and consumer buying patterns means the denim industry must evolve. Join Rivet on April 20th at 11 am ET for the COVID, One Year Later roundtable.

Like any business that has been around for more than a century, the jeanswear industry has its legends. It is also continuously reinventing itself and welcoming more opportunities for innovation—and oftentimes, it takes a fresh perspective to make real change. Rivet’s Denim Minds Under 30 column shines a spotlight on  young professionals committed to pushing the denim industry forward, paying special mind to the planet and its people.

In this Q&A, Hilal Öz, a young designer at premium denim brand Mavi, explains how she’s focusing on making the denim industry more sustainable, one design at a time.

Describe your current job.

HO: I am currently working at Mavi as an associate designer. I am researching trends and performing market research that works into Mavi’s brand aesthetic. I develop concepts and themes, including artwork, ideas and silhouettes for collections and prepare all of the design sheets. It’s important to focus on sustainability regarding fabric selections and wash development. I also work on new fits and detail developments with the technical fit team.

What drew you to the denim industry?

HO: I have always been passionate about denim because it’s more than a fabric—it’s a way of life. I think denim has a connection with human character and soul; it’s like an art, transcending cultural boundaries and decades. Designing denim of the future involves creativity, innovation and evolving in accordance with the spirit of the time.

What is your first denim memory?

HO: I remember when I was a child, I was dying for a Levi’s denim jacket in a mid-stonewash with rips. I had to have it! On my birthday, my father bought it for me and I felt like my denim life began at that moment. I didn’t take off it for a long time. It made me think how carefully I choose my clothes, because they say something to the world about me; about who I am. I always feel cool in my jeans.

Since working in denim, has anything surprised you about the denim industry?

HO: The first thing I learned about the denim industry was that it consumes a large amount of water. That fact surprised me a lot! Water scarcity is becoming one of the world’s greatest challenges for the denim industry. On the other hand, it is possible to improve the industry by using less water and making a positive global impact. Nonetheless, many denim companies today are striving to embrace sustainable methods and are also trying to develop new techniques for producing jeans. I believe using sustainable methods at scale will make a big difference.

What are your short- and long-term goals for the industry?

HO: As denim designers, we shouldn’t be focused on producing more. We need to produce fewer and better designs. There is a beauty, an aesthetic and philosophy of producing less. Many of the decisions that determine the environmental impact of a product are made at the design stage, so I’m asking myself how to create a sustainable collection in a world full of greenwashing. It’s important to slow down production and shift to circular practices.

My long-term goal is to learn how to use 3D design programs, as they’re integral to reducing design waste. I’m currently learning VStitcher 3D apparel design software.

Which brands or supply chain partners do you look up to, and why?

HO: Mavi is a highly successful global lifestyle brand with strong roots in denim. Its strategy “All Blue” is built on sustainable growth through quality with people, innovation, dynamism and nature as key values driving the brand. The All Blue collection is the most sustainable one of Mavi so far, which is completely shaped by respect and love for nature.

I have also been closely following Orta Anadolu, Calik, Isko, Kipaş and Denimer, which are working on sustainable denim production. Efficient production techniques and sustainable washing processes are my focus areas, which I expand upon not only as a designer, but also a responsible member of the denim industry.

What do you think the denim industry will learn from the pandemic?

HO: Mindful shopping. Most of us will stop purchasing so many cheap clothes only to throw them away months later. The denim industry must rethink the way it consumes water now. We should be more conscious about consumption and waste. Most denim companies in the last few years have offered some excellent sustainable options—some make jeans that use 100 percent organic cotton, while others use natural indigo dyes or sustainable trims. Sustainability is no longer an option but an imperative. We need to remember that today’s product will be tomorrow’s raw material.

Denim may be just one category within fashion, but in many ways, it is leading the greater industry forward when it comes to sustainability. Comfort and casual looks came to the fore during the pandemic. These features, which are already inherent in blue jeans, made them the most suitable product for the time.

What advice do you have for other young people in the industry? 

HO: The question should be for other young people in the industry: “How can I fix it?” They can focus on things like supply-chain traceability, reversing climate change, efficient water usage, energy and chemicals, respectful work environments, sustainable materials, circular fashion, and better wage systems.

What will be the biggest impact that young people will have on the denim industry in the future?

HO: Denim is one of the most popular types of clothing around the world as we know. Unfortunately, the mass appeal of denim has turned into a problem for our environment and for the people who produce it. Sustainability will be the biggest impact that young people will have on the denim industry, without a doubt. Furthermore, 3D design products will be everywhere in the future.

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