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Denim Minds Under 30: Danielle Elsener

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.

For Danielle Elsener, founder of the zero waste design label Decode, has a bigger dream for the denim industry that doesn’t involve the topic of sustainability.

Describe your current job.

Danielle Elsener: I am currently running my label, Decode, which focuses on creating interactive and informative zero waste garments. This is done by creating tools and giving workshops around my zero waste design system. I am also a consultant that works with multiple brands on creating zero waste design solutions for the fashion industry.

What drew you to the denim industry?

DE: I have loved the denim industry for such a long time—somewhat from afar. I truly began to delve into it during my time at Royal College of Art within the last two years. My zero waste collection caught the eye of Mohsin Sajid, founder of Endrime and Denim History, who sponsored the denim for my collection. Having such an amazing resource like Mohsin made falling in love with denim that much easier! Getting to pick his brain, go through his archives and be introduced to industry contacts was amazing. The denim industry feels like a giant family where everyone knows everyone else and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.

Getting to work with Kaihara Mill, Jeanologia, and YKK was absolutely amazing. Though my final collection got cut short due to Covid, I still managed to finish a few of my zero waste design pieces, with plans for more in the future.

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What is your first denim memory?

DE: I used to work at a day camp growing up and one year when I was around 15 I had everyone at camp sign my jeans at the end of the summer. They were white wash bell-bottoms that are many sizes too small these days, but I have kept them with me through multiple moves over the years because of the memories attached to those jeans.

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

DE: My first surprise was how advanced the industry is becoming. For such a historical garment and method of make, I was impressed how certain parts of the industry have adapted new technology to create more sustainable methods of working. This includes wash and dye strategies, treatments and finishings.

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

DE: In the short-term, everyone should be talking about sustainability at every single trade show, brief, collection launch, retailer, etc. It should be the forefront of every discussion to continue making change.

My long-term goal is to not have to talk about sustainability. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but if everyone is committed to having sustainability be the driving force behind advancements, over time it should become a given—not something we have to fight for.

On a more personal note, I believe everything should be zero waste. Whether that’s through pattern cutting or recycling technology, it’s an absolute necessity.

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

DE: Jeanologia is a company that is truly changing the industry through its laser and wash technology. I had the opportunity to visit the facility in Valencia, Spain before the pandemic hit, and I was blown away with the capabilities of the machinery. Everything is done with sustainability in mind.

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

DE: I believe the industry will learn to adapt like it’s never adapted before. Suddenly halting the supply chain during this harsh reset has made consumers think more than ever about what they need to buy. They make more poignant purchases, which will in turn lead to companies creating a more refined offering, rather than adding more to the noise.

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

DE: My best advice is to ask “stupid” questions! You’re young enough to not be looked at like you’re crazy, but you’re educated enough to take those answers and translate them into something you can influence. Knowing the full spectrum of an industry is how you can truly change it.

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

DE: The biggest impact young people will have on the industry is bringing a better work/life balance and sense of empathy to the workforce. Life matters will come first because we realize that the world is constantly changing and we need to appreciate the time and people that we have around us. Allowing time to unwind brings greater creativity and a higher capacity to solve the long-term, complex problems of the fashion industry.