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Here’s How C&A Made the “World’s Most Sustainable Jeans”

What goes with C&A’s “world’s most sustainable T-shirt”? The Belgium-based retailer’s “world’s most sustainable jeans,” of course. 

Like their upper-body counterpart, the jeans are the first retail offering to be certified on a Gold level by California’s non-profit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII). The accomplishment was no small feat: To qualify for a C2C certification, products must undergo a slew of tests for human and environmental health, material reutilization, renewable energy use, carbon management, water stewardship and social justice. Ratings are based on five levels: Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

Though G-Star Raw partnered with Saitex and DyStar to concoct, from 100 percent organic cotton, the first-ever C2C Certified Gold denim, C&A opted for something with a bit more stretch. It worked with Arvind Limited to employ biocompatible elastane from Roica by Asahi Kasei and approved dyes from DyStar, but some components, such as the fabric lining of the waistband, required a complete overhaul.

While polyester knit or non-woven interlinings are popularly employed for their versatility and affordability, they also often contain antimony, a chemical that is verboten under C2C guidelines. (Blends, for the same reason, are also a non-option.) An exclusively cotton interlining, one that proved durable enough for denim, had to be fabricated instead.

Compromises were made, too. When the organic-cotton thread C&A originally selected kept snapping, it worked with Coats to increase the strength by including long-staple (if non-organic) cotton and adding a mercerizing treatment. Finally, when productivity still fell short of the standard levels for jeans, C&A decided to make a share of the products with a polyester thread that was C2C Certified Bronze. A “more exclusive” option, in the meantime, was produced in smaller quantities using cotton thread that had attained Gold certification.

This isn’t where the story ends, however. Finding a thread that hits the sweet spot of quality, productivity and C2C approval remains an ongoing mission, C&A noted.

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C&A Cradle to Cradle Certified Gold Jeans
C&A previously made the world’s first T-shirt to be Cradle to Cradle Certified at the Gold level.

“Designing the most sustainable jeans was a challenge where teams worked diligently for more than a year,” said Jeffrey Hogue, global chief sustainability officer at C&A, which also has headquarters in Germany. “It required a close partnership between C&A and Fashion for Good with various suppliers, the C2C assessors MBDC and Eco Intelligent Growth, led by William McDonough, and the C2CPII. All material properties had to be carefully assessed and tested in line with the rigorous C2C Certified product standards.”

Hogue said C&A is “extremely pleased” with the result. Not only were all components optimized for non-toxicity but only renewable energy and high social standards were applied, “leading to a product that is designed for its next life,” he added, referring to a central tenet of the circular economy, where products are created to be reused and recycled rather than landfilled. 

Like G-Star, which open-sourced its denim through the C2CPII’s Fashion Positive Materials Library for industry use, C&A has made available a guide to developing Cradle to Cradle Certified denim, which it published on Fashion for Good’s website.

The open-source handbook, which contains lessons learned by C&A and Fashion for Good, includes a full of bill of materials, supplier names and other resources so other companies can cook up their own sustainable denim products.

“The collaborative, forward-thinking approach taken by C&A in being the first retailer to create jeans that meet C2C Certified at the Gold level, one of the highest levels of C2C certification, represents another significant milestone in the shift towards truly sustainable fashion,” said Lewis Perkins, president of the C2CPII. “C&A’s decision to provide open access to the source guide for this product is an equally significant contribution to the future of sustainable fashion and the growth of the circular economy.”

C&A’s C2C Certified Gold jeans will be available exclusively through C&A’s website this month.