In July, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) called on the denim industry to turn circularity into a reality.
In partnership with the foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative, the EMF launched a Jeans Redesign project complete with guidelines that set minimum requirements on garment durability, material health, recyclability and traceability. Global brands signed onto the project and were later joined by fabric mills when the foundation set up additional guidelines for these denim suppliers.
Now, almost a full year later, the EMF is introducing a new cohort of brands and fabric mills to its roster. Wrangler, Banana Republic and Naveena Denim Mills are some of the companies adding their names to the list of businesses committed to denim’s circular future.
And not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop them.
“Despite the challenging times for the industry, we are extremely encouraged by the continued momentum behind the Jeans Redesign, through both companies continuing to join and the progress of the existing participants,” said Francois Souchet, Make Fashion Circular lead. “Although current events are slightly evolving the exact product launch timings, we will be looking forward to seeing the first redesigned jeans on the market starting this autumn.”
It’s not just ethics or good press alone that’s making these companies agree to a circular process. Many in the fashion industry predict there will be a greater push for more mindfully created garments post-coronavirus, as financial and social hardships are making consumers differentiate between what they want and what they need.
The success of EMF Jeans Redesign participants makes a strong case for other companies getting on board. Rivet caught up with some of the denim brands and mills that signed onto the project last year for an update on their progress and a peek at upcoming circular collections.
With water-saving programs and employee development opportunities under its belt, Gap has had a sharp focus on social and environmental responsibility for years. When the brand caught wind of the Jeans Redesign project, it was a natural step forward.
“Expectations have been changing, and we knew we needed to change with them,” said Mary Bruno, Gap’s vice president, denim design, women and kids. “Ellen MacArthur represented an opportunity to really dig in and figure out a way to make denim as sustainably as we could.”
Though mill and factory closures as a result of the coronavirus have pushed the launch date for these products from Fall 2020 to Spring 2021, Bruno remains confident in the upcoming collection. Gap partnered with Cone Mills to develop a 100 percent cellulosic fabric that’s featured in a six-piece collection for men and women.
Aside from denim, the brand also used the opportunity to reconsider its shipping methods, replacing plastic bags with a box lined with natural coating.
As a signatory member of the UN Global Compact, the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, and the Science Based Targets initiative for reduction of greenhouse gases, Cone Denim is taking an all-encompassing approach to lessen its environmental impact.
The denim mill was one of the first mills to participate in the Jeans Redesign project, and has implemented the ZDHC Manufacturing Restricted Substances List and wastewater guidelines at all of its manufacturing facilities. It’s also adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with annual reporting, joined the UN CEO Water Mandate with annual reporting and participates in the HIGG FEM program, which measures things like energy and water use.
Steve Maggard, Cone Denim’s president, is excited for the project’s future.
“The collaborative spirit from our brand partners is very encouraging, and we can only truly achieve these goals and make differences in our industry by coming together and learning together,” he said. “We are excited by the energy and commitment within the denim community, and believe there are many more opportunities to drive sustainable collaborations ahead.”
Martijn Hagman, chief financial officer, Tommy Hilfiger Global and chief operating officer, Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe, knows that circularity is especially crucial for larger denim brands to adopt.
“As a global leader in denim, Tommy Hilfiger has a responsibility to drive the transition to a circular economy for denim,” he said.
The brand joined the project in 2019 and has completed the first prototypes according to the guidelines. It’s now in the sample stage, and plans to showcase later this year for Spring 2021. Products from the collection will use 100 percent organic cotton and responsibly sourced pocketing and labels, and will be created with innovative technologies for water and energy efficiency.
The EMF Jeans Redesign initiative is one of many the brand follows as part of its Make it Possible sustainability program, which Hagman said aims to “create fashion that wastes nothing and welcomes all.”
Pakistan’s largest vertically integrated denim manufacturer, Soorty is an agent of change in the industry. It launched its Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified fabric program nearly two years ago, and has made circularity a main priority ever since. It was drawn to the Jeans Redesign project for its sharp focus on denim.
“The circularity economy remains, at present, the most significant topic for all of us in the denim industry,” said Umer Tahir Rana, Soorty’s marketing communications manager, garments. “Ultimately, we came across…the Jeans Redesign project, and it was the only circular fashion initiative that was offering an enhanced circularity guideline for the denim industry.”
The mill has since developed all of the necessary tools for creating vertical circular products, and is now presenting the project with buyers.
“I think it would be too early to anticipate any such innovations or collaborations coming out of it for a while, but it’s for sure helping and reshaping the denim industry,” Rana said.
As a brand built on a foundation of social and environmental mindfulness, Outland Denim is committed to using its business for good. According to founding CEO James Bartle, much of the brand’s range already met many of the foundation’s requirements when it signed on as a participant in 2019. It uses organic cotton, vegetable and organic dyes free of harmful chemicals, and has reduced its use of rivets and elastane.
Using the requirements set by the Jeans Redesign project, the brand has created new silhouettes including the Amy wide leg, a high-rise jean made with a blend of recycled and organic cotton woven together with Lyocell, as well as chambray shirting for men and women made with 100 percent organic vegetable dyed cotton and efficient water and energy-saving processes.
While the brand has made significant strides in circular fashion—and it’s currently working on new technology that changes how the industry manages its post-industrial and post-consumer waste—Bartle says there’s still more work to be done to ensure the full range of product meets the highest standards.
“As we research and innovate, our aim is to create a product that actually creates a positive environmental, social and economic impact—something not yet seen in the garment industry today,” he said.