A recent report from The Nature Conservancy and Bain & Company found that an estimated 120,000 million metric tons of synthetic microfibers are released into the environment annually at the pre-consumer stage. This type of pollution has infiltrated even the most remote areas of the Arctic: In 2020, microfibers were found in surface sediment samples collected from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Laurentian Great Lakes and shallow suburban lakes in southern Ontario.
Headlines like these are inspiring companies like Patagonia and Samsung to develop a washing machine that minimizes the number of microfibers that seep into waterways through laundering. They are also the driving force behind Pakistani vertical jeans manufacturer AGI Denim’s latest collaboration with Simply Suzette founder and sustainable denim and communication specialist Ani Wells.
Their collection, called Inhale, features eight denim garments made with fabrics that explore circular design and different solutions for reducing microfiber pollution. Denim microfibers shed from clothing during production and home washing processes, which in turn threaten the livelihood of animals and people that inhale and ingest the fibers. When fibers contain plastic—as used in stretch denim and other synthetic fabrics—the potential for damage increases, as they take longer to degrade.
Inhale features fabrics made from natural fibers like organic and recycled cotton, linen and Tencel and Cradle to Cradle-certified hemp. Select pieces feature EcoMade Lycra, a Global Recycled Standard (GRS)-certified fiber made from pre-consumer recycled materials blended with virgin polymer for stretch.
Several fabrics are left in their natural color to minimize their environmental impact, while other fabrics are colored using either pre-reduced indigo or mineral dyes. The water used in the dye process for select pieces is closed-loop recycled to further reduce the line’s environmental footprint. Other pieces are made using double zero technology, which generates zero waste-water in both dyeing and finishing.
While all clothing—natural or synthetic—generates microfiber pollution, petro-based fibers can add to the toxicity levels of water and soil.
“Scientists don’t fully understand the effects microfibers can have on surrounding environments and wildlife, but all in all it is best to let Mother Nature take its cycle without disrupting it too much,” Wells said. “There is no avoiding microfibers, but the release of them can be slowed down—that’s why we chose fabrics with a durable tight weave and natural fiber content so wearers are able to air their pieces in between wears versus washing them every time to eliminate any odor buildup.”
Carl Chiara, global creative director at AGI Denim, said that natural fibers also help achieve a more authentic look.
“With this focus on natural fibers, we were able to achieve new aesthetics that feel much more high-character and modern than fabrics that have a lot of poly and stretch,” he said. “Natural fibers are also going to age more beautifully, which was also important to us. We want to create clothing that can last longer and feel just as fresh in five or 10 years as it does today.”
The collection was developed in line with select targets from the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs), which set a framework for achieving ambitious environmental, economic and social targets.
“The collection started with the motive to explore different solutions to stopping microfiber pollution with SDG14: Life Below Water and SDG15: Life on Land and in mind,” Wells said. “Often times, we only discuss the fibers that are responsible for this type of pollution, but we wanted to take a holistic approach to looking at the impact.
Intended to serve as an example of how AGI Denim’s clients can utilize these products and processes in their own collections, Inhale spans everyday items from a button-down shirt and straight-leg jeans to a utility jacket and overalls.
The collection also highlights circular design, which Wells noted should be the byproduct of any sustainable item. During the design process, Wells, who recently developed a sustainable denim capsule collection with Soorty, ensured that products feature organic pocketing, recycled thread, wood buttons and metal hardware that can be easily removed with a screwdriver.