Denim and paper have a long history together. Before jeans were invented, the first paper was made from cotton rags, and once blue jeans became popular, they became an important source of cotton fibers.
In a 2013 article on the use of recycled denim in the US dollar bill, The Washington Post explained that denim had once made up about 30 percent of paper currency’s cotton content. However, the article revealed that once almost all denim styles began integrating spandex in the 1990s, the mill found it too difficult to separate the stretch fibers from the cotton.
Though denim is no longer used in currency, it still used among specialty paper manufacturers. Australian paper company and social enterprise, Paperworks Inc., creates paper from recycled materials, including denim jeans and locally harvested plant fibers, and leads paper-making workshops in the community.
Susanna Pieterse, Paperworks CEO, explained that the company was looking for a cotton source to mix with their recycled paper pulp when they discovered that about 80 percent of denim ends up in the landfill.
Pietrse said, “Considering the immense cost to grow, harvest and process cotton from fiber to jeans, we thought this a crying shame. By using denim for our paper we extend the lifecycle of the cotton. At the end of our products’ life, it can enter mainstream paper recycling.”
In order to find the denim they needed to manufacture paper, Paperworks initially held annual ‘jeans drive’ collection days and bought unwearable denim by the pound from a charity clothes distributor. Then, once local charities discovered what the company was doing, they began supplying the paper company with all the denim they needed.
The artisans of Paperworks create their denim paper by first removing seams, stitching and any metal parts, and then cutting the jeans into small squares. They then put them in a beater tub with water, and the blades of the beater roll across a serrated bedplate, shearing the fabric apart.
Paperworks offers a variety of denim-based paper products. Customers can purchase sheets of paper, which range from Standard Denim, a light blue paper with little texture and a deckled edge, to Frayed Denim, which is deliberately roughly textured with a highly irregular edge. Paperworks also offers denim greeting cards decorated with locally harvested and dried flowers.
Paperworks, is, however, beginning the feel the effects of the demand for athleisure and stretch denim. The mill, known for its denim paper production, is facing the same issue the manufacturer of US currency had, in that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find 100 percent cotton denim. As a result, the mill is beginning to move toward producing with different cotton and linen clothing.