Fibers—and their impact on the environment—are often the point of contention between denim purists and innovators in the cotton-rich supply chain. However, a new sustainability report by Edited reveals space for all types of sustainable fibers.
Though conventional cotton remains the go-to fiber for denim, the retail analytics firm points to inflated cotton prices and water and energy use associated with the fiber as reasons leading retailers to diversify their assortments with other natural fibers.
Products described as containing organic cotton components have seen 17 percent year-over-year growth. “Organic cotton uses 91 percent less water to grow than conventional cotton and avoids toxic pesticides and chemicals,” Edited said.
Recycled cotton has seen 125 percent year-over-year growth, however it as not as widely adopted at organic cotton. One reason, the report noted, may be challenges with continuing the recycling process.
“Recycled cotton often needs to be blended with other fibers to improve the quality, making it harder to recycle at a later stage,” Edited said.
Hemp has seen a 15 percent year-over-year increase with brands like Levi’s, Mavi, Pangaia, Everlane, Madewell and Eileen Fisher adding it to their denim ranges. Edited’s data shows that more than 1,100 hemp products were in stock from April 2021 to April 2022 in the U.S. and U.K.
The number of waterless concepts for denim is climbing as well, up 32 percent year-over-year. Nearly 1,700 waterless denim products were in stock in the U.S. and U.K. from April 2021 to April 2022, thanks in part to the denim supply chain’s considerable investments in water-saving techniques.
Edited said retailers spanning Levi’s, Uniqlo, John Elliott, and Banana Republic all favor this approach to sustainability.
Stocking waterless denim requires transparency and a deep understanding of the manufacturing process, however.
Edited calls out the vagueness surrounding the Conscious Edit range from Express. The brand wants 75 percent of its jeans to be made with some conscious materials by 2026. Express marketing emails define ‘conscious’ denim as made with at least 10 percent recycled materials and cleaner dye techniques than traditional practices.
“There is an emphasis on water reduction, aiming to conserve 50 million gallons by 2026, yet no mention of what the dye techniques are,” Edited said.
Alongside water reduction, “denim buyers also need to consider more eco finishes, such as alternatives to pumice stone washes that generate high carbon emissions and cut out harsh chemicals like PP (potassium permanganate) in favor of neutral enzymes in cold recycled water,” Edited said.