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Recycled and Organic Cotton Denim Gain Market Share: Edited

The denim industry is hard at work greening its supply chain, but one of the ways it’s cleaning up its act is currently dominating at retail. 

In-stock denim options incorporating recycled content have increased 28 percent in the U.K. and 18 percent in the U.S. year-over-year, according to Edited’s report, “The Sustainability Edit.” 

The word “recycled” is the most popular sustainability-based keyword in product descriptions overall, featured in 20 percent of in-stock denim options and outpacing “organic” with 13 percent, the global retail analytics firm said. Lyocell is featured in 5 percent of in-stock denim, followed by modal with 2 percent and hemp with 1 percent. 

Jeans with recycled content may also be the most accessible, in terms of cost. The report found that they have the lowest average price tag in the UK at 50.40 pounds, or approximately $64. In the U.S., they carried a higher average price of $102.74, though this was still the second-lowest average of the keywords, behind modal, Edited said. 

The prevalence of recycled denim is attributed to the overall increased awareness about the lifecycle of garments and circular initiatives such as the Ellen MacArthur’s Jeans Redesign guidelines. Edited noted that in 2022, Marks & Spencer, Zara and Monki committed to make jeans from recycled or renewable inputs as the guidelines specify. Notably, Zara and Marks & Spencer’s collections also included circular options for kids.

Marks & Spencer unveiled a denim collection for men, women and kids designed in line with the Ellen MacArthur Jeans Redesign guidelines.
Marks & Spencer Courtesy

Another form of keeping garments in rotation is raising awareness about denim’s durability and longevity as well. Upcycled denim products made with vintage or deadstock fabrics, such as Re/Done x Ford and Sami Miro Vintage x Levi’s, were “among the buzziest upcycled collections of 2022,” Edited reported. 

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Though less available in the mass market, Edited pointed out that these limited-edition garments or one-of-a-kind pieces are also good for generating “exclusively high price tags.”

This focus on fashion’s end-of-life is also igniting interest in biodegradability. Edited noted that brands like Pepe Jeans and G-Star Raw are incorporating biodegradable ingredients like mushroom patches and Roica V550 fiber into their jeans, though this is a small portion of in-stock denim at less than 1 percent. 

Used by Levi’s, Ganni, Superdry and Weekday, organic cotton is also seeing gains in denim. In-stock organic cotton jeans options have increased by 28 percent and 14 percent year-over-year, across men’s wear and women’s wear, respectively. 

However, the same can’t be said for textiles overall. Edited said organic cotton options in apparel have decreased 20 percent year-over-year, driven down by inflation and low supply. 

While organic cotton is a key ingredient in sustainable denim—boosted by mill-led programs like Soorty Organic Cotton Initiative and Milliner Organic, the amount of organic cotton used in jeans varies. Edited noted that Superdry has converted all of its jeans to organic cotton, while Ganni’s garden-inspired collaboration with Levi’s incorporated at least 55 percent of the fiber. 

The cost of organic cotton jeans also covered a broad sweep of the jeans market. Edited reports that average cost of organic cotton jeans is 55.17 pounds ($69.55) in the U.K. and $97.52 in the U.S. In the U.K., Zara’s cheapest organic cotton jeans—a pair of mom jeans with at least 50 percent OCS-certified organic cotton—retail for 29.99 pounds (approximately $38).

The higher average price tag in the U.S. is “hiked up by more premium offerings” like the Ganni x Levi’s collaboration. For example, the brands cooked up a baggy bootcut jean made with 60 percent organic cotton that retails for $295.  

Outside of the cotton sphere, Edited said renewable fibers derived from wood pulp like lyocell and modal are making inroads in the market. The fibers are featured across 5 percent and 2 percent of in-stock denim, respectively. In-stock denim options with hemp increased 14 percent year-over-year, but the fiber continues to have highest average price point for both regions. Brands like Pangaia, Levi’s and Mavi are also building product stories around environmentally friendly dyes and water-saving finishing processes.