Mary Bruno is striking out on her own with a sustainability mission.
After more than 25 years working in the denim world at brands ranging from Levi’s and Earl Jean to J Brand and Gap, Mary Bruno is striking out on her own with a sustainability mission.
While environmental responsibility had been an industry focus, she believed that true change could only happen by founding a label with an eco-friendly DNA.
Bruno’s Life After Death Denim considers every step of the production process to reduce the impact of its jeans. This includes sourcing recycled and deadstock fabrics and trims, reducing water consumption in the wash process by almost 90 percent, and eliminating harmful chemicals.
Outside of production, the label is rethinking aspects including the amount of packaging needed and how raw materials are transported to limit its carbon footprint. The brand also produces in Bruno’s home base of Los Angeles, supporting the local garment industry.
What will the denim industry be like in the next 18 months?
Our industry will be smaller and more nimble in 18 months. Unfortunately, a lot of good brands have not been able to withstand the uncertainty of the denim market. Many brands and retailers did not have the financial means to weather the storm. Everyone changed what they wore overnight. And the longer we worked from home, the less denim people wore. The brands that are taking this opportunity to really get to know their customers and pivot to meet their customers where they are now, will be the brands that survive. The idea that customers will want to buy new clothing every season is outdated. Shipping denim to stores in July when it’s 80 degrees outside or denim shorts in February when it’s 30 degrees is antiquated, yet we all still do it.
What is one thing that you would like to see change in the denim industry as a result of Covid-19?
I see the outbreak of this virus as a catalyst for tremendous change in our industry. This is our industry’s time to innovate. Innovate in fabric, innovate in wash, innovate in the development process and innovate the shopping experience.
The apparel industry has never been quick to adopt new technologies to simplify our industry. There are technologies available today to simplify and streamline development at almost every step of the process. We are at the tip of the iceberg in adding sustainability measures, 3D virtual fittings and virtual shopping experiences. I believe the shutdown made us realize we need to begin to evolve how we build our line and how we sell it. Having that time to pause and stop making product for a moment made us realize how necessary it is.
How do you define sustainability in a post-pandemic world?
This is our time to reimagine our industry. Sustainability and circularity in design must be at the forefront of everything we do. We need to design with the garment end of life in mind at the beginning of the process. We cannot wait until the end to figure out what to do with the damage we created. We need to make sure we have embedded sustainability in every step of the product. How we grow and create fibers, what we use to dye our yarns and what happens to that dye at the end. Will we eliminate the maximum amount of waste in the manufacturing process? Can we completely eliminate unnecessary and hazardous chemicals in the wash process? Can we accelerate on-demand manufacturing to eliminate the need to incinerate fabric and garments because there is no wholesale or retail market for them? We can and we must.
I think consumers will be more thoughtful when they buy a pair of jeans going forward. I think consumers will value quality in a new way. I believe people will be buying less clothing and when they do buy, they will take the time to understand where it comes from, what it’s made from, who made it and what makes it sustainable.
Describe your dream jeans.
Soft, sumptuous and sustainable!
Lightweight fabric, loosely woven chunky yarns with just the right amount of slub. The fiber content would be mostly cotton with touch of stretch, a little bit of hemp, Tencel or bamboo for that cool, airy feeling. I want that extra ease you get from stretch for sitting in front of my computer for hours a day.
The fit needs to be a high rise with a loose straight leg. The wash would be clean with a simple red casted organic indigo shade and softly worn edges. My dream jean would have to be sustainable in every way possible. Made with organic yarns and dyes. A 100 percent chemical-free wash process and free of unnecessary trims and packaging. All the elements are out there. I just need them all in one jean. You did say dream?
What is your most worn pair of jeans, and why?
My most worn pair is a pair of Levi Cap E jeans. They were rigid when I got them 25 years ago. I was new to wash development at the time and came up with some crazy wash process to abrade them and make them look naturally worn, when I was playing around at a laundry in El Paso, Texas. They look great, but every time I wear them they surprise me with a new tear or hole. It’s getting exhausting repairing them every time I wear them. The seat gave out a while back and I put a dead-stock ‘70s patch with a fish on it that says “Kiss my bass.” I don’t wear them that much anymore, but they make the cut every time I clean my denim closet.
Name one word that describes denim to you.