Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Make Fashion Circular project manager
Laura Balmond
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Make Fashion Circular project manager


For the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), jeans are just the starting point for fashion’s circular future.

Deep Dive

For the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), jeans are just the starting point for fashion’s circular future.

In 2018, the foundation began its Jeans Redesign initiative, led by Laura Balmond, bringing together as many as 80 experts in jean production to establish guidelines for upcycle-ready denim.

Ensuring that denim is ready for its next life begins with product development, with traceable, recyclable materials and with durable design, EMF’s circular endeavor is catching on. Roughly 50 mills and major brands, including Gap, H&M and Guess, have signed on for the project, committing to collectively produce 650,000 jeans that the guidelines by May 2021.

Today, only about 1 percent of apparel is recycled, but this joint effort has the potential to scale circularity and save textiles from landfills or incinerators.

What will the denim industry be like in the next 18 months?

Over the next 18 months, all the Jeans Redesign participants will have made their jeans available on the market. We hope to see this set into motion a ripple effect, leading to the exploration and creation of a wider selection of products in line with circular economy principles.

We know the entire fashion industry is facing difficulties post-pandemic. However, the denim industry has been quietly innovating solutions on regenerative agriculture, green chemistry, increasing recycled inputs, reducing water and energy use, which will be more valued and more important than ever. It will be exciting to see these innovations being widely adopted and will be key to keeping denim firmly at the heart of fashion.

What change would you like to see in the denim industry as a result of Covid-19?

The near instant stop on purchasing has highlighted the need to find new ways to meet customer needs and create value from clothes. There is a need to shift the incentives, from selling more to using more.

This kind of innovation in business models will need true collaboration between all stakeholders across the fashion value chain. The reward of such collaboration is the opportunity to collectively build back better, and the creation of a more resilient fashion industry.

How do you define sustainability in a post-pandemic world?

Over the last few months, we have seen the fashion industry’s ability to adapt quickly, particularly regarding rapid production of personal protective equipment. This agile and open attitude to change can continue to be a strength in building a thriving fashion industry for the future. Post-pandemic, the focus will be on restorative practices for both people and the environment; this does not mean less bad, but implementing solutions that really build back better for all.

Describe your dream jeans.

It’s perhaps no surprise that my dream jeans would meet the Jeans Redesign requirements. On top of that, they would probably be dark indigo, slim fit jeans that will look great for a day out or an evening with friends.

What is your most worn pair of jeans, and why?

A pair of black jeans, which I got hold of secondhand online two years ago. They are so versatile that I can wear them for most occasions, whether that’s a weekend walk, a day in the office or a public presentation. Plus, they are still looking great.

Name one word that best describes denim.