The New Denim Project is a family affair, with co-founder Arianne Engelberg working alongside sister Joanna and father Jaime in a circular design lab startup within their Guatemalan third-generation textile mill Iris Textiles. But the family has grown to include like-minded companies who share their vision.
Via its recently launched Circularity System that helps smaller brands recycle at scale, The New Denim Projects collects, sorts and upcycles post-industrial textile and denim waste from local garment factories, grinding the scraps back into chemical-free, dye-free fiber that is spun and woven into upcycled fabric and/or finished goods in the company’s curated textile collection.
Even cottonseed and cotton lint leftover from upcycling gets a new life; it is passed on to coffee-growers Finca San Jeronimo Miramar, who use it as compost to cultivate coffee in the Guatemalan highlands. Partner denim brand Still Here NY was inspired to turn their own scraps into compost, and even sells Still Here coffee beans at their store.
“This is more than a process,” said Engelberg about inspiring others. “It is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, guiding us in changing our practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become valuable resources for others to use.”
Even the 2020 Outerknown face mask collab grew into a men’s wear and women’s wear capsules made from closed loop upcycled denim textiles. “We are seeing a stimulating demand for responsible and recycled materials, for implementing clothing collection at scale, for pursuing technological innovation as well as aligning denim design with regenerative processes,” she said. “And that is certainly relieving and exciting.”
What denim buzzword do you think is overused? And what would you replace it with?
Indigo, perhaps? The use of real indigo in the denim industry is minimal to non-existent. Most denim uses synthetic indigo (fossil fuel-based), manufactured from raw materials obtained from the petrochemical industry and used on a large scale in the commercial production of blue jeans.
What do you wish more consumers knew about the jeans they buy?
In order to get cheap prices, the industry has shifted to very cheap materials: synthetics, primarily polyester. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber, now used in more than 50 percent of clothing production (and taking more than 200 years to decompose). From 1980 to today, we have gone from producing 5 million metric tons of polyester to 70 million metric tons. Fast fashion is fueled by this disastrous material. A non-biodegradable, non-breathable, energy intensive fiber, identified as a major contributor to the issue of microplastics entering the ocean, which is a growing concern because of the associated negative environmental and health implications. It has been estimated that around half a million tons of plastic microfibers shed during the washing of plastic-based textiles such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic end up in the ocean annually.
Consumers need to make sure to look for organic, natural and preferably recycled materials in your denim. Read the labels, always!
If you had one request for denim brands, what would that be?
Let’s get to work! Contact us for more information on our closed-loop denim qualities: upcycled, circular, chemical-free, dye-free and synthetics-free. We are keen to grow our denim community.
What can other apparel categories learn from the denim industry?
A great garment should be able to stand the test of time. As we say: “Textiles do not refer to pieces of cloth—textiles are the framework of our second skin. They involve an artistic process, a transformation of fibers, evidence of the creative mind. Fabrics tell us stories, breathing history, telling us what is happening and where we’re going. Textiles make culture.”
What was your most recent denim purchase?
An ecru denim work jacket and a gauze denim camp shirt from Industry of All Nations.
What is your first denim memory?
My mom’s ’80s quilted denim jacket.