A scientist who has spent more than 15 years developing innovative, sustainable, wearable technologies and smart materials, Dr. Amanda Parkes has worked with leading fashion companies and boundary-pushing startups. For nearly four years, Parkes has held the role of chief innovation officer at material science company and sustainable lifestyle product collective Pangaia. She also leads innovation at Future Tech Lab, an investment firm focused on the development of biofabrications and disruptive fashion technology.
Under Parkes’ direction, Pangaia launched its first denim collection last fall in partnership with veteran designer Jonathan Cheung, who also advises Unspun, a Bay Area denim innovator looking to bring made-to-order, 3D-woven jeans to the masses. The line was developed using a first-of-its-kind fabrication—a 13-ounce, 92 percent organic cotton and 18 percent Himalayan nettle blend woven on Candiani Denim’s shuttle loom. The durable nettle fiber, commonly used for products like rugs, is regenerative and less water-intensive than other crops. Since then, Pangaia has launched additional denim products that tap into consumers’ interest in hemp-blended workwear and custom-fitting jeans.
“We are working towards other new innovations in our denim portfolio to bring an entirely new material library into commercial reality,” Parkes said.
What denim buzzword do you think is overused? And what would you replace it with?
Acid wash. Not sure if it’s overused but I hated the effect when it was first popular in the ’80s and now the name literally screams “toxic process” to me. Let’s get rid of it.
What do you wish more consumers knew about the jeans they buy?
What an incredible technology denim is, masquerading in something as simple as a pair of jeans. Also, that there can be a lot of hidden and toxic parts of producing denim products—from adding petrochemical based spandex to polluting chemical treatments and washes. Look for the brands that offer transparency around ethical practices for people and planet.
If you had one request for denim brands, what would that be?
Think beyond conventional cotton. As a material science brand, we are looking to find alternatives to resource-intensive materials such as conventionally grown cotton, as well as looking at new manufacturing technologies. The way we look at denim innovation is holistic: from farming, design, to production. We make our denim with wild Himalayan nettle, which is grown without cultivation or pesticides.
What can other apparel categories learn from the denim industry?
Denim often gets better with age and wear, and jeans are a truly democratic and inclusive piece of clothing. As we look to build a more sustainable fashion industry, we can learn from how denim has transcended its function should take the lessons learned from denim—make things durable and made from bio-based materials that last.
What was your most recent denim purchase?
Besides our new Pangaia nettle denim (I got the jacket when we launched), I’m a big fan of Mother Denim, the only brand I’ve bought for many years now. Their denim is amazingly soft and comfortable, and the cuts are brilliant, they seem to flatter in every size. My last purchase was summer 2021—the Insider Crop Step Fray in Lagoon, a beautiful turquoise ankle crop that’s perfect for spring and summer.
What is your first denim memory?
As a kid in L.A., I have fond memories of Dittos, Jordache and Guess until high school when we discovered vintage and then scoured all the thrift stores for the best vintage Levi’s. I still have some of those pairs, and they are probably worth more now than when I bought them.