Dame Ellen MacArthur grew up with a fierce passion for sailing, buying her own dinghy as a teen. On the water, she developed an appreciation for the fragility of the world’s finite resources, and the responsibility to protect them. Five years after becoming the fastest solo sailor to make it around the globe in 2005, she launched a charity designed to advance the circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation aims to establish an economic system that benefits people and planet, creating and funding research about how to combat climate change and biodiversity loss. Over the past 12 years, she and her group have worked to develop a network of leaders in government, academia, NGOs and business, including designers and innovators looking to change the way their industries function.
That commitment has extended to the fashion realm and has trickled down to one of the industry’s most resource-intensive fabrics: denim. In July 2019, the Ellen MacArthur Make Fashion Circular Initiative launched the Jeans Redesign Project—a set of minimum requirements for fabric durability, material health, recyclability and traceability that are based on the principles of the circular economy. The effort brought together dozens of brands, retailers, manufacturers, and others, who lent their expertise to creating the project’s standards. Companies who commit to these standards agree to make jeans that last longer and can be easily recycled. They must also be made in an environment that is better for the world’s ecology, and worker health.
In the ensuing years, the Jeans Redesign Project has advanced, bringing in more partners and adding more voices to the discussion about the denim circular economy. In July 2021, the platform added a mandatory recycled content requirement, reflecting the industry’s ambition to push forward in bringing new life to old textiles. To date, more than half a million jeans have been produced under project guidelines.