New Jeans – You’re Hired

“I like your new jeans.”

“Thanks Mum,” I said, “but they aren’t actually mine…”

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The fast fashion industry has come under the spotlight in recent months, as people have realised just how much water, chemicals and energy are needed to make a simple t-shirt. And globally it is estimated that we are now producing 100 billion garments and 20 billion shoes every year. The Chair of a Select Committee put it well, when announcing Parliament’s first ever inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry: “Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact.”

One of the worst offenders is something that most of us have quite a few pairs of – jeans. In fact, 70m new pairs are sold in the UK each year. Recent reports have shown that it takes 2,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans – half of this is to grow the cotton and the rest to turn it into jeans. That’s equivalent to 20 baths. Then there’s all the energy, pesticides and chemicals required to process the cotton into denim and make them look “sand-blasted” or vintage. 

I was shocked to find out how bad a typical pair of fast-fashion jeans were for the world, so I set out to find an alternative…

They broadly fall into three categories…

Organic

Ethical Consumer lists a range of different jeans that are sustainably produced and organically sourced. These include Monkee Genes priced at £60 and Kuyichi at £100. The European Fashion Retailer C&A have also recently produced the world’s first Cradle to Cradle certified jeans, costing only £25.

However, this feels to me much like switching from intensively-farmed beef to organic beef. If you can afford it then it’s undeniably a good thing to do for the welfare of the animals and the quality of the product but you are ultimately still eating beef, which has a big environmental impact.

Circular Economy

A couple of European manufacturers are taking a more interesting approach and embracing the circular economy.

Nudie make sustainable jeans like the others but then they offer you free repairs for life! They repaired nearly 50,000 pairs of jeans in 2017, saving 40,000kg of clothes from being thrown away and over 300m litres of water. The bad news is that they are a luxury item, costing £120 and to take advantage of the free repairs you will need to go to Hipster London (Shoreditch or Soho) or wait for their periodic repair roadshow to appear somewhere nearer you.

Another unusual option is the “Lease a Jean” model from MUD, which is proving popular in other parts of Europe. You pay a one-off signing-on fee (£26), a delivery fee (£7.50) and then a rolling £6.30 a month to lease a pair of jeans. MUD retain ownership of the jeans and will repair them for free or pay for someone local to do so. After a year, you can choose to keep paying and lease a second pair, or stop and keep the jeans as long as you wish. Whenever you decide you are done with them, MUD will take them back and turn them into something else. It’s not cheap (I make it £109 for the first year and £80 thereafter) but there is something quite alluring about the concept. 

Denim innovation

Finally, of course, there is the option of ditching the denim. There is a scramble underway to come up with a sustainable alternative. 

These guys claim to have developed compostible denim, that biodegrades in a couple of months. 

Levis have been making jeans out of 20% waste plastic bottles for a few years now. 

And others are using old jeans as insulation.

All interesting and exciting ideas but no one has found a silver bullet just yet.

 

So what did I choose? I went for the MUD leasing idea, so I am now the proud owner of a lovely pair of jeans that I don’t actually own! 

Cue a number of very strange conversations with my friends and family…

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