The Quest to Make Jeans More Sustainable

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New guidelines lay out better denim manufacturing practices that focus on garment durability, recyclability, and traceability.

Denim manufacturers and designers have agreed that it's time to rethink the way jeans are made. The popular denim pants of today are a far cry from the tough workwear that they were originally designed to be, and are often so stretchy, distressed, and heavily dyed that they last a fraction of the time that their less-trendy predecessors did. The old saying, "They don't make them like they used to," is particularly fitting when it comes to modern jeans.

In an effort to fix this problem, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (tasked in 2010 with "accelerating the transition to a circular economy") has just released a set of guidelines called 'Jeans Redesign.' The guidelines strive to tackle waste, pollution, and other harmful practices in the denim industry. From a press release:

"The Jeans Redesign Guidelines set out minimum requirements on garment durability, material health, recyclability and traceability. The guidelines are based on the principles of the circular economy and will work to ensure jeans last longer, can easily be recycled, and are made in a way that is better for the environment and the health of garment workers."

The guidelines include the following suggestions:

– Designing so that a pair of jeans can withstand at least 30 washes
– Garment includes clear product care information on labels
– Contains at least 98 percent cellulose fibers made from regenerative, organic or transitional farming methods
– Does not use hazardous chemicals, conventional electroplating, stone finishing, sandblasting, or potassium permanganate in finishing
– Does not contain metal rivets (or keeps these to a minimum)
– Jeans are easy to disassemble for recycling
– Information easily available regarding each component of the garment

Jeans that comply can use the Jeans Redesign logo, which "will be reassessed annually, based on compliance with reporting requirements."

The guidelines were created with input from over 40 denim experts, including academia, brands, retailers, manufacturers, collectors/sorters, and NGOs, and have a confirmed list of participants, including C&A;, H&M;, GAP, Vero Mode, Arving, Mud Jeans, Lee Jeans, Tommy Hilfiger, and more. They have been endorsed by clothing recyclers and ethical fashion campaign group Fashion Revolution. Shoppers can find them on sale by 2020.

A representative from Make Fashion Circular, the subgroup of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that was launched at last year's Copenhagen Fashion Summit and came up with these guidelines, stated:

"The way we produce jeans is causing huge problems with waste and pollution, but it doesn’t have to be this way. By working together we can create jeans that last longer, that can be remade into new jeans at the end of their use, and are made in ways which are better for the environment and the people that make them."

It's certainly a great step in the right direction. Everyone owns and wears jeans, so it's a logical place to start in the gargantuan task of making the fashion industry at least somewhat more sustainable. I know I'll be looking for that logo when shopping for my next pair of jeans.