“We think recycling is fun,” Bert Van Son, the CEO and founder of Mud Jeans, told me.
The Dutch denim company has created a leasing system, called “Lease A Jeans.” Clients have the option of leasing their jeans, for a €20.00 deposit and €5.95 for each month of use for a year. The lease includes repair services, should you rip your jeans. After a year’s lease, the jeans can be swapped for a new pair, bought outright, or simply returned.
The jeans themselves hit just about every box on the ethical apparel checklist. They use GOTS-certified organic cotton or recycled fibers. They’re made in fair-trade factories in Italy, for distribution in Europe.
And of course, the company ensures that every garment that comes back to them gets recycled, and the jeans are made with printed labels instead of leather labels to make recycling easier. The jeans are either re-leased in their used condition, or the cloth is upcycled into other garments, like shoes and sweatshirts. Sweatshirts are also available for lease and purchase.
But the most exciting thing about Mud Jeans is that they essentially close the loop, creating a model for reducing the amount of waste associated with the apparel. According to a report released last year, only about 25 percent of textiles are recycled in Europe. The rest goes to landfill or is incinerated. Van Son said that in the Netherlands alone, 135 million kilos of fabric are burned per year.
Van Son said that the biggest challenge is getting people to accept that clothing can be part of what he calls the “performance economy” and what might also be called the “sharing economy.” He likens the jeans to a washing machine: many people don’t mind not owning a washing machine, particularly in urban areas, and using the machines at a laundromat instead. But the idea is a harder sell when it comes to clothes.
However, many people are curious and the idea seems to be catching on. According to the Mud website, there are currently 1,500 people leasing their jeans. After the company’s first year, 30 percent of leaseholders choose to keep their jeans, 60 percent swapped for another pair and 10 percent returned the jeans. “We are building an engaged community,” said Van Son.
Van Son is looking to bring the Lease A Jeans concept to the U.S. At a sustainable fashion event hosted at the citizenM hotel in New York City, Mud signed up three customers who want to lease jeans--the first in America. However, Van Son wants to find American manufacturers, so that all of the products can be part of the local economy and continue to be as sustainable as possible.