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From the runway to the East End – how sustainable is denim in 2020?

Denim looks from the 2020 catwalks showing it’s versatility

I love how denim gets reinvented each season, especially this year with innovative styles all over the catwalk from ruffle dresses, denim suits, wide skirts, oversized jackets, veiled wedding dresses and the return of the bootleg jean! There is a definite relaxed vibe to denim in 2020 and it’s interesting to see it’s journey from standard workwear designed to be durable and practical by Levi’s in 1873, to 1960’s flares and bootcut styles heralding a more relaxed era, to the ubiquitious skinny jean in the 2000’s.

Sadly in recent years fashion and in particular denim has been the subject of bad press and for good reason, every year the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water — enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people. You’ve probably seen the articles about denim and like me, been surprised at how much water is traditionally used in creating the looks we love. It is one of the worst pollutants to the environment with many styles needing over 7,000 gallons of water per unit, more water than one person can drink in 10 years!

Every year the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water

“Fashion is the world’s third-largest manufacturing sector and contributes to 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.”

Statistics from

There is good news out there though as many brands use innovative technology, sustainability programmes, workers wellbeing and long term plans to create denim which doesn’t contribute to destroying natural resources.

One example is a lasering technique rather than using water to create the different grades of washes which @Levis pioneered in 2018 to create those styles we’ve come to love. They have also implemented water-saving strategies with their Water<Less® technology which uses 96% less water than standard finishing techniques, as well as an industry-leading climate strategy.

Their Use and Reuse initiative to encourage and educate their customers to hand down garments as heirlooms or repair, customise and reinvent them, rather than throwing them away is a game-changer in encouraging re-wearing and maintaining your denim. It was built to last after all!

And with their 2020 80’s style balloon jean fast becoming a stylist favourite, the original ‘blue jeans’ brand shows no signs of relinquishing their denim crown.

Another brand using laser techniques is @dl1961denim, a family-owned company that’s been in the denim business for decades and is at the forefront of harbouring technology and renewable sources. Through using laser machines and Ozone technology, they have eliminated the need for harmful chemicals and bleach in the finishing processes and are one of only 12 mills in the world to utilise the indigo blend which minimizes water usage and has no harmful by products.

DL1961 have also created a system which they proudly states re-uses 98% of water used in it’s production process. Using certified cotton, adding in technologically advanced fibres, such as Modal®, Tencel™ or Refibra™ Lyocell, all the Lenzing™ fibres used are made from cellulose, which comes from a renewable wood source and is biodegradable. Boasting an onsite self-power generation which uses a heat recovery system to fuel production and a vast array of solar panels which helps power operations and reduce their carbon footprint.

Repairing and re-using is also an important point as denim is a really hard wearing fabric, lasting for years and for @elvdenim a London based brand, this is their business ethos. Crafted from discarded denim from warehouses across the UK, then using local suppliers, craftsmanship and expertise near their East London roots to breathe new life into these unwanted pieces. Their entire process produces zero waste from the electric cars used to transport the goods right down to local printmakers Mesh & Blade who hand print their labels on 100% recycled board. Genius.

“Sustainability is the ultimate part of what I do. We live in a very aesthetic world, so a successful brand has to marry carefully the two of them together.”

Anna Foster, Founder and Creative Director, ELV Denim

Any scraps that are left are given to the renowned artist Ian Berry who creates ‘paintings’ using denim. He also created the art around E.L.V. DENIM’s pop up in Selfridges in 2019. The brand also works with local schools and universities providing fabric for textile classes as and when they need it.

Ian Berry’s denim art installation at Selfridges

There are also ways to look after your denim which can have less impact on the environment such as NOT WASHING them!! Denim is made from a natural fibre and each time you wash it the fibres are heated and stretched so over time it loses it’s shape. Just hanging them out on the line is often enough to refresh them, or spot-washing the area which is grubby.

Reduce washing your denim to protect the natural fibres

Try washing on a very cool wash just once a month and DON’T hang near or over heat such as a radiator, heat detrimentally affects the natural fibres. An alternative is to simply pop them in the freezer! Fold them up, put them in the freezer overnight then simply air dry. I haven’t washed any of my denim for over a year – it’s not dirty and it means the items will retain their shape and quality and therefore last much longer.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the article and you’ve learnt something new about sustainable denim and brands which are embracing creative techniques and advancing new technology to address the balance between the denim we love and protecting our beautiful planet.

“I wish I had invented blue jeans. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes!”

Yves Saint Laurent

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