May 20th, 1873 was the birthday of the blue jean. German innovator Levi Strauss first created the iconic garment for local miners who needed durable apparel to withstand the rigors of their workday. But blue jeans have evolved from their humble origins. No longer relegated to clothing for cowboys, blue jeans now adorn runway models, fashionistas and businesspeople alike. How have jeans stood the test of time? Because they are one of the most durable, comfortable, and democratic garments available.
Jeans endure financially, too. According to NPD Group Inc/Consumer Tracking Service, Americans spent $17 billion on jeans between September 2012-August 2013. Jean purchases are estimated to reach $56.2 billion globally by 2014. Jeans have proven fashionably and economically sustainable, but can blue jeans also be ecologically sustainable?
Industry experts including yarn spinners, mills, fabric finishers and leading brands, have implored new technology to address the need for sustainable denim design and manufacturing solutions.
The newly launched JKL lifestyle brand, a collaboration between celebrity Matthew McConaughey and Toronto based Grand National Apparel Company, includes a blue jean using recycled beer bottles. The denim used to create the JKL straight fit jean is weaved using a USA based yarn that is spun from recycled plastic beer bottles collected from sports stadiums. One jean is equivalent to 7.95 recycled beer bottles and 1.35 clear bottles. To give some perspective to the environmental impact of using recycled bottles in lieu of virgin polyester:
§ 1 million plastic bottles recycled saves 250 barrels of oil.
§ 1 million plastic bottles recycled saves 180 metric tons of C02 emissions from being released into the atmosphere.
§ Recycling plastic bottles uses 8x less energy than the equivalent of producing new ones.
In addition to using recycled raw materials to lessen denim’s impact on the environment, there are other innovations in the market including improvements in chemicals, dye processes and finishing techniques to offer lower impact options to the designers and developers of denim.
Traditional denim products are dyed with indigo in huge production lines that require vast amounts of water, consume large amounts of energy and contribute to eco system and environmental concerns with the hydrosulfites, chlorine and permanganates used throughout the production processes. Two industry leaders in textile chemicals have made great strides in improving the negative impact denim production has on the environment.
Advanced Denim, created by Archroma, is a special dyeing methodology that reduces water in the production process by 92%, uses 30% less energy, reduces cotton wastage up to 87%, and eliminates sulfite effluents and wastewater.
To meet the increasing need for cleaner and greener solutions in denim, DyStar, a leader in textile colorants and solutions, together with RedElec, has created new technology that completely eliminates the need for Sodium Hydrosulfites in the denim processes and reduces wastewater. Sodium Hydrosulfites are toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.
To achieve those authentically worn-looking jeans with the artfully placed creases, wrinkles, and abrasions, denim designers work tirelessly with denim producers to achieve the perfect aesthetic. Many of the processes that are used pose potential environmental and health risks. Jeanologia, a research & development center based on Valencia, Spain creates and sells industrial solutions in garment finishing, providing environmentally and socially sound solutions without forsaking the look sought by designers. As market leader in laser technology they own 73% of the world’s laser production in the Jeanswear sector. Jeanologia’s technologies are aimed at significantly saving water, chemicals and energy. Their innovations with laser and ozone technology allow designers to create the desired aesthetics with lower impact to the planet and the people that are making the product.
Reconciling environmental issues with the already proven socially equitable and economical values of the blue jean, will lead us into a new era of sustainable denim. As equal citizens; from consumers, designers, producers to brands, in this democratic garment, seeking out the greener side of blue in our jeans means that each of us has a role to play, from the decision we make at the register to the responsibility to create and produce sustainable fashion that does not take from tomorrow to support our fashion of today.
So raise a glass (or beer bottle) to toast the innovators and change-makers that are working to be the change we all wish to see!
Jeans photo via technorati.com