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Practicing sustainability by replacing denim with silk

Not many things in fashion stood the test of time the way denim jeans did. For at least the last 150 years, they have become a part of global culture. Coming in many shapes and forms and found in wardrobes across cultures, styles, and economic classes, jeans are the embodiment of timeless style. And yet, we felt that it was time to rethink them.

Denim, the fabric jeans are made of, has been around for centuries. It was originally made in the French town of Nîmes in the 19th century. Historians believe the very name denim stems from the anglicized word “from Nîmes” (in French: “de Nîmes”). Regardless, the twill cotton cloth French were manufacturing spread across Europe and the world.

While both the fabric and the indigo dye (that gives jeans their blue color) are problematic on their own, the true detriments of producing denim arose when mass-scale production began.From the late 20th century, the production of denim and jeans became quicker, dirtier, and cheaper…All at the expense of our planet and people who depend on the garment manufacturing business.

With over 4.5 billion pairs of jeans sold in 2018 alone and the number predicted to rise, we must recognize the ramifications. Denim involves massive water use, chemical pollution, and soil degradation. Something has to change.

It is hard to match the iconic look and feel of classic jeans. So instead, we went down the path of rethinking the garment completely.


Denim is not sustainable

Traditional denim is made from natural fibers. It is a durable material meant to last for years, if not decades. The material's quality and versatility are probably why it became so well-known and well-loved throughout history. These are why we love and wear our favorite pair of jeans.

However, as we mentioned above, the fashion industry found a way to make denim much quicker and cheaper. Today, most jeans are not meant to last long, and many contain synthetic materials (like elastin) that cannot biodegrade.

Regardless of the use of synthetics, the main component of denim became a problem on its own. 

Denim is a sturdy material made from (mainly) cotton. Cotton uses a lot of water: we need between 10 000 and 20 000 liters to produce just 1kg of cotton. Cotton also accounts for 16% of global pesticide use, posing a risk to the environment and human health. Pesticides deplete the soil from essential nutrients and life in it. Consequently, the soil weakens, losing the ability to feed the crops and control the water flow. The more we weaken the soil, the more pesticides and fertilizers we need to keep anything growing. But that’s just part of the story.

Health risks

Most cotton farmers are not only at risk of developing health issues but also at risk of poverty, injustice, and severe human rights abuse. While non-profits, activists, and humanitarians have made significant progress in eliminating child and forced labor from cotton supply chains, these issues are still a reality. 

Moreover, the production of denim fabric goes through several stages, each using more water and chemicals. The typical “denim blue” color traditionally comes from indigo dye. Once a natural dye, most manufacturers have replaced it with synthetic pigment mixed with other, usually toxic agents. Commonly used complex dyes in denim factories belong to a group of azo dyes. These are highly carcinogenic

These same dyes and chemicals easily leave the factories as wastewater. In places with little to no regulations, the wastewater easily enters the water systems, impacting the life in and around the rivers, lakes, and even seas. In some places, the water is so polluted that it poses health hazards for the local communities. The documentary RiverBlue (2016) shows the impact of denim and other textile production well. We recommend watching it to learn more.

Alternatives to denim

Fortunately, some manufacturers and brands have found ways to improve denim production. More and more brands are choosing organic cotton over conventional cotton. Organic cotton has a lower water footprint and, importantly, is grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. We also use organic cotton in some of our designs for the same reasons.

Some went beyond this. Nowadays, fashion brands are experimenting with hemp, Tencel, recycled cotton, and other natural materials with a significantly lower eco-footprint. Many are also working hard to replace the toxic dyes with gentle alternatives. There are a few factories in the world that specialize in the sustainable production of denim.

Changes like this prove to us that a different fashion industry is possible. An industry that can make clean, safe, and ethical denim. If you have been with us for a while, you will know that, as a brand, we are working hard to build and support such an industry.

However, as a single and a small brand, these alternatives to conventional denim are currently out of our reach. We would like to experiment with them in the future and help the industry continue down the sustainability path.
In the meantime, we turned to the resources that we already had. 

Silk in a new way

Once again, we turned to our incredible fabric partners. They have been making our signature fabrics for the past couple of years. When we first started thinking about our designing a new line of pants, we wanted something more fitted and structured. And we knew the artisans we work with would find an answer. 
It is no secret that we are in love with silk’s properties, strength, and how it feels on our bodies. In our previous collections, we have worked hard to find ways to use silk as ethically and sustainably as possible. If you are curious about the sustainability side of silk, we suggest reading this blog post. It turned out we were right: our partner artisans helped us reimagine silk in an entirely new way.

Using 100% peace silk, they came up with a cloth that feels and looks close to denim. The material is soft, with a slight stubble nature. As with our other fabrics, we process this material minimally, avoiding harsh and toxic chemicals. The natural color we end up with is cream; when undyed, the material is at its softest. We also dye the fabric using natural and safe dyes to add variety.

The result is our Jada Pant, a 90s-inspired tailored and high-waisted pants made in our own studio in LA. They feature a wooden button and front zipper and two detailed front pockets. 

Available in Cream, Midnight, and Mahogany.