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Is Denim Sustainable? The Eco-Friendly Promise of unspun

Is denim sustainable? The answer is yes - but it depends on how it's made. Learn more about sustainable denim practices from unspun.

It's no secret that the fast-fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. The production of jeans alone creates a massive amount of pollution and often uses harmful chemicals and dyes.

Is Denim Sustainable? The Eco-Friendly Promise of unspun Jeans

If you want to know where to start when it comes to the wastefulness of fashion (and jeans), watch The True Cost. Out of the 6 billion pairs of jeans made per year, 1.8 of them (or 30%) are never worn. Paired with the amount of resources needed to make them in the first place (water, cotton, energy) and topped off by the harmful dyes and chemicals used to bleach and distress jeans – there’s an unimaginable amount of waste and pollution involved. And this doesn’t even cover the resources used in caring and maintaining the jeans once they’re bought.

We’re in the business of fashion and we make jeans, but we’re here to do it differently for this reason – we’re in one of the most polluting industries in the world. 

The Pollution Problem with Fast Fashion

The way that jeans are produced and discarded is a great danger to our planet. The 1.8 billion jeans that are never worn end up in landfills and require an enormous amount of time and energy to break down. Some unwanted jeans end up in the ocean or are sent elsewhere to create a greater waste problem for other countries. 

When thinking about the “pollution problem” we consider the entire life of the garment from start to finish.

Starting with inventory. As mentioned before, there are billions of jeans made without someone promising to wear them. Why is that? Because jeans are such a reliable and tough textile, they can last for a very long time. As they’re made now, jeans are treated similarly to other fast fashion garments – as an item of clothing worn for no more than a season. Jeans are also distressed, bleached, and torn to achieve a certain look. These practices shorten the lifespan of the jean and require further resources. 

Another part of the issue is in care-taking. Once jeans are bought, they’re again, treated like all other garments. It’s common for many people to put all of their clothes in the wash together without noticing if certain garments are, in fact, dirty. It takes over 2,000 gallons of water to get a pair of jeans through the production line. Because it’s a heavier textile, it requires more water both to make and to clean, leading to a significant misuse of our global water supply.

Getting rid of or replacing jeans is another detriment. The more people buy, the more they throw away. When someone’s done wearing their jeans for whatever reason, they typically donate them to thrift stores, or throw them away. Ideally another customer would buy the jeans second hand in a thrift store. Sometimes this doesn’t happen and jeans are shipped overseas in hopes of finding another home. When that doesn’t happen, clothes result in garbage, sometimes in landfills, sometimes on the streets or beaches of other countries. This creates toxic waste for all ecosystems, but especially for the people that didn’t buy the clothes to begin with in other countries and may not have the infrastructure to get rid of them safely. Because of the heavier textile fabric used to make jeans, it takes 10-12 months to decompose. In the states much of our waste system is hidden from us. We don’t see jeans piling up on the side of the street, but imagine if we did. As more garments end up in landfills, the amount of resources it takes to break them down will have daunting effects on our climate. We’re already seeing the effects of it now.

So, is denim sustainable?

The answer is yes - but it depends on how it's made. If we change how we make, wear, and recycle our jeans they are one of the very best options for making a huge dent in the current fashion pollution dilemma. So, the answer is yes. But, sustainable denim requires a holistic perspective and a radical change in behavior. Eco friendly jeans means we’re not solely reliant on responsible businesses offering us new methods and products (although that’s necessary), but that we also change our relationship to our clothes.

Jeans were originally made to withstand hours and hours of intensive work. They’re a durable and long-lasting garment when made in the raw form, which means they can be worn for years without deteriorating. The longer the lifecycle of your clothes, the more sustainable they are. When we wear our clothes longer, there is less consumption and less waste put back into the cycle. 

Because jeans are such a resilient item of clothing, we don’t need to wash them nearly as much as we do. If we re-thought our relationship to how often we can wear something or when something is dirty, then we’d save water and extend the time we wear our clothes. Sometimes washing your jeans can be as easy as wiping off the dirt you got on them while sitting in the grass, without going through the entire machine wash and dry cycles. 

Jeans have been a staple since they were originally made. Every day you see people in jeans, both as a fashion statement and to feel comfortable. This is to say that jeans are cool and versatile. They always have been and always will be. They’re timelessly fashion-forward and there’s so many ways to wear them that express people’s individuality and style. In themselves, jeans are tough and beautiful. They’re functional and stylish. So if we wear our jeans more in more ways, we in turn buy less and get rid of less clothing. This makes for a sustainable approach to building out a wardrobe.

About unspun’s Sustainable Denim

Maybe one of the biggest differences between us and other jean companies is that we don’t hold inventory. All of our jeans are made on-demand and made to fit, custom to each person that buys them. With this process and strategy in mind, we eliminate all of the upfront waste currently used to make jeans. We only make jeans when someone wants them, period. 

Through our customization process, people have the autonomy to style their jeans themselves. You have the option of picking the fabric, hem, waist height – even the thread! This ensures that everyone buying jeans is happy with them. It also instills a sense of pride and individuality to each customer, building a different bond between them and their clothes. 

Through cutting-edge technology we gather thousands of metrics to determine each person’s perfect fit. We use these metrics to “size” our jeans. In current denim there’s a lot of size variability. When jeans don’t fit, people get rid of them. Because our jeans are custom, we greatly reduce the likelihood of someone feeling like their pants no longer fit them.

We source the most sustainable denim in the world. Each of our fabrics have their own story – from water conservation, to using recycled plastic, or being 100% raw – they’re the best of the best. We don’t distress or bleach the fabric. We don’t depreciate the longevity of the textile before you buy it because we want the jeans to last a really long time.

Our ultimate goal is to reduce global carbon emissions by 1%. Through our critical strategies and sustainable practices, we’re inching our way there. We know that in order to reach this goal we have to offer radical solutions and that people must believe for themselves that being stylish means being environmentally steadfast too. As the climate changes, the necessity to re-think our relationship to garment production and personal style will too.

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Is denim sustainable? The answer is yes - but it depends on how it's made. Learn more about sustainable denim practices from unspun.

November 7, 2022
Edy Guy
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