Patagonia has long been ahead of the curve. During the summer of 2015, for instance, the Ventura, California-based outerwear brand launched a denim collection aimed at enabling consumers to get their hands on the market’s most popular type of pants while also reducing the some of the negative effect on the environment. Yet, the brands that fall more traditionally within the fashion industry have been dealing almost exclusively in dirty denim.
While Patagonia may have been on to something over two years ago, the problem is that its audience is not inherently fashion-focused. However, fast forward some two years, and consumers – particularly of the millennial kind – have become increasingly demanding when it comes to the making of their clothing. This has enabled brands with distinct selling points to distinguish themselves from the ever-increasing number of hot young brands on the rise, and it is in this vein that eco-conscious denim is becoming one of the more noteworthy trends in fashion.
Take Reformation, for example. The Los Angeles-based brand, which has been hailed for its “slow” take on trendy, in-demand fashion, aptly noted earlier this year, while jeans may be one of the most popular garments in the world, “denim is the worst polluting type of clothing.” In addition to the use of insecticides to treat cotton, which is typically indigo-dyed – such dyes frequently result in runoff that pollutes nearby bodies of water, such as the Pearl River in Xintang, China – and woven to create denim, the average pair of jeans requires the use of 2,000 gallons of water.
With such environmental hardship and with its increasingly savvy consumers in mind, Reformation introduced a collection of “super sustainable” denim this fall. Ref Jeans, as the collection has been branded, consists of denim that saves gallons of water – saving 1,468 gallons per pair on average – and 100 percent recycled materials.
According to the brand, “We use about 50 percent deadstock denim and 50 percent new fabrics that are made of 60 percent or more of Lenzing Tencel and Model. These fibers are made from sustainably harvested tree pulp that require a fraction of the water, pesticides, and resources as cotton!”
Reformation’s nearly 1 million Instagram followers – and presumably its loyal consumers – and the fashion press responded in a big way to the brand’s latest offerings. As Who What Wear announced in October, “Hurry: Reformation's New Jeans Will Sell Out Crazy Fast!”
Reformation joins RE/DONE, another brand that has made its name based on a sustainability-centric model, albeit with a slightly different take on it. The “first luxury label that was born online and grown as an e-commerce brand,” RE/DONE works a little something like this: It takes vintage Levi’s jeans and recreates new – and inherently limited amounts – jeans, “using water conserving methods and no harsh chemicals,” of course.
According to the brand, which actually beat Vetements and its wildly-popular reworked Levi's to the punch, “We take the vintage denim apart at the seams, repurposing it as the fabric of our new jeans. We launched with one mid-rise modern skinny fit, and one irreverent, perfectly slouchy, borrowed-from-the-boys relaxed fit and have since added a perfect belly-button skimming high-rise cut.”
RE/DONE has found fans Alessandra Ambrosio (her fiancé Jamie Mazur is one of the founders), Gigi and Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Selena Gomez, Emily Ratajkowski, Karlie Kloss, and Kristen Stewart, among others, thereby seemingly ensuring its success amongst a wider audience.
To make this a bona fide trend, add Everlane to the mix. The direct-to-consumer brand debuted its own eco-friendly denim line in September; retailing at $68 a pair, they are made from 2 percent stretch Japanese denim at Saitex factory in Vietnam.
As Everlane founder Michael Preysman told Vogue, “All of the stuff that washes out of denim, people can dump into the water supply, based on different standards within different countries. We were really specific that we wanted to find a partner that set the highest standards for themselves, and as a result had very little to no impact on the environment.” After visiting dozens of factories, Preysman landed upon Saitex, which recycles over 98 percent of its water back into its production. “It’s a really closed-loop system that has almost zero impact on the environment,” he says.
And do not overlook Le Kilt, the London-based label that has just recently turned its attention to denim, after launching in 2014 by Samantha McCoach, who focused largely on her "vision of adding a dash of modernity to her family’s kilt-making heritage."
According to Le Kilt, the denim range is "made in partnership with Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, a small workshop based in North East London," "and "each garment is made with sustainability in mind by making efforts to reduce the carbon footprint."
While each of these brands brings noteworthy eco-centric strengths to the table with their individual denim offerings, the most noteworthy takeaway of these efforts might not actually be the lessened environmental impact but, instead, the ability of these brands and others like them – and their celebrity/influencer fans – to shine a different, more modern light on sustainably-made garments and accessories.
For years, one of the key road blocks to the widespread adoption of more environmentally-conscious fashion has been the overwhelming bias that consumers have towards it, particularly since for years, the connotations most closely associated with eco-fashion have been less high fashion and more hippie. In short: There has been a pervasive view (sometimes rightfully so) that in order to shop sustainably, consumers will have to sacrifice in terms of the fashionability or stylishness, so to speak, of the garments at issue.
These new-age sustainable brands are here to put those notions to bed. As brands like Reformation, Le Kilt, and RE/DONE, in particular, continue to permeate the market with products that push the boundaries of what sustainable fashion can/should look like, including putting just as much emphasis on fashion as they do on sustainable function, the chance of a more mainstream adoption of these types of wares is only going to increase. And that is good news for everyone.