Your jeans, as you may or may not be aware, are bad for the environment. Scrap “bad”. “Bad” doesn’t even scratch the surface. Try catastrophic. Calamitous. Cataclysmic.
Why? First, there’s the amount of water associated with making them – up to 1,800 gallons per pair. Then, there’s the volume of toxic dyes that are eventually dumped in the water supply during a largely unregulated manufacturing process (google the Buriganga River in Bangladesh for harrowing visuals), wiping out ecosystems. Add to that the fact that denim is one of the trickiest fabrics to recycle and it’s a wonder that over 450 million pairs of jeans are sold every year in the United States alone.
Or perhaps it isn’t. Denim, for most of the world, has become a way of life. The average woman owns three pairs of jeans and is able to purchase them anywhere from high end fashion houses Chanel and Louis Vuitton to high street stalwarts H&M and Marks & Spencer. Nothing gets between most of us and our Calvins. But what to do when workaday indigos pose an environmental hazard like no other?
Enter Jordan Nodarse, founder of Boyish, a new Californian denim brand with a sun-bleached, old-school aesthetic that purports to be one of the most sustainable on the planet. Nodarse’s mantra – “It’s not about perfection. It’s about progress” – may sound like a play for leeway, but anything this 33-year-old Reformation alumnus doesn’t know about denim, not to mention sustainable denim, probably isn’t worth knowing.
“Sustainable fashion”, for Nodarse, is primarily about efficiency. “Our supply chain gives us the capability to recycle waste back into our fabrics – it’s efficient manufacturing,” the LA-based creative director told Vogue, on a recent trip to London. Nodarse produces Boyish jeans in Thailand, largely because the factories, with whom he has longstanding relationships, have been investing in sustainable manufacturing practices without fanfare for years. “They did it simply because it was the right thing to do, and they didn’t need to spend exorbitant amounts of marketing budget talking about it,” said Nodarse, who has a healthy bullshit radar. “It is amazing to work with factories that care about doing things better.”
The label’s sustainability credentials are impressive: Boyish jeans use one third the amount of water associated with regular denim, and all water is recycled to mitigate any potential harmful effects. Nodarse has tackled problems associated with dyeing by utilising fabrics that do not require excessive “dips” (the amount of times the yarn gets dyed in the indigo) and uses reduced indigo from Dystar, with fewer sulphates and around 80 per cent less caustic soda.
Twenty per cent of the brand’s products are made from deadstock fabrics (which saves on carbon dioxide emissions); buttons and rivets are made from recycled metal; clothing labels are made from recycled plastic bottles; items come in compostable polybags. Boyish is also partnered with 1% For The Planet, a non-profit organisation that ensures at least one per cent of annual profits are shared with organisations that benefit the environment.
Nodarse is also focussed on innovating at a fibre level. Cotton, denim’s main ingredient, is better for the environment than synthetic alternatives, but boasts a huge energy and water footprint. Whilst at Reformation, Nodarse developed a fabric comprising cotton and Refibra, which uses 20 per cent recycled cotton waste, something he also uses at Boyish. His cotton comes from farms in Turkey and Brazil that are BCI, GOTS or OCS-certified, but he is determined to devise a fully recyclable fibre. “The easiest and most important task is to reduce the amount of cotton in jeans and trace the cotton you do use all the way back to the fields, so that you know you are not buying from those who utilise slave or child labour.” He plans to expand the line-up in 2020 to include eco-conscious knitwear, T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants and dresses in a new fabric composed of organic cotton and Lyocell (a natural material made from wood pulp) with Refibra technology.
As for his take on fashion’s sudden flirtation with sustainable fashion? “Consumers don’t want to have to go do their own research to make sure brands are actually being sustainable in their practices, and they shouldn’t have to. It’s about getting the ball rolling and focussing attention,” he asserts. “Hopefully, then more brands will do the same.”