We’re all thirsty in a world where water is as precious as gold

You open the tap to wash the shaving cream off your skin. You put on your favourite jeans and a basic shirt and then clasp a gold bracelet around your left wrist. It completes the look and gives you that extra spark needed for a first date. Because in this rushed world, you know it’s important what you wear and when. But what you missed is that the real gold just came out of your tap: millions of little drops of water that can determine our fate.
This is a #fashionplatforms article and long read

Alliance for Responsible Denim

Brings competitors together to cooperate on a cleaner denim industry

MUD-Jeans-Free-copy

MUD Jeans denim

We don’t have enough…

We experience climate change mainly through water. Either the lack of it, such as the three-year drought in Syria starting in winter 2006/2007, which the University of Colombia has now proved to be one of the factors leading to the conflict we know today. Or its overabundance, such as the devastating floods following in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that shocked the world.

Drought and flood, caused by climate change as a result of human activity, pose a threat to the supply of fresh water, which is essential to people’s life. And what’s even more ironic: because of that same human activity, the global demand for water is expected to grow by two per cent a year in the coming decades – especially for industrial use. If nothing changes, we know that the global demand for water is projected to outpace the supply of clean water in 2040 by 35% (ING Economic Department, 2017). And then what?

This expected shortage stresses why industries need to think strategically and long term about their use of water. This brings us to fashion, which is one of the most water-intensive industries in the world, in 2014 ranking among China’s top 3 of water pollution and use.

Let’s get water-conscious

Given the enormity of the problem, the fashion industry sadly seems to be dragging its feet in the adoption of sustainable practices – whether that’s about reducing water consumption and pollution or issues like toxic chemicals and poor working conditions. And consumers are not doing much better either: in the Netherlands, only about 6% buy sustainable fashion.

But doing your own small part to fix such a huge problem may seem pointless. After all, trying to ‘clean up’ a whole sector of business – and consumer behaviour while you’re at it – is quite a tall order. It means veering off the trodden path and embarking on a journey in a sustainable fashion world that is still very much under development. The whole thing can become complex and confusing, which could hold brands and individuals back from taking action. So where to begin? There probably isn’t one right answer, but let’s at least start by trying to respond.

One such response is the Alliance for Responsible Denim, an initiative that brings competitors together to cooperate on cleaning up and creating a smarter denim industry. The clear focus on denim allows them to focus on challenges specific to this industry, making potential solutions – hopefully – easier to grasp.

Fashion seems to be dragging its feet in the adoption of sustainable practices

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Royo styles partly made up from recycled denim fibres, showcased at the Long Live Denim event

Long live denim! Because now we can save water

Alliance for Responsible Denim wants to increase the use of post-consumer recycled denim fibres in the denim industry, as this is not industry practice. Two billion jeans are produced every year, and each pair typically requires around 7,000 (!) litres of water. And a large part of that is due to the cultivation of virgin cotton, where it takes about 2,100 litres to produce one kilogramme of cotton. In other words, we could save loads of water if, instead of using virgin cotton only, we also mixed in some post-consumer recycled denim fibres (PCRD).

So, to stimulate the use of PCRD in fabrics, Alliance for Responsible Denim is doing its best to bridge the gap between industry players. Brands and retailers often say: ‘There’s no supply of PCRD fabrics in the market’. Denim mills and yarn developers usually respond: ‘That’s because there’s no demand’.

Now, one year later, 10 mills, 2 yarn suppliers and 11 brands are involved. In total 40+ different styles have been created where the fabrics are made up of between 7% and 40% PCRD fibres. Talk about saving water: When a fabric contains 20% PCRD fibres, about 500 litres of water are saved per pair of jeans – all using technology available today. So, while we’re clearly not there yet, we already have what it takes to make a difference. We just have to do it.

Front runners

Of course, some industry players had been working with PCRD fibres ‘long’ before Alliance for Responsible Denim. Think of brands like MUD Jeans, known for its ‘lease a jeans’ concept, and denim mill Royo, which turns yarn into our beloved denim fabric. Working together for years now, the two have also joined the project.

Dion Vijgeboom, co-owner of MUD Jeans: “To be honest, we already had jeans made of 40% PCRD fibres before the project. But a year ago, only two mills were producing in this area. Now there are ten. This is one of the reasons why we joined Alliance for Responsible Denim: to accelerate the upscaling of fabrics with recycled fibres. And it’s a winning situation not only for the industry but also for us as a brand. More mills can now supply the fabrics we use, which gives us a bit more flexibility.”

Denis Earl Purvis from Royo adds: “I always say that we’ve set foot on the moon. So, of course we can make great looking and high quality jeans from recycled fibres. It’s all about how much effort you’re willing to put into it and how much money is available. But things are moving. Even big brands like Tommy and Boss are getting interested now, which makes it more attractive for us to invest in developing fabrics with PCRD fibres.”

We can already save 500 litres of water per pair of jeans. We just have to do it

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Part of the recycling process is to shred the fabric. Photo by MUD Jeans

Clean gold

The styles created during the project were recently showcased to industry players at the ‘Long Live Denim’ event, that was held in the Fashion for Good building. Gwen Cunningham, textile programme lead at Circle Economy and involved in the project, said to a room full of people during the event:

“We have shown that we can create fashionable and high quality jeans from fabrics with PCRD content. The next step is to help brands to integrate these prototypes into their actual collection”.

If this becomes a reality – and we hope it will – there’s a good chance that your favourite jeans will soon be produced using less of the gold of future generations: using less of their clean water.

About Alliance for Responsible Denim

The Alliance for Responsible Denim (ARD) is a two-year project that was initiated in September 2016. The project unites several denim brands including Mud Jeans, KOI, Nudie Jeans, America Today, Kuyichi and Imps & Elfs and project partners including the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Made-By, House of Denim and Circle Economy. The mission of the project is to make the denim industry cleaner and smarter, so that we can produce denim in the most sustainable way possible.

About the UN Climate Change Conference, COP23

This article was written following two events, International Water Week (30 October – 3 November in Amsterdam) and COP. The latter is the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, held for the 23rd time, this year held in Bonn. The purpose of the two-week conference is to negotiate and outline how to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change (COP21), signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 in an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help poorer countries adapt to an already-changed planet.

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Photo by MUD Jeans

“We’ve set foot on the moon. So, of course we can make great jeans from recycled fibres”

– Denis Earl Purvis, Royo (denim mill)

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