Rowan was funnily enough one of the very first people I met in the denim industry but I had NO idea how talented he was. We were at Mohsin Sajid and Black Horse Lane’s master class and I thought Rowan had an awesome vintage denim tweety bird jacket on and the pair of jeans he was designing was pretty cool - but that was that. Fast forward a few months, I started learning about Rowan’s work and have been so fascinated by his home experiments!
I tend to have trust issues with some of the information out there…. so I love that Rowan is actually doing the tests himself! One of the first ones that caught my eye was his denim biodegradability testing. Rowan, can you tell us why you decided to conduct this experiment and how it is progressing?
This actually stemmed from a photo I saw on Instagram from Sean Gormley. It looked like the skeleton of a jean, all that was left was metal, leather and synthetics.
It blew my brain!
So I thought, if this is true, if I plant a jean made from 100% cotton then all that should be left is polyester thread and metal shanks when I dig it up (maybe half pocket bags, didn’t check if they were poly/cotton).
I was so excited by this I discussed it with all my tech denim guys and a good friend ‘Miguel Sanchez’. He suggested taking photographs every few weeks.
So I have reminders in my phone to ‘DIG UP JEANS” around every 4 weeks. My 7-year-old daughter likes to help and she often reminds me too, asking ‘Can we dig up the jeans?’. She has watched me pull the fabric each time to see how the strength was diminishing and she wanted in too.
We began in October last year so it’s progressed amazingly. I really want to share my findings and will present this at Kingpins ED in October, it will then be a full year.
I was also so impressed to hear about some of the other plants you’ve been growing in your backyard like hemp and madder. Can you tell us what is cooking in your back yard and how you plan to use them?
I’m always learning and testing.
I think that the first plant I successfully tried was a woad plant, normal Indigofera tinctoria doesn’t grow in our climate (I tried). This is quite small as needs more land (which I don’t have) but I’d love to do bigger trials. Funny thing, the second year a huge stack popped out like a weed so I chopped it off. I then read somewhere that it flowers every 2 years, whoops!
I have madder growing but it takes 3 years for the roots to be big enough to harvest.
There are dyes everywhere in nature, you just need to look. Nettles make amazing green shades (german army used these in WW2 for their uniforms I hear). Even daffodils that are passing their prime can be used as a yellow dye. Avocado dyes are the most surprising, the skin has pink dyes which I obviously didn’t believe so did it myself and it is pink!
Outside of fashion we also hunt for blackberries to use in crumbles and sloes for sloe gin which has converted me to like gin!
It is very inspiring to see that you can almost grow everything you need right from your backyard, do you believe that your backyard can eventually be an example of sourcing everything as close to home (literally) as possible?
Yes for sure!This is actually my goal in my research and development.
I can harvest fiber and dyes all in my local area. Processing is when it gets difficult, especially for fiber, but it can be done. Retting of bast fibers is all-natural, even in mass production of linen in Europe (retting is a process where the plants are chopped and left to break down in the field for 3-6 weeks). I have been researching local spinners and weavers for this but it's still a work in progress.
The future is in nature! It holds all the answers but must be respected.
What is the first issue you’d like the denim industry to tackle?
Back to serious stuff now. Greenwashing and false claims. We need transparency and if we can’t, why not? The main issue is the education, of the customers, the designers, even the CEOs.
Thank you Rowan for sharing your hopes and dreams for your research. It sounds like a real-life fairytale to me and I can't wait to continue to watch your experiments flourish! Curiosity like Rowan's is the motivation we need to keep digging for answers. So thank you for giving us a boost of inspiration :)
Find out more about Rowan’s work and Denim Research here! Until next time friends, STAY DILIGENT!
Sustainability claims need to be governed so there aren’t claims that haven’t been tested.
You don’t know what you don’t know, so listen to the people that do know and educate yourself on the future!.