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Growing Your Jeans: From Soil to Skin

We’re constantly trying to ‘reduce’ our carbon emissions, but what if we ‘rethought’ our approach? The concept of creating a positive climate impact when producing anything seems wildly out of reach, but we’re closer than we think thanks to regenerative farming and carbon sequestration. Could denim actually act as a carbon sink in the future?? Let's walk through the possibilities of growing your jeans from start to finish.

During COVID times, people have taken to home gardening, growing their own herbs and seasonal veggies, and I particularly have taken a lot of interest in the idea of 'living off the land.' The idea of "farm to table" and connecting with your food is much like connecting with your clothes. But, we really fail to celebrate the idea of "soil to skin."

Like we saw in Rowan Hunt's Denim Research, a hyper-local supply chain is possible and if you look at every ingredient that makes up a pair of jeans, we can actually grow everything... From the cotton to dyes, all the way down to the buttons and by practicing regenerative farming, there is the possibility to create climate positive jeans!

Cotton is a denim fave and it's not going anywhere anytime soon, but since it's been shamed for being a 'thirsty crop' cotton alternatives like hemp and nettles have been gaining some serious traction, and for good reason!

Hemp does wonders for our soils and also acts as a carbon sink itself. This means it removes carbon from the air while cleaning out toxins from the soil and destroying soil pests - all possible due to hemp's natural properties. But, we'll get more into hemp another day.

Cotton, on the other hand, has many environmental and social concerns, which is why there are so many different organizations out there striving for more responsible methods of cotton production. You've probably heard of GOTS certified and BCI cotton as more sustainable options, but carbon positive cotton is a newer trend on the market and one that is quite exciting. Carbon positive cotton means growing the cotton actually removes carbon from the air through regenerative farming practices. There are many methods for building resilient soils and we have our dedicated farmers to thank for that. Some methods include incorporating animals for grazing and natural fertilizers, building bio-diverse fields by planting trees, cover crops to conserve soil, rotating crops, boosting soil fertility with fungal compost, and methods for no-till cotton without any of the nasty chemicals!

Once we've grown and spun our natural fibers into yarn, were ready for dyeing.

Did you know that indigo dye actually comes from a plant called Indigofera Tinctoria? Indigo is sometimes used as a cover crop and an eco-manure because it is an excellent nitrogen catch crop. Even after extracting the dye, the residue can be used as manure and has proven to increase rice yields in the Philippines!

Natural indigo is magical to work with but due to its inconsistencies and difficulty scaling, most of the industry uses synthetic indigos. But again, we see an opportunity to use the growth of natural indigo for good... Fibershed has put together the best practices for growing indigo in support of regional farmers in their efforts to bring indigo farming forward as a viable economic option and I highly suggest giving it a read.

Once we've finished dyeing our yarns, we are ready to weave, cut, and sew! But what about the buttons and rivets you ask? Well, first of all, let's scratch the rivets and work on our button fly.

Corozo has been dubbed the "vegetable ivory" of the world known for its durability and resistance to scratches and heat. This 100% natural button option is derived from the Tagua tree which has been used in agroforestry systems (a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland). Its unique ability to be carved and dyed into anything you could dream of means it is an excellent option to carve your removable buttons out of!

And there you have it, friends, from soil to skin!

Having the opportunity to actually reverse the effects of climate change and ensure our farmers' well being by growing our jeans is pretty fascinating to think about. Rather than trying to 'reduce' and 'offset' our emissions, rethinking, and investing in sustainable practices within our own supply chains sounds like a great place to start. Until next time friends, STAY DILIGENT!

If you are looking for a little bit more on regenerative agriculture, head to my article, "Can Denim Act As A Carbon Sink?" for Calik Denim.


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