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What the Denim Industry is Doing to Address Fashion's Waste Problem

By now I am sure you have seen the horrifying pictures of daunting landfills and plastics filling our oceans and if you haven't, I am here to tell you why the fashion industry needs a shift and how the denim industry is coming together to help solve these issues.

It is no doubt that fashion is one of the most wasteful industries and denim, in particular, is under attack for being one of the worst offenders. 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the manufacturing of garments and unfortunately, garments are being worn 40% less than the previous generation. This leads us to the real problem - overproduction /overconsumption.

30% of what is produced is never actually worn, meaning a lot of the excess that was produced goes straight to the landfill. Some brands will partner with different organizations to donate their unsold goods, but if 150 BILLION garments are produced a year, 30% (45 billion garments) is WAY too high a number and brands need to be analyzing their data to make their supply chain more efficient and minimize waste.

Another aspect that leads to overproduction is Minimum Order Quantities. For brands, it is oftentimes more expensive to produce lower volumes and thus encourages over-production. There must be support from all partners in the supply chain to ensure we are not creating more than what we need because it is not possible to deal with the number of clothes we buy/discard.

SO, what happens to the 45 billion garments destined for donation/landfill? The first order of business is where to put it. In The Netherlands alone, there are 24 million garments that end up in sorting facilities every year, and they are arguably one of the less wasteful countries. These facilities are forced to ship the garments overseas because there is simply nowhere to put them.

To sort properly is also getting harder with the quality of fast fashion clothes and the fact that they mainly consist of blended fibers, including spandex. Another aspect of sorting is making sure the right garments are shipped to countries that they can be of use for. For example, if sweaters are sent to Africa, they probably won't be of use and will end up sitting in their landfill, becoming a part of our Earth.

It makes no sense for us to be shipping our donated / unused clothing that has to travel thousands of miles to only end up in the landfill. This brings me back to that 30%. If we are producing 30% more than we need, we have now taken resources to produce this --> shipped it to retailers to be sold --> shipped back to distribution centers to be donated or dealt with --> shipped to sorting facilities --> shipped overseas --> and finally is sent to the landfill. The Holland organization Symapny, is trying to get the supply chain mapped of this, but it is quite difficult to track this life cycle.


As consumers, we need to start with consuming less and buying better quality, so things can be continuously recycled into new fibers for production. Based on quality basics with free repairing, Tenue de Nimes is one brand that really gets it. Before you make your purchase, their team asks: Do you need it? Do you know what it is made of? What will you do with it when you are done? We do also need better infrastructure for sorting and recycling, so that each country can deal with their own waste problem and not have the mentality of "out of sight out, of mind."

Right now mechanical textile recycling - deconstructing the fabrics - is the most common form of textile recycling, but Adriano Goldshmeid predicts that in the next 10-20 years chemical recycling will grow. Companies like Re:Newcell have now made chemical recycling a possibility. They are able to turn used cotton and viscose into new biodegradable pulp, from which new fibers are extruded and can continue to be recycled over and over, creating a truly circular economy. This is a very new technology, but I believe it will allow us to close the loop.

With all the gloom and doom surrounding the topic of denim and fashion, Adriano reminded us that it is an exciting time in the industry. We have the chance to discover new ways and create new business in a responsible way. As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation outlines, we need to create new business models that increase clothing use, have inputs/outputs that are safe and renewable, and continue to invest in research and development so used clothes are turned into new. Tony Tonnaer from Kings of Indigo said that it is his dream to see one pair of jeans made from one pair recycled - a one for one exchange - and I think the industry can work together and collaborate to get there.

A special thanks to Kingpins Show for opening up the conversation and stay tuned for more on what the denim industry is doing to clean up the fashion industry. In the meantime, follow my Instagram for daily fun facts and STAY DILIGENT FRIENDS!


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