Danish brand looks to unpick fashion’s processes and start from scratch with a green supply chain that is transparent about its practices
Until 2019, the denim industry was regulated by brands setting their own standards for sustainable and responsible production. However, with the launch of the Jeans Redesign initiative under the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular, the initiative set the standard for sustainable denim. Initially with only sixteen brands, the group has since grown to fifty-three brands that champion breakthroughs and innovation in making denim a more sustainable field. Denim has long been a standard for wasteful industry practices, as its production encompasses a vast number of problems: the wasteful use of water in the production of a single pair of jeans – which can be anywhere from 1800 to 6800 liters, as well as processing, dyeing and the impact of elasticated denim, making it difficult to recycle because of the mixed material composition. According to Statista, the global denim market was valued at approximately 90 billion US dollars and is expected to reach a value of around 107 billion US dollars by 2023. With the growing problem of cotton production in China and abuses of human rights practices on Uighur people, recycling initiatives can do more to halt the production of virgin cotton.
Some brands involved in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that develops and promotes the idea of a circular economy see the problem for what it is, making strides towards correcting the industry’s practices. Under founder Christoffer Immanuel, Organic Basics looks to unpick fashion’s processes and start from scratch with a sustainable supply chain that is transparent about its practices. While mainly focusing on underwear that has been hard to make sustainable as many stretch materials alter the composition of a garment, it is also tackling denim with its new range. For Organic Basics, the focus is on including materials that mostly come from the A group of The Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibers, a leading industry standard that shows 28 fibers on six common parameters: greenhouse gas emissions; human toxicity; eco-toxicity; energy; water; and land. The brand also makes no secret of that fact that they are still a long way off from their own goals – in their 2019 Environmental Report they put forward findings about their production and practices, giving themselves goals for the following year that outline their shortcomings. This level of transparency into the company, its supply chain and practices are different from older fashion companies where the sub-contracting of orders in the supply chain is a standard practice.
Mr. Immanuel believes that the fashion industry is dirty, and that fashion has not progressed in the right direction. «Usually, when you think about the history of garments, you would think that it would be in a positive trend of development. With fast fashion, something happened to the garment industry. Clothing went from something that you cared for and took good care of to this accessory that you could take on and off and use as you felt like. This is different to how we think it makes sense in a circular society». His experience in product development has led to a different way of thinking about clothing production. The company works with consumers and their feedback to improve products, packaging and initiatives through a specific department that works together with production and innovation.
From his experience, Mr. Immanuel knows that even with the increasing efforts going into rectifying the supply chain, many brands are approaching it from the wrong angle. «We look at impact or sustainability in different aspects of the garment’s lifecycle. Whereas brands right now are focusing a lot on the production phase – which makes sense because it’s the first one and it’s the easiest to control because it’s in their hands. In the beginning, we obviously also focused on the production – how to set up the supply chain, how to develop products. However, compared to other companies we are different because we look at everything through the fiber perspective first. We nerd out about fibers, figuring out what the fiber can do, what it can’t do. Then we figure out what fibers are good for what purposes. Last year, I was invited to give my expert view on the issue of microplastic residue due to washing clothing. The interesting aspect there is that no matter which fiber you work with there will be micro shedding of the fiber. It’s like that with almost every fiber in the world – that it will wear out, and so it does matter what you use for what purpose». He proposes an alternative that looks at fiber selection from the point of use – if a piece of clothing is going to be used often, like underwear, opting to make the fiber natural is a better alternative. Even if it does shed, it will decompose faster. Many companies are now using wool packing material as padding a result of these findings, helping divert microplastics away from the oceans. This is a key reason for developing a denim line that focuses on longevity.
The denim industry has also traditionally failed at recycling the majority of the garment, as many of its components are not built for disassembly. Mr. Immanuel has kept this in mind through his approach in designing the denim collection. By developing jeans that are designed for recycling (D4R) with no metal trivets or mixed fibers that could not be re-processed, the range would show that denim can be fully recycled. According to a quantitative study from 2020 of denim’s lifecycle methodology, «Color, quality of fabric, and garment accessories like rivets, buttons, zippers, and labels are the main components of the heterogeneous nature of this very denim waste». The best chances for a denim piece to be kept for a long time or recycled fully when it is no longer usable is by keeping the integrity of the cotton, it’s components and the dyeing process as sustainable as possible.
The feature of use is one of the main reasons that the denim line was founded. As denim is traditionally a second layer piece of clothing (away from the body), it does not need to be washed often, offering longevity and cutting down on one of the most obvious forms of micro-shedding. Christoffer thinks that this longevity is what has been missing in the market because of fast fashion and trends. «The cool thing about denim is that most people own something denim and it was designed to be extremely durable. From that perspective, back in the day, denim has aged well. When a brand like Levi’s started, they collected all of their denim. They have a big library in San Francisco, and you’ll be able to see different types of wear. I have jeans that I’ve been wearing for 15 years and I still love how they look and feel. I’ve never really washed them because it is a second layer product. While it is resource intensive in the production phase, it’s also a product that if it’s made right, then it can be used for many years and it’s just durable. From a design perspective, we took a lot of good things from that old legacy of denim and seeing what worked with the denim that we’ve seen in the past and what is broken right now. One of the things that has become extremely popular lately is stretch denim, and it takes away the durability of the denim. It does bring some comfort, because you don’t need to break the denim in and it’s just soft from the get-go and it will fit you instantly. In the long term, you pay a price for that as it’s not a very durable product, and it ages in a less flattering way». This fast-fashion mentality is one that brands are shifting away from as the industry and its big players become involved in sustainability initiatives like the Fashion Pact. Smaller brands like Organic Basics have the advantage that they don’t need to change their existing systems but bring about dialogue and development in circular economies from day one.
For the brand, it is not only about the focus on innovation and material developments – it also scored highly on the human element of the circular economy model with certified factories that prioritized the workers with a living wage, childcare and free lunch. This is one of the key areas where other fashion brands score poorly as orders are subcontracted out with little to no traceability and the human element is missed out in favor of prioritizing accelerated growth. Organic Basics also works on its environmental activism outside of fashion, donating 10% of their profits to organizations like Amazon Watch that protect indigenous communities and their environments, and Denmark’s Naturfredningsforening that plants wildflowers to increase the natural environment for bees. Mr. Immanuel isn’t interested in resting on these laurels – he sees his brand and the industry at large as a part of a bigger answer in helping guide profits, technology and innovation in developing solutions that creates a better planet for years to come.IMAGE GALLERY
Danish brand Organic Basics is building a sustainable brand that people can trust, now and always. They do this by starting with what goes closest to our skin and what we wear the most. They create innovative sustainable products and build a community that celebrates and supports environmental activism and more responsible living. Through education on their online platforms, customers are learning how to be better consumers.Low Impact Organic Basics puts sustainability at the core of everything they do. They’ve invested in a green European supply chain to minimize waste, water, and energy footprint – and by working with the highest globally certified sustainable standards for materials and production. Most importantly they invest in the people and the knowledge that makes this fashion revolution possible.