Sustainability In Denim

Even the average jeans customer knows already that denim belongs to the bad guys concerning sustainable issues. Our industry consumes lots of water, uses hazardous chemicals and with all the super stretch types of denim, we contribute to the microplastic pollution.

But the awareness is raising, new possibilities were developed over the past years and there are many ecological materials and treatments available already today.

In this series, we take a look at the impact of denim and jeans, but we put focus on the progress of sustainable alternatives. The time when sustainable decisions came with limited possibilities in design and outcome is a thing of the past!

soorty hemp

Hemp on Soorty’s curiosity table.

No.1: Sustainable Fibers For Denim, Why Hemp Attracts More And More Attention

Let’s start with the base material, the fiber. For more than 100 years cotton seems to be the ultimate fiber for our beloved denim fabric. Unfortunately, many disadvantages are coming with the conventional cultivation of cotton.

Starting with that cotton is grown on huge monocultures in China, India, and America amongst others. Originally the fiber comes from regions with lots of rainfall, so the high consumption of water was no issue. But today, grown in dry areas, the thirsty crop often needs to be irrigated with lots of precious fresh water.

Additionally, these days most seeds are genetically modified as well, to guarantee the best quality. Another problem is that cotton has a huge range of small enemies: Insects love the crop, damage it and hence ruin the harvest. Therefore, insecticides are applied plentiful and frequently, often without proper protection for the workers. This leads to diseases like lung cancer or skin problems and also causes biodiversity loss as well as water pollution in these regions.

soorty hemp

soorty hemp

Denim styles made by Soorty’s Floyd Pulse Blue fabric which is made from Zero Virgin Cotton Refibra, Hemp and PCW. This means this fabric is made with zero virgin cotton (it has no virgin cotton inside, but it is a blend of Refibra (recycled cotton and Tencel’s Lyocell) + hemp + PCW). The hemp in this fabric is 25%.

What Makes Hemp So Special

There are alternative ways to cultivate cotton, which focus on the reduction or elimination of toxic chemicals, for example, organic cotton.

But for a few years, there is another fiber that gets more and more attention in the denim industry. Everyone speaks about hemp. But why, what is so special about that fiber?

The best thing about hemp is that insects don’t like it very much, which means there is simply no need to apply insecticides and weak the ground and the ecosystem. In general, hemp is quite undemanding concerning its surroundings and circumstances. The plant can grow on very infertile ground, where most other crops would not grow and it does not require irrigation systems, because rainwater is mostly enough. And when it comes to the amount of output, hemp definitely wins compared to cotton. Hemp grows much faster and higher than cotton does, which means, you can have much more fibers in a shorter amount of time on a smaller acre. And nothing goes to waste if hemp is used, the bast fibers on the surface are used for textiles and the stronger inside part, similar to wood, called hurd, is used for car and housing insulations and the oil of the seeds can be used for cosmetics. Additionally, the plant absorbs a lot of carbon from the atmosphere during its growth. Hemp is carbon negative, which means it captures more carbon during growth than the amount of carbon that is released during harvest, process, and transportation.

There are studies, which conclude, that the outcome of hemp is twice as much compared to cotton and the average water use is just a quarter of the amount cotton requires.

Using Hemp Towards A More Sustainable Industry

So far there are no 100% hemp types of denim on the market, but it is possible to use around 30% of hemp for a piece of denim fabric. And the industry is testing and developing for bigger percentages. The more hemp we can use instead of cotton, the smaller our environmental impact becomes.

The funny thing is, that hemp was used a long time before humans used cotton for textiles. Already 2800 BC ropes and clothes were made of hemp fibers. But in the past decades, it was frowned upon or even banned in some countries like America and Canada due to its reputation as a recreational drug. But for some years hemp is slowly but steadily coming back.

Hemp is a fabulous fiber for denim and a big step towards a more sustainable industry.

soorty hemp

soorty hemp

Denim style made by Soorty’s Floyd Pulse Blue fabric which is made from Zero Virgin Cotton Refibra, Hemp and PCW. This means this fabric is made with zero virgin cotton (it has no virgin cotton inside, but it is a blend of Refibra (recycled cotton and Tencel’s Lyocell) + hemp + PCW). The hemp in this fabric is 25%.

Stay tuned for more sustainable alternatives in the denim world!

Written by Sina Steidinger
Sina Steidinger is a self-employed denim designer and sustainability manager based in Amsterdam. After working for several brands in Germany for the past decade, she recently moved to the Netherlands to be in the heart of the European denim capital and to contribute to the latest developments in sustainable fashion. She is currently designing for Mud Jeans, a Dutch brand, and pioneers in circular denim. As a consultant, she gives workshops and speeches and advices brands on their way to a sustainable future.