The demand for cotton-based fabric all across the world is very high and cotton is one of the key materials used in most garment production, across the globe. According to recent reports, the value of the jeans market worldwide is approximately US $110 billion. If truth is to be told, denim can have a substantial environmental and human cost. Cotton is regarded as a thirsty crop— it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. That’s enough to make just one T-shirt and one pair of jeans! As per reports, 70 per cent of Asia’s rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by the textile industry that disproportionately affects local communities who rely on these rivers for drinking and bathing. With denim depleting the environment in more ways than one, it is certainly the right time to adapt eco-friendly ways so that one can get conscious with the production process.
“The consciousness for eco-friendly denim is there and our khadi denims stand testament to the growing consumer demand for eco-friendly clothing. But there are lots of handmade processes at work and that hikes up the price of eco-friendly clothing and denims of course. But people who are fond of handmade clothing will certainly go and pick these denims or clothing,” comments Siddharth Mohan Nair, Founder, Desitude.
Launched in April 2016, Desitude is the brainchild of Siddharth Mohan Nair, an Energy and Environmental Engineering graduate from Kerala. Desitude is a 100 per centswadeshi brand that offers handcrafted jeans and other premium quality apparel and accessories made out of hand-spun and hand-woven khadi. Siddharth’s fascination for khadi and his vision to make khadi a part of contemporary fashion has helped him shape Desitude and its product line with a modern touch.
The spirit and purity of khadi is maintained not only in the product, its design and make but it is also reflected in the production processes and even the tags on the pants are made using khadi wherein the brand logo is block printed using eco-friendly dyes. “How much ever we try, the problem with khadi denim is that it lacks the stretchy feel, which is a prerequisite for most denim buyers. Women especially are averse to the idea of non-stretchy denims. This reduces our takers and cuts down our buyer population. Another big boulder on our path is the price of these handmade denims. The big price tag for a 100 per cent swadeshi product is not well received all the time. This is the reason we diversified into a lot of other innovative khadi products just to stay afloat in business,” Siddharth adds.
Internationally too brands are trying out their hands in ethical production and working backwards to make processes as transparent as possible so that they switch to selling only 100 per cent ethical denims. Even though adapting to eco-friendly productions or fabric does not always translate into a commercially viable long-term process, but little tweaks in the processes make it more ethical and ensure that the denim industry is safeguarding the environment too.
Everlane for instance took six years to produce denim. The brand’s Founder Michael Preysman wanted to find a clean and ethical factory to work with. In 2017,he penned down on a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified factory in Vietnam that relied on solar power, recycled 98 per cent of its water and used reverse osmosis to filter the remaining 2 per cent into clean drinking water. Any offcut waste from production is combined with cement to create bricks used to build homes for local people in need. Beyond the factory doors, Everlane designs its denim to have the longest life possible. The denim by Everlane is more weighty compared to the industry norm, but it is designed to snap back into place after each wear, thus requiring less washing.
With an intention to make denim ethical,Kuyichi–the first organic denim brand was launched in 2001. This brand uses a high-amount of eco-friendly materials including organic cotton, which cuts carbon emissions by 60 per cent compared to conventional cotton. This Dutch brand is also a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, which allows the brand to support its suppliers in creating fair working conditions for all its employees. The brand embraces the idea of slow fashion and is very vocal about the same.
Another interesting brand E.L.V. Denim is a zero-waste vegan denim brand that takes stock of old discarded denim and transforms them into modern and sophisticated denim. All products for the brand are produced in East London using local factories and ateliers and basis its production and local manufacturing, the brand is supporting ethical lifestyle.
Siddharth maintains a made-to-order model and when the customer orders denim, their garments are stitched. This helps him embrace the slow fashion movement also. But he accepts that the going is not always easy. Especially, now with COVID, the diminishing income of people reduces their capacity to experiment. “Our run-of-the-mill commercial clothing is much easier to buy. The khadi industry itself considers its products as stereotypically traditional and aims it towards older people – so all the clothes will be of loose fitting. Then comes the maintenance part, which is another nightmare; it costs a lot of money just to get something fixed. In fact there are many struggles with a handloom and handmade product, so acceptance is anyway low and then when it is a denim, the reception becomes slow,” Siddharth adds.
The lesser the takers, the slower will be the coming of age of eco-friendly denim in India. However, with COVID being an eye opener, the switch to environment-friendly clothing is sooner or later going to be the new reality.