What are sustainable jeans?

Sustainability is a loaded term these days, and can mean a lot of things and nothing at all. At SOURCE Denim, we strive to build strong, tough jeans that don't deplete the earth of its valuable resources, don't pollute the environment in which they are produced, and are provide good working conditions for the people who make them.

Denim in general has a high resource footprint. It takes a lot of land, water, and chemicals to grow the cotton. It takes a lot of water, chemicals, and energy to process and dye the fibers. And it takes a lot of water and energy to clean and maintain the denim, once they are in the consumers' hands. Any reduction in the amount of resources used at any step in the value chain is a step towards more sustainable manufacturing processes. 

To be perfectly honest, the most sustainable jeans are secondhand jeans. Denim is made to be extremely durable, and the seasonal disposal of apparel bogs down our landfills and uses up resources. Typically, one or two pairs of jeans go a long way. So go to your local thrift shop, consignment shop, or online secondhand retailer, to find jeans that have stories that match your own. 

If you want new jeans, though, look for sustainable ones. For us at SOURCE Denim, we are tackling the chemical, water, and energy use in the denim supply chain by using organic cotton and an innovative new dyeing process that reduces the amount of chemicals and pollutants released in denim making. So that our jeans can be a little cleaner, and a little bit better, for you and the world. 

Why jeans?

We love denim because it is built to last. It is simple, classic, and when raw, looks good in almost any situation. Denim is the fabric of someone who's loves hard work and isn't afraid to do the heavy lifting. And it's evolved alongside American society to have a place with every type of person, whether you're building houses, washing windows, coding software, painting a mural, or rock climbing. A classic pair of jeans is the common thread that is American at its core. 

So why has denim, which is meant to last through the ages and be passed down, making it one of the most sustainable pieces of clothing out there, become a disposable commodity? Why do we get a pair of jeans nowadays for $20 that fall apart within a year and have to be thrown away because they no longer fit the seasonal look?

At SOURCE Jeans, we're bringing jeans back to their origins. Good, hard, working, jeans. Built to last a long time. Built to look good for a long time.  

Why are your SOURCE jeans made of 100% cotton?

We know that these days, all the jeans out there are made to be stretchy. They all have 1-2% elastane or spandex in the weave so that they feel softer and fit tighter. But this aesthetic appeal is fleeting. Adding that small bit of spandex compromises the integrity of the material. The denim is less durable and prone to wearing out and overstretching, which results in the saggy crotch, diaper look in the back, as well as saggy knees.

Cotton, whose long, continuous fibers normally wouldn't break under duress, is made shorter with the introduction of stretch, so that the slightest catch or rough tumble will cause irreparable rips and tears. 

So we're returning to the classic 100% cotton jean. So that all the wear and fading is created by you, and not an inferior material. And so you have jeans that can last your lifetime, rather than a season.  

How do I clean my SOURCE jeans?

Jeans are meant to resist stains and last a long time, so frequent washing and laundering not only wears down the fabric, but is often unnecessary (plus it uses a lot of extraneous water and energy). SOURCE Denim is raw, which means that it is pure denim, in its tough, indigo blue glory. It gets its unique fades and coloring by how often you wear them and what you do in them. By avoiding frequent laundering, you can keep the look of your jeans fresher, and more truly you. 

But of course, jeans get funky. So how do you get that funk out, without compromising the quality of your jeans? Step one, turn them inside out. Step two, you've got options. Some people like to hang them in the bathroom while they shower to give their jeans a good steam cleaning. Others like to give them a good roast under the sun. Others swear by putting them in the freezer overnight. Any of those options should get any weird smells out of your jeans. 

If you can't handle the dirt on the jeans, then hand wash them in cold water in the bathtub or run them through a cold wash cycle in your laundry machine. Hang them up to dry. Avoid dryers, as they'll wear out the jeans faster and use a lot of unnecessary electricity. 

Is organic cotton really better?

There's a lot of debate about organic cotton. Generally speaking, using less chemical pesticides, chemical and petroleum based fertilizers, and toxic defoliants is always better for the land and the health of workers and consumers. However, getting organically certified is a difficult and expensive process, and something that a lot of small farmers may not be able to do. Furthermore, growing non-GMO cotton organically may use less chemicals, but it also uses more water, more land, and more labor to achieve similar yields. As with a lot of things in the sustainability discourse, it all comes down to what you prioritize as your environmental value system. 

To provide an alternative to organic cotton, an organization called the Better Cotton Initiative was created. The BCI trains farmers on how to grow cotton with best agricultural practices. By focusing on efficiency, they reduce the amount of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that are normally used in cotton growing, as well as better irrigation and land management practices. Our denim partner uses both Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) certified cotton and BCI cotton, sourced from the US and West Africa.

You keep mentioning the chemicals used in making denim jeans, but what are they? 

Thanks for asking! We've actually put together a handy infographic on some of the chemicals used in the denim manufacturing process to help you understand more about what goes into making a pair of jeans. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is a good overview of some of the synthetic materials that end up in your fabrics, and in wastewater streams, due to denim.

At SOURCE Denim, we're working to cut down that chemical footprint. We use a one of a kind natural, biodegradeable, food-waste based polymer treatment of the fiber to cut down the amount of chemicals, water, and energy needed to dye our denim.

As of today, our denim has almost achieved 100% of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Program, even though the target date for the global program is 2020! There's no reason why the clothes we wear need to pollute our waterways and land, and taking a more proactive approach to cutting our chemicals use in textiles production is more important now than ever. 

do you make your own denim?

The denim for our SOURCE jeans comes from Italy, produced in a family-owned manufacturing plant by folks who really care about quality, as well as sustainable and environmentally friendly denim manufacturing. We explored a lot of different denim suppliers (see our blog post on how to choose a denim supplier) before we finally found the perfect partner. We chose our Italian supplier because of their values and their transparency, but equally importantly, because they made one of the most beautiful premium denim fabrics we had laid our hands on. 

But we did try to make our own denim from scratch, starting with organic cotton yarns, dyeing it in an all-natural indigo bath, and weaving it on a hand loom. You can learn more about our process on our clean jeans project blog!