Thursday, May 8, 2008

New Approaches to Denim

Jeans seem to be the keystone of modern American (and increasingly, international) fashion – from farmers in Iowa to hipsters in New York, a wide cross-section of people wear them on a daily basis. How can brands address issues of sustainability in this far-reaching market?

Luxury denim brands like Del Forte Denim and Kohzo approach jeans in a fashion forward way by taking into account what consumers want as well as rethinking fabric choices and dyeing methods.

Del Forte's Marina Pants, S/S 2008

Tierra Del Forte founded Del Forte Denim in 2005 after working 6 years in the mainstream denim market. She was disheartened with the conventional processes involved in growing and processing cotton. Instead, Del Forte wanted to craft a line of organic cotton jeans that benefited everyone involved in the process: the growers, the dyers and fabricators, and the purchasers. By using organic cotton, she ensures the health and safety of the farmers and their workers. Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to pesticides and herbicides causes health problems ranging from dizziness and nausea to cancer. Del Forte’s jeans are made in Los Angeles in factories that are carefully monitored for labor conditions. The brand also seeks to educate its consumers, and through their website’s outreach program visitors can learn more about organic cotton.

Del Forte's ReJEANeration

The Del Forte collection features new jeans as well as restructured garments. Understanding that some customers like to buy new jeans every year, Del Forte instituted “Project ReJEANeration,” which encourages their customers to return their used jeans for a 10% credit. Del Forte jeans then creates new, “few-of-a-kind” garments as a way of upcycling their product. Hand-embellishments and vintage trims make each piece unique and fresh.

Left: Kohzo hemp jeans, right: Kohzo sasawashi jeans

Kohzo Denim, a Swiss company, uses fabrics that have stood the test of time – materials like hemp and sasawashi have been used for hundreds of years. They may not be widely used in the U.S, but each has special benefits worth exploring.

Sasawashi is a fiber made from a blend of kumazasa leaves and rice paper (washi). The kumazasa plant is a wide-leaf bamboo varietal regarded for its antibacterial and absorbent qualities. It is also shown to improve circulation and is recommended for those with allergy-prone skin.

Hemp is one of nature’s strongest fibers. It requires less water and land than cotton cultivation, and it is naturally pest-free. The U.S. banned hemp cultivation in 1938, citing its relation to marijuana, but the industrial hemp used for clothing contains only minute quantities of the intoxicating agent THC (TetraHydroCannabinol). Durable hemp fabric has been used for thousands of years – textile fragments have been found at several archaeological digs, including one dating over 10,000 years old.

Kohzo notes that it does not consider itself a "sustainable" brand – it chooses materials based on design and performance; while many of the products may be natural and sustainable, the company would rather not be limited by a label. However, Kohzo’s dedication to natural dyeing and finishing methods, which include the use of indigo, mud, and vegetable dyes, can help to inform designers with an interest in sustainable techniques.

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