circular economy sustainability

Redesigning jeans in a circular economy

I’ve written before about some of the steps forward in making sustainable jeans, most recently with Levi’s support for the secondhand market. Jeans are a specific but iconic section of the fashion industry, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has focused in on it as a starting point for their work in making fashion sustainable.

Through the Jeans Redesign programme, they have brought together sustainability experts, designers and entrepreneurs to think, experiment and model new approaches. It’s a refreshingly collaborative effort that has yielded a set of circular economy guidelines for jeans, making them more durable, more recyclable, and manufactured with a lower impact. Some 60 brands, including some household names such as Lee, Guess or Wrangler, are working with the guidelines and the first jeans to use them will be on the market from May 2021.

There’s a lot to like about this project, but what stands out to me is the idea of getting the industry to talk and learn together. Often sustainability initiatives are developed competitively, as a way of setting a brand apart or using sustainability as a selling point. That’s fine if it creates positive pressure for peers to keep up, but it can often mean good solutions are kept secret or new techniques are patented rather than shared. A collaborative approach prioritises shared learning, with the guidelines still leaving lots of room for companies to interpret them for themselves.

Here’s a video from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that highlights some of the work so far, and that sums up why a circular economy is necessary in the first place, for those new to the topic.

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