The inspiring story behind Nudie Jeans’ sustainable denim
By Samuel Trotman

It’s fostering responsible consumerism within the denim industry and spreading the word about sustainability one customer at a time. WGSN Denim Editor Samuel Trotman reports

Oct 15, 2015
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When it comes to trends and mass consumption, the denim industry isn’t exempt from the impact of fast-fashion. While the jeanswear scene is regarded as having one of the worst environmental and ethical footprints, there are some inspirational brands leading the way to encourage integrity and honesty in sustainable design.

One such brand is Sweden’s Nudie Jeans, who are at the forefront of changing the way we wear and understand our jeans, championing an awareness in conscious consumption in the denim industry.

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Since launching in 2001, the Swedish organic denim brand has been on a journey turning its core values into core actions with its Eco-Correct credo. Nudie Jean’s long-term vision to produce organic collections was realised in 2012 when the brand delivered the first denim collection made with 100% organic cotton, a new standard for the Göteborg-based company.

Its eco-endeavors most recently earned the jeans company winner of the prestigious Sustainable Style Award, on the lasting appeal of their denim. But being a conscious producer has never been a marketing strategy for the brand. Ever since the beginning they’ve taken great interest in how their product is made, and the conditions for the people manufacturing their product.

The company is also a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, which strives to improve working conditions in the textile industry. It also works with Textile Exchange – an organisation that supports the organic cotton industry. Nudie Jeans only partners with a small, carefully picked group of suppliers so it’s possible to ensure that they comply to the Nudie code of conduct.

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Evolving parallel to this concept is the Eco Cycle, a brand philosophy model with its three ‘R’ components emerging as today’s fundamental pillars: Repair, Reuse, Recycle. The idea behind their satellite repair stores is that customers can take their  busted jeans in for a free fix up, resold as second-hand or even donated to Nudie Jeans recycle program. The ambition of the concept is to create a over-the-counter type culture – in the same way as as buying cheese, fish and meat at the market – in which vendors use their expertise to pinpoint the customer’s needs and provide a perfectly tailored solution.

And while the brand offers both pre-washed and raw denim, the latter is the focus and Nudie Jeans encourages customers to not wash their new jeans for at least six months. Since the mid-2000s, the brand has become the gateway for men who wanted their jeans to tell a personal story and this is all part of the brands strive towards healthier and more sustainable consumption patterns. This along with the Triple R program are both sustainable practises through the idea of prolonging the life of jeans.

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With the significant milestone of its 100% organic denim line tightly under its belt, Nudie Jeans has shifted its focus towards becoming a fully transparent company. “Caring capitalism” may be an oxymoron but Nudie Jeans appears to be shifting the public gaze towards something akin to responsible consumerism.

Take a look on the brand’s website and you will find easy to find Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) documents like their Production Guide, with audit reports and info on all our suppliers, or their the 2014 Social Report that highlights their strategy, goals and achievements towards social and environmental work.

With such a hefty task of monitoring, engaging and communicating all these eco-philosophies,  you wonder who is in charge of heading this up. The answer is Nudie Jeans CSR manager, Sandya Lang. Earlier this month Sandya was in town where she was taking part in Champ Magazine’s Considerate Consumption panel discussion at Nudie Jeans Repair store in Shoreditch.

Along with experts in the fields of hospitality, fashion and production, she explored why we consume, and how we can reduce our impact on the environment along with benefiting our own health. Watch this space for the video highlight. We also got the chance to dig a little bit deeper on the denim side of things and find out more behind Nudie’s jeans sustainable philosophy…

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As Nudie Jeans’s dedicated CSR manager can you tell us a little bit about your role and how you ensure the company advances in the field of sustainability?
My role is to be responsible for environmental and social aspects of the production of Nudie. In my day to day business I have contact with suppliers and different organisations. And also students, press or anyone interested in the our CSR practices.

As one of the early adopters of sustainable practices (in denim) how have you seen the consumer mindset on sustainability change over the years?
We have seen a difference, but not as clear as we have hoped – it takes time. We have a lot of consumers who are interested in our sustainable practices and are buying our jeans for our values and commitment to organic. But we also have a lot of customers who may be surprised when they find out its organic. If you look at our website you can begin to understand our values through things like our triple r program: reusing, recycling and repairing. Also, our blog features key stories. We hope our customers who are interested in the brand will explore these channels and begin to build there understanding and awareness around these issues.

How do you as a brand tackle the of educating customers?
It is quite difficult but one way we have done it is through the production guide. Many people don’t know there are 20 places the product has been before it reaches their hands. This is one way of describing how complex the supply chain is. We are now beginning to explore areas of traceability that will enable customers to see where each pair of jeans has been made.

Our stores is another area where we aim to educating the consumer. I travel around each of our stores and give the staff members workshops on CSR so they are trained to communicate this to the consumer. This is very important for these employees to have the same info I have so they can give a good response if customers have any questions on the subject. We want our employees to have better knowledge than other denim brands so they can best sell our product.

Your RRR program and aftercare services has been extremely successful. Have you noticed a shift in consumer understanding the culture of denim care and things like selvedge?
Some have yes but we also have a lot of other washed options where you don’t have to be a denim nerd to wear them. Of course the dry product we have is iconic and more sustainable in a way. But on the other hand  to be competitive in the denim market, you cannot only have dry jeans. Its really difficult to make business like that so we need to have other options. The repairs that we get in are used for inspiration for these types of pre-washed products. This is also another way to interact with the consumer to get the “used” story behind it. The laundries we are working with in Italy are very high technology and we are using ozone and laser machines. The ban on sandblasting saw some of the factories we use explore other methods like food waste, ice and compost and used in the same process as sandblasting. While we are not using these ones it’s interesting to see how innovative factories are being with sustainable processes.

In the S/S 16 collection there are a number of sustainable developments like paper selvedge, bamboo and natural indigo. Are cotton alternatives a strong focus for the brand at the moment?
We are always looking into new things like this but this should be seen as special projects. Its nice to see and develop different options of cotton and show we are capable of these innovative productions but they won’t be part of the core collections. We have also looked into some options with wood cellulose fibre and cotton combined. This is one of the projects going on in Sweden that is in the early stages.

Nudie have always been conscious to ensure they remain known as a jeanswear brand that does organic rather than an “Eco” brand. Do you feel the negative stigma of the “eco” label is changing?
We don’t have a problem being called an eco brand, but the issue is that this is the only thing we are associated with. Today, pretty much every brand strives towards fronting an eco-correct profile. We don’t, and we’re not a fashion brand. We make denim, our goal has never been to be the best at being “the ECO brand”. Our ambition is to make a great product in a fair way. We infuse these core values, with the organic cotton and the transparency into the product, but it’s not the CSR aspect that should sell the product. We also have leather and wool goods in the collection, which ultimately doesn’t make us eco in line with animal welfare practises, so we will never be true “eco”.

What other long term opportunities are there to explore/improve the collection (denim and otherwise)?
We’re working with traceability. Our goal is to make it possible for customers to trace their garment through the whole chain: how much water was used, amount of chemicals and carbon dioxide, etc. It’s a tool for us to see how we can cut our environmental impact. Can we use a different chemical when we wash the denim? Can we sync our orders and shipments better?

The are also many other things that we can do like get fair trade cotton on all our jeans. This is something we have been discussing and is an option, its just a matter of paying more and having big enough volumes for the suppliers. We have also been working on developments on improving other product groups to sit in line with our jeanswear, like organic wool in the knitted items and organic cotton in shirting. We are constantly trying to improve, season on season.

All images Roberta Schmidt for Champ Magazine 

Like what you just read? Follow Samuel on Instagram for the latest indigo inspiration and denim news. 

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