Only a few years ago, Dutch denim-maker G-Star Raw was drawing ire from Greenpeace. Activists pasted posters on store windows in seven countries, urging the brand to sign up for its Detox campaign, which challenges popular clothing brands to stop using hazardous chemicals. “No one likes a greenwasher,” a Greenpeace blog post said.
Following 10 months of pressure, G-Star joined the Detox campaign in early 2013, committing to eliminating all uses of hazardous chemicals from its supply chain and products by 2020. Now, as Forbes’ Rebecca Suhrawardi reports, the company is launching “the most sustainable denim ever.” Here’s what that means.
G-Star Rethinks Resources
G-Star uses 100% organic cotton, which one of the company’s sustainability leads told Forbes “doesn’t use any pesticides that are unnatural, synthetic or chemical that, in the end, take away from the soil richness and makes the crop water-intensive.” According to the company, its organic crops are grown from non-genetically modified seeds and the majority of global production is rain-fed.
The company worked with Dystar and Artistic Milliners to develop a new indigo technology that uses 70% less chemicals, no salts, and produces no-salt byproduct, Suhrawardi reported. “Pre-reduced indigo is combined with a liquid based organic agent that replaces the conventional use of sodium hydrosulphite — a major problem in indigo dyeing,” the company says.
The conventional technique for washing denim can use nearly 2,000 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans, according to Suhrawardi. Instead, G-Star worked with LEED-certified denim factory Saitex in Vietnam to develop a new process. Now, 98% of the water used to wash the jeans gets recycled and reused, and the small percentage left evaporates.
Cradle to Cradle Gold
Other measures include replacing rivets and zippers with eco-finished metal buttons to make each garment 98% recyclable, enforcing a code of conduct with suppliers, and working to trace all raw materials back to their origins. For the buttons, G-Star collaborated with YKK on metal that doesn’t require electroplating baths during production, which the company says eliminates acid and toxic chemicals.
As much as possible, G-Star uses recycled cotton from post-consumer or post-industrial waste material for its apparel. Last December, G-Star became the first denim company to have its denim receive Cradle to Cradle Gold level certification. The level was a combination of platinum for material health and gold for material reutilization, renewable energy, carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
The Next Industrial Revolution
Clothing brands face myriad environmental challenges, from the continued reliance on heavy chemicals to water-intensive dyeing to greenhouse gas emissions to product that ends up in landfills. When the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Fibers Initiative released a sustainability report last December, it found that globally enough clothing to top off a garbage truck gets burned or trashed every single second.
A number of well-known apparel brands have been working to increase transparency in their supply chains, and pursue new circular economy business models. One of the Circular Fibers Initiative report’s core partners, Nike, is working within their value chain and developing partnerships across a broader textile production and manufacturing ecosystem, the brand’s VP of sustainable business and innovation said at the time.
Earlier this year, Target, Esprit, New Balance, PUMA, Gap Inc., and Inditex joined the new real-time supply chain transparency tool from IPE and the NRDC. Although still in the early stages, the IPE Green Supply Chain Map could become a framework for managing supply chain impacts.
In order to help push the industry forward, G-Star has made every part of its sustainable denim open-source and available to designers, suppliers, manufacturers, and apparel companies through Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute’s Fashion Positive Materials Library.
The company says that, “by sharing this information, we’ve made it possible for every denim manufacturer in the world to follow G-Star in making denim fabric with zero risk for people and the planet.”
The 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver. Learn more here.