Take some time to observe the people around you, there is a high chance you will see individuals in denim; mostly in jeans of different shades and styles, but also jackets, skirts, shirts and dresses. The beauty of this indigo dyed twill fabric is that despite denim being timeless, it will always look different on each person. A fabric so popular and widely recognised has potential to be sustainably produced, with reduced negative impact socially and environmentally.
The name Denim initiated during the 17th century in Nimes, France, where weavers attempted to replicate a cheap, yet durable fabric originally developed in Genes, Italy. Although, this didn’t go to plan, it resulted with the development of different cotton twill now recognised as Denim. About a century later in America, Levis Strauss, a German immigrant developed an acquaintance with a tailor who began to import denim from Europe. The denim was used to make hardwearing overalls and working trousers; copper rivets were added to prevent tearing mainly at the pockets.
Through the years wearing denim has been linked with many passing trends and associations; working man’s uniform, rebellious youth in the 50s, hippie styled flares, and patchwork from the late 60s and early 70s. Leading to today, where denim has been infused into our wardrobes as daily wear. A fabric style that is worn by any gender, any age group and possibly all over the world: an accepted style that allows you to present yourself regardless your social background.
Denim is often developed in the following stages:
- Cotton farming process.
- Opening and merging of cotton fibres, which are then spun into yarn, this process is called spinning.
- The weaving technique initiates when the weft in natural yarn passes underneath two indigo warp threads, this results with diagonal ribbing on the inside.
- Interweaving of the yarn will result in a solid flat form with the indigo yarn on the front and the natural yarn on the reverse side. This weaving process is now machine orientated.
- Once weaving is completed, the fabric is formed and then proceeds to the required finishing; brushing, printing, striped or stonewashed
- The fabric is usually prewashed to regulate shrinking and then passed to manufacturing.
- Before the fabric is wound into rolls, quality control takes place by looking out for weaving flaws; irregular dyeing or bleaching patches and oil stains from machinery.
Denim would normally be 100% cotton; however it is now usually found with either polyester which helps to control shrinkage and wrinkles, or blended with elastane to add stretch. This shows that with time properties are added to the fabric in order to be more efficient with its durable properties.
The most common colour for denim is blue, since it originated as dyed indigo naturally obtained from indigofera plant. Through each wash, denim loses indigo pigments so becomes lighter; the fabric itself also begins to soften. However, as denim is mass-produced, synthetic indigo is favoured to natural dyed indigo. Synthetic indigo, is chemically produced and releases harmful toxins which are extremely harmful when inhaled by humans and animals, and when filtered into the environment and water.
Despite denim being hardwearing, robust and longer lasting, it is still being produced at a huge rate, and most likely in an unsustainable method. The fabric itself is made to be durable, and with increased production, it results in huge quantities of denim being disposed of, with a high percentage slowly degrading in landfills. In order to lead a sustained system when working with denim, recycled denim could be brought back into yarn to develop further denim. As well as technically adjusting the processing stages with organically farmed cotton (avoiding pesticides), the use of natural dyes with reduced wastewater to working with lower temperatures (cost efficient too).
Today numerous brands are reconsidering the production of denim and looking at sustained processes. For instance, Everlane Eileen Fisher, Kings of indigo and Mud Jeans are some brands that are working on producing sustainable denim. I own a pair of Mud Jeans, the fit is amazing, the quality is great and I love the shade of indigo that I’ve chosen. Buying sustainable jeans is not any more expensive than buying designer alternatives. The fact that jeans are made to last longer, so spending a little more on sustainably sourced jeans ensures that you are being a conscious consumer.