Sequin-wearing Santas manned the windows of Selfridges’ Oxford Street store this past holiday season, but the iconic location is starting off the New Year with a much less showy showcase. As part of the department store’s just-launched “Material World” campaign, eight of the flagship’s windows are championing the cause of sustainable fashion.
Each one is dedicated to a particular textile, such as cotton, linen, leather and wool, and features an up-and-coming designer that’s working toward reducing the environmental impact of fashion.
For instance, Brooklyn, New York-based Study NY stars in the cotton window because it uses organic cotton to create clothing that’s free from harmful pesticides and dyes. Another window highlights British knitwear label Tengri and its use of responsibly sourced yak hair (each animal is hand-combed once a year when it sheds its winter coat) that supports more than 1,500 nomadic herder families in Mongolia.
But the window that caught my eye was the one with Tortoise, a Los Angeles denim label whose patent-pending “Wiser Wash” process uses up to 90 percent less water than a traditional washhouse.
That’s huge: It takes about 11,000 litres of water, on average, to produce a single pair of jeans. That’s the equivalent of flushing a toilet about 1,800 times.
Unlike conventional denim production methods, Tortoise’s Wiser Wash uses natural and biodegradable additives along with ozone technology (which harnesses the natural bleaching capabilities of ozone gas), removing the need for corrosive chemicals while using almost no water to achieve a broken-in vintage look.
And the water it does use is recycled, ready for future washes and clean enough for plant irrigation.
The best bit: Tortoise’s parent company, the LA washhouse Eco Prk, wants to work with other denim companies to introduce cleaner processes to their production.
It’s not just small companies; corporations are stepping up to the plate, too. Levi Strauss & Co., arguably the world’s most famous jean maker, took its Water<Less finishing techniques public last March—on World Water Day, no less—to encourage other denim companies to use them in their production.
At the time, Levi’s claimed to have saved more than a billion litres of water since the program began in 2011. The company’s 21 water-saving techniques range from applying undiluted softener in a tumble dryer with a spray (instead of in a wet bath) to spraying an enzyme mixture onto garments and then tumbling them in a washing machine with steam as an alternative to traditional stonewashing.
If all other denim producers utilize Water<Less techniques, Levi’s believes the industry could save up to 50 billion litres of water by 2020.
Outdoor apparel brand Patagonia is also having a go at cutting its water consumption during denim production, despite jeans making up only a small part of its offering. The brand introduced environmentally friendlier dye and manufacturing processes in 2015 and now uses dyestuffs that adhere more easily to cotton, which minimizes indigo dyeing, rinsing and garment washing. The result: Patagonia is using 84 percent less water than conventional processes.