Swedish fashion company Nudie Jeans has partnered with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) on a project that looks at ways to make use of second-quality jeans, such as recycling into fibres for new denim fabric at scale.
Founded in 2001, Nudie Jeans is a denim brand that offers free repair services and sales of reused denim. In December 2020, the company began a two-phase pilot project to test the feasibility of recycling second-quality jeans into fabric for new jeans in Tunisia.
Second-quality jeans are those that don’t quite meet the quality standards – the wash may be too dark, the stitching may not be quite right or the cut may be irregular. Usually they are sold for discount prices or just thrown away.
The first phase of the programme, to be completed by May 2021, will see 8,000 pairs of second-choice jeans being used, together with virgin denim fabric, to create 20,000 metres of new fabric. From this new fabric, 15,000 pairs of new jeans will be created.
The data from this initiative will enable UNIDO to assess the feasibility of recycling second-quality jeans into fibres for new denim fabric at scale.
A second phase will focus on developing an upcycling and re-manufacturing scheme with local designers in Tunisia and will explore the possibilities for recycling post-industrial cutting waste from jeans production.
“At Nudie Jeans, we are constantly exploring new ways that can improve our environmental footprint,” says Eliina Brinkberg, the Swedish company’s environmental manager. “Using post-industrial waste as recycled input to new denim fabric is one of the multiple methods we need to work with to decrease the resource used in the production of our products. Sustainability is no longer a trend. It is a profound change for a better future.”
Water scarcity has long been a challenge in Tunisia but climate change, combined with rapid urbanisation, has made the problem even more acute. With demands from industry and agriculture putting immense pressure on Tunisia’s water resources, Nudie Jeans and UNIDO are hoping their project will show a way to do more with less.
Roberta De Palma, chief technical advisor at UNIDO, adds: “The current production system for fashion goods uses high volumes of virgin fibres, which creates a significant pressure on valuable resources, such as water.”
According to the United Nations, approximately 10,000 litres of water are required to make one single pair of jeans from the production of the cotton to the delivery of the final product to the store.
“Exploring ways for recycling post-industrial textile waste could reduce this dependency and support the development of a recycling infrastructure in the production countries,” De Palma adds.