It is better to have one truly sustainable product over several with singular sustainable attributes, a denim design consultant has argued, calling upon brands to place more effort in designing products that are close-to if not completely sustainably made.

Speaking on a webinar for the Kingpins24 virtual denim sourcing event, which began yesterday (23 June), Amy Leverton of Denim Dudes spoke to Miles Johnson, formerly of Levi Strauss and Patagonia, and now a consultant with a focus on sustainability and transparency. 

Johnson said more companies are waking up to the fact that sustainability is no longer optional but is a must-have as they come under increasing pressure from consumers that want to know more about how their products were made but also that they have been made in a way that is environmentally-friendly and socially responsible.

“Transparency has gone from being a story that started with ‘I bought the denim from this mill’ to where the cotton was grown, how it was farmed. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t add in information about your concept, the look, the fit. You still want to have some fun with it but there has to be some content to it too.

“I think a lot of people have thought, is the consumer ready for all this information? Do they need to know absolutely every single detail? And that’s not the point. The point is, the information should be there and as responsible companies, we really need to show we are not hiding anything and we are proud of our industry. 

“It is OK to say where you are struggling, or where you plan to change. Big companies will really struggle to make sustainable changes overnight. But if you have a 5, 10, 15-year strategy, that’s fine. Just keep people informed, through the website, labelling and via other forms of communication.”

Johnson also said that there needs to be more emphasis placed on creating truly sustainable products, rather than a range of products, with limited amounts of sustainable attributes spread across it.

“One of the things that has bothered me, when I’m looking at fabrics on stands, I’ll get shown 20 fabrics that all have sustainable elements. I’d like to see a few more of the boxes ticked in just one fabric. That can push the price up. But rather than having one with reduced water, the other is reduced dye, another uses biodegradable something, it’s surely possible to now start putting a few of those things together.

“I’m looking for the most sustainable fabric I can find. I’m excited about the effort that goes into creating the best fabric, not in terms of look, but in terms of content. If there is this great list of attributes and right then, in the end, it can easily be recycled or composted into something then I know I have something I can really work with.”

In terms of the entire industry becoming more sustainable and for the perception of the industry to change from being “dirty and filthy”, Johnson said collaboration is key. 

“Sustainability shouldn’t be a competition between brands. We are all doing this to save the planet. I’m talking about revealing every aspect of what you do and how you do it. if you’re not doing that or comfortable with doing that you are not a transparent company. If you want to, you need to be prepared to say I’m going to let everybody, everybody, see what I do and how I do it. 

“We’ve changed so much — in the last ten years, we’ve really grasped the concept of sustainability, everyone knows they have to do their bit. There has been a lot of interpretations of sustainability. It means different things to different people, and between companies. But where is the sharing? It’s interesting to see what other companies are doing versus what you are doing, and then you make changes [to be better based on their experience]. That way you are building the story, message and your strength as a brand.”