As most of us know, our beloved blue jeans aren’t planet-friendly–it ordinarily takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to make only one pair. Therefore, a lot of brands have made it their mission to unite the apparently incompatibility of denim manufacturing and sustainability although some turn out to be purely marketing strategies.
That’s not the case of LA-based Denim brand Triarchy founded 2012 in Vancouver. In 2016 the siblings and founders Mark, Ania and Adam Taubenfligel, hit the pause button to stop their brand business setting themselves the target to reduce the massive water consumption in denim manufacturing, by restructuring their whole previous brand concept. A year later they restarted with a new approach of being really sustainable. We spoke with brand manager and stylist Ania Taubenfligel about Triarchy’s sustainable relaunch, its motivation and implementation.
In 2016, you hit the pause button after five years to start in completely sustainable fashion. Why? Please explain your motivation.
It all started with the film The True Cost. After watching this film it sparked a change within us and our company. We began to look into our own processes and soon realized they did not fall under sustainable processes.
How did the market react to the break? What did the buyers say?
It was tough, sustainable fashion is still struggling to find its place in mainstream fashion. Some people still don’t think it’s that important and others think sustainable fashion falls under hemp clothing or yoga gear. So we decided to try and change people’s perception. Buyers have been somewhat supportive but still skeptical, almost hesitant to take on a sustainable brand but we find this is changing. Buyers and consumers are realizing more and more that sustainable fashion is the only way forward.
Did you have to turn everything upside down to become really green and sustainable? What does this mean for processes, production, supply chain, etc.?
Yes, what we thought should have been a relatively easy rebrand actually was creating a whole new brand. The hardest part was finding sustainable sources and producers. They are very difficult to find, it took us an additional six months from our original plan to source and fully rebrand as sustainable and ethically manufactured.
Were there also doubts about the decision or the feeling of not making it? If so, how did you still motivate yourselves during this time?
No, there were no doubts in our decision because for us there was and is no other way forward. Once we learned the truths behind fast fashion and denim production we couldn’t turn a blind eye. This industry is beginning to divide into two groups. People who can turn a blind eye and believe that ignorance is bliss and those who can’t. Those who see what has been done and what is still being done and decide they can’t be a part of the destruction. Sustainability is the only way forward. We won’t turn a blind eye and pretend everything is ok. It’s not ok, the damage is done but there is still a chance to reverse some of the destruction. Our motivation is a simple one–we want to create positive change. If we aren’t helping in our actions then our actions or lack of action is in turn hurting. It was one of the easiest decisions we ever made.
What materials do you employ for your styles and accessories?
Our women's denim is made using Tencel Cotton blend, which is a processed wood fiber made from the eucalyptus tree. Not only is the energy used to grow, produce and manufacture Tencel 100% renewable, it also uses 85% less water than cotton to grow and process.
Our men's denim is sourced to require low to no wash as it is engineered as a raw denim with the added benefit of stealth stretch woven in for comfort and durability
Atelier Denim is made from repurposed vintage denim and uses no water at all.
All of our hardware is made of nickel-free recycled sheet metal in a factory with a closed loop water system which uses technology designed to conserve water by 80%.
All of our leather labels are made using recycled leather which is done by a process of shredding and then bonding leather scraps to make a new leather composite that looks and feels like the natural product
Finally, all our care labels are made from recycled water bottles.
What are three key pieces within your collection?
Our most popular are our women’s skinny jean, men’s slim jean and our repurposed vintage denim jacket for both men and women.
What is the price range of the collection?
Triarchy jeans start at CA$190-CA$201. Atelier Denim starts at CA$450-CA$725.
Is there a person within the company who takes care of sustainability and compliance with such standards?
We all take care of it. It’s become a part of who we are. So in every element of our business our sustainable beliefs translate across the board.
What does having a sustainable brand mean in concrete terms of the reduction of chemicals, the use of innovative techniques and processes in denim finishing?
There are so many factors that contribute to being a sustainable brand. To start, the processes you use to produce and manufacture your garment have to be safe to those working with it and environmentally it can’t damage or cause harm to our natural world. We are fortunate that every year there are manufacturers who push the envelope in creating innovative techniques in producing sustainable denim.
In our search for the greenest manufacturing options we uprooted production to Mexico City, where the factory we now work with uses 85% recycled water. This is revolutionary, and it is achieved through a system in which natural bacteria consumes the indigo dye before reintroducing it to the wash process again and again.
How are the company, brand and the products certified? To what extent is the supply chain certified from ingredients to producer?
They are certified by our government’s standards of ethical and sustainable practices. But our biggest certification is our own; we know where every detail of our garment comes from. Starting with our material, where it’s grown, where it’s spun and weaved into denim. Who is handling these steps, are they treated well, paid fairly and respected? Then our trim and details. Our buttons, care labels, hang tags etc. all of which we know the start to finish of these details as well. We decided we want to be able to answer for every part of our process. Not rely on what someone tells us but to see it for ourselves. So when we decided to rebrand we visited our prospective manufacturers before confirming on whom to work with.
What else do you do to be sustainable? (Equipment of the HQ, energy saving, recycling etc.)
The factories we work with and their manufacturing processes and machinery all encompass energy saving techniques and recycling.
Are you a member of any foundation, initiative or nonprofit organization that advocates better working conditions etc.?
We always help promote the River Blue documentary. We are partnered with the Isla Urbana Foundation, which brings sustainable access to clean water in Mexico. As well as members of Fashion Takes Action.
Which processes make the company transparent?
Our pledge to be honest in every step we take and to communicate our practices with everyone. As well as educating consumers of the lack of transparency in fast fashion companies.
Does the brand encourage the return or re-use of garments?
Yes, part of our collection repurposes vintage denim into new garments.
Triarchy is a true family business, as you are all siblings. Can you describe the specific role of each within your company?
Adam is our creative director and handles all design elements within the company, from content to designing the product. Mark is our business director who takes care of all the finances and paperwork that Adam and I don’t know. I am the brand manager and in-house stylist.
Have you also changed your own personal way of consumption?
Absolutely, the three of us are very conscious of what we consume, whether it be food, clothing or other goods. Once you start thinking sustainable in one aspect of your life it tends to have a trickle effect. You begin to ask where is this from, who made it, how is this made, does it harm anyone or anything in it’s process to get to me.
When and why did you start Atelier Denim? What economic significance does it have besides Triarchy?
Atelier Denim was sparked by Adam when he was trying to accomplish a specific wash of denim. The only examples he could ever find of this specific wash was from scouring vintage shops and finding vintage jeans. He soon realized, why was he trying to create a wash that already exists? He had what he needed in what already existed in vintage denim. He just had to deconstruct it, reimagine it and then cut and sew it into what we now call Atelier Denim.
Recently your brand was honored with the inaugural H&M Sustainability Award at the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards (CAFA). What does this award mean to you?
It was and is an honor to be recognized by CAFA and H&M. Not just for us but for the world of sustainable fashion. It’s exciting because it shows us that the shift is happening. These big companies, the companies that created the problem we are trying to solve are acknowledging the changes that have to happen. H&M is making a step in that direction and we couldn’t be prouder to be selected by them to win their sustainability award.