When the subject of sustainability turns to fashion, the finger firmly points at denim. The process itself, as we know, involves chemicals and oh so much water. We hear promises from denim companies about how they’re making the process green and we wonder if that’s even possible and if the consumer truly cares.
Citizens of Humanity is quietly making a difference. In the sustainability game for themselves and not as a marketing tool for consumers, the brand seeks to pin down a realistic definition of the word “sustainability” while, at the same time, producing just enough jeans and encouraging the consumer to purchase less. We had a conversation with Citizens of Humanity CEO Amy Williams and COO Federico Pagnetti to hear their thoughts on the subject of denim sustainability and how CoH is handling the issue.
Can denim ever truly be sustainable?
Amy Williams (AW):The question for us really is how sustainability is defined. We are always very transparent in what we communicate. It’s hard to say that creating denim isn’t impactful on some level. We try not to say everything we are doing.
Federico Pagnetti (FP): Let’s put it this way. Denim manufacturing can always be more sustainable than it is. We’ve been trying to do what we can without shouting about it. And we really don’t want the customer to choose us because of sustainability. We don’t want the consumer to pay. To do this right involves a combination of technologies. We can make production more sustainable but the majority of the water is used in processing the cotton and at the washhouses. We’re fully vertical so we do our best to use less water and chemicals. We work with ozone, laser processes, high efficiency wash and dry. We are, therefore, more responsible in how we use our fabrics, how we manufacture, how we reduce waste. And we don’t have second quality like a lot of lower priced brands.
What about excess production? That, too, is wasteful, it seems.
(AW): A huge part of this, philosophically, is not to over produce or over sell. Customers are asking the questions and looking for answers. Yes, they can get it inexpensively but they also want to know more about the background of a brand.
(FP): It’s not just price. It’s also a matter of making garments that can become wardrobe staples, of making less products so that the consumer isn’t replacing their jeans every few months. Our consumer is interested in what is behind the manufacturing, the craftsmanship, how it’s made. We try to share that with our customers, giving them access to this information. Yes, the younger generation has fast fashion but they’re also interested in going beyond that and into the story of the brand they’re buying.
Who else plays a role in sustainability in addition to the brand itself?
(AW): We’ve updated our website, videos, stories with team members. We are educating our retailers and being selective about the retailers we choose. We like retailers with strong customer service, telling people what goes in to the $200 product they’re buying.
(FP): I put a lot of thought into what I buy, personally. But sustainability, for me, is also in how I wear and use the product. For instance, don’t wash your jeans every time you wear them. You can freeze them for half a day and that, alone, kills the bacteria and doesn’t waste water. I also wear my jeans less distressed so they become vintage as I wear them. That cuts down on the amount of chemicals that go into distressing a product. I examine as I shop. I like to see where something is manufactured. I’m not expecting the same kind of effort for the average consumer. With our product, our retailers get to know us. They know our brand and what the company stands for. We don’t put this effort in to sell apparel. We do this for ourselves but there are a lot of consumers who agree and that adds one more reason to do it.
Read more about sustainable topics, players and brands in our latest issue here.