Ever since it was founded twelve years ago, Swedish denim brand Nudie Jeans Co. has had a strong focus on sustainability and responsibility, but in 2006 they made a public commitment to, in the near future, have the entire denim line be 100% organic. Impressively, the company was able to reach that goal this year, right on target.
“It was quite a big step for us,” says Nudie’s CSR Manager Sandya Lang when I meet with her at the company’s brand-new headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. “Even though we already had several garments that were made from organic material, it was a challenge to scale it up. The reason it took so long is mainly because of the minimum quantity requirements of materials and also because of quality. We cannot compromise on quality, and at first the fabric suppliers didn’t really offer nice options in organic materials. As we grew, we were able to put pressure on the suppliers to start making the materials that we needed.”
In order to accomplish their goal, Nudie Jeans had to take a second look at their suppliers. “We chose to keep working with the ones that were willing to work in our direction,” says Lang, “and we had to realize that the others, who didn’t have the right mindset, were not right for us. It’s important to encourage and support the suppliers who are into organic, because it’s all about collaboration.”
Nudie’s denim fabrics are made in Turkey, while the production takes place mostly in Italy. Overall, more than 90% of the entire collection is made in Europe, which is unusual compared to other brands. The brand also runs a popular repair and reuse program where customers can bring in their Nudie jeans to the brand’s stores to either have them fixed (for free) or trade an old pair in for a discount on a new pair.
Pushing things further, the Nudie’s Post-Recycle Dry program was an experiment in fiber recycling. Old pairs were in essence melted down to a pulp and mixed with organic virgin cotton (which was needed to hold the fibers together) and made into a limited edition collection of 500 pairs of jeans. The program is on hold until a more systematic way to take back old jeans has been developed. Currently, the selection is too random and much more would be needed in order to scale up and make it profitable. “But at least we know it’s possible,” says Lang. She does promise that we have more developments in the area of denim recycling to look forward to.
Nudie also encourages customers to wash their jeans (primarily the dry line) as little as possible. This gives the jeans each their own personal style, shaped after your lifestyle. On the website, there is quite an interesting gallery of what a pair of Nudie jeans look like after being worn without washing for up to five years.
Lang says she is starting to get more questions from customers regarding the process and thinks they have attracted new customers who really care about the organic message. She is also, however, quick to point out that Nudie does not want to be portrayed as an eco brand. “It’s important for us to be a jeans brand that does organic,” she says. “Customers really don’t have a choice anymore, they buy our jeans because they like them but they also just get the organic, whether they care or not.” Whatever the reason “eco” has come to be a negative in the fashion business, brands like Nudie have the power to change that.
By taking away the consumer’s power to choose, Nudie is making quite a statement. The choice no longer is between organic or conventional, but between Nudie or another brand. To ensure their loyal customers keep buying their jeans, the label decided that they won’t raise the price once a style transitions to organic. This makes it more approachable and accessible to people, and makes organic an “added benefit.”
Nudie’s marketing is almost exclusively targeted toward men, although many of their customers are female. This, Lang says, is because men tend to be more loyal customers who don’t care about trends or seasons as much, a sentiment that the brand shares. “We don’t want to make products that go out of style in three months,” she says. “We want to make things that last for a long time.”
Nudie’s design inspiration comes very much from the near society: Gothenburg, the sea, the archipelago, Sweden’s West Coast, the industrial environment, blue collar mentality, old harbor, local environment, music scene, and so on.
The brand recently held a design contest in collaboration with Amnesty International, on the theme of Empowerment. Ten winners were chosen to have their designs printed on Nudie T-shirts, and ten Euros per shirt will go straight to Amnesty, supporting the organizations work for human rights around the world.
Although the brand’s denim line is now 100% organic, there are still opportunities for improvement in the other parts of the collection (Nudie also makes accessories, tees, sweaters, jackets, etc.). “We have set a goal for everything to be organic, but currently do not have a deadline,” says Lang. “When looking at the collection as a whole, we are about 90% organic right now. That last 10% is still there, and it’s something we have to work on.”
Doing things right can take some time, but the most important first step is to set goals and intentions. Nudie Jeans Co. does this really well and this, I believe, gives them the power to inspire change throughout the industry.