Consumption, Ethical Choices, Money

Denim Dreams

People Tree doesn’t carry denim, and I don’t know if I can quit my jeans.

I’m not exactly cut out for trousers. To begin with an admission of short-and-squat-ness feels like a cop-out, but I look better in jeans than I do in proper pants. As my Zara jeggings near the end of their life, I’m going to People Tree to shop for Actual Pants, but I really, really want a pair of jeans so that I can feel like I look good at least some of the time.

Denim is amazingly environmentally costly to produce. Cotton requires a ton of water to grow, and the chemicals used on non-organic cotton are carcinogenic. Sandblasting and other texturing like acid wash are often performed in unsafe conditions for workers, i.e. no masks or ventilation).

There are plenty of reasons to ditch denim, but I’m selfish. I want to wear jeans. I find them comfortable and I like the way that I look while wearing them. My feelings don’t give me a right to continue demanding denim from companies like Levis that don’t work to guarantee organic, safely produced denim. Levis apparently produced organic cotton jeans in 2006, but I can’t find any for sale… so… Where to go?

Based on my research, I’m intrigued by MUD Jeans, and they’re the top contender for my next denim purchase/rental.

MUD Jeans is a Dutch company committed both to sustainable production and to a circular consumption process. MUD Jeans produce their denim with organic and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) fibres in factories that are regularly audited.

You can either purchase jeans full-price, or rent them through their program called Lease a Jeans. You buy into the program for 20€ and then pay 7,50€ a month to keep the jeans for a year. At the end of the year, you either keep the jeans or send them back for a credit towards your next pair.

In the event that your jeans succumb to thigh holes during the year, you send them back to MUD Jeans. They go through the same process as jeans returned at the end of the 12 months. The jeans are examined and either patched up to be resold as “vintage jeans” (named after you!) or they’re shredded, mixed with virgin organic cotton, and made into a new pair of jeans.

While I wish that MUD Jeans used exclusively organic cotton, the use of BCI cotton is something that is billed as a transitional program. The program boasts that the BCI results in the use of less pesticides, more organic fertiliser, and less water.

I’m willing to compromise on BCI cotton for to reasons. The first is that MUD Jeans still uses 34% organic cotton, and 14% recycled cotton. The second is that MUD Jeans are one of the only denim companies with a recycling programs that is built into their process and mission statement. Madewell, for example, has a denim recycling program but that isn’t the goal of their company.

As I discussed in earlier posts, one of the main things that we can do to engage in consumption that does the least amount of harm is to simply buy less. I don’t want to purchase from a company whose ultimate goal is still the volume of my consumption, rather than the quality/longevity of our consumer/producer relationship.

I feel that with MUD Jeans, they have an incentive to produce jeans that will last a full year. If not, I’m still paying the same price, but consuming more product. In order to keep me at a high-price/low-product ratio, they need to produce jeans that are built to last longer than 3 months.

You can see that this pricing issue is already incorporated into the price of the Lease A Jeans program. If my jeans survive the first year and I pay the full price for one pair, it’ll cost 110€, compared to the 98€ that it would cost to buy a new pair of jeans. For the second year, however, if I leased a 2nd pair of jeans, the cost comes down to 90€ per year because the 20€ inscription fee is only paid once.

To me, this indicates that MUD Jeans wants to incentivise consumers to participate in the jeans recycling program, and to do so for a long time. If the fit of MUD Jeans work out, I could definitely see myself purchasing a 2nd pair (gasp!) of the vintage jeans, which are pre-worn and priced at 68€.

A final note: the cost discussion above assumes that my jeans will actually last 12 months, something they haven’t done since 7th grade! It is entirely likely that in addition to accessing recycling or upcycling services for my blown out jeans, I’ll actually be able to cut my denim costs.

In a worse-case scenario, I buy about 4 pairs of jeans each year. They average about 40€ a pair, so I’m spending 160€ a year on jeans. If I pay the 110€ for the yearly subscription and first-year fee, and wear just 3 pairs of jeans, I’m paying less than I was for Zara/Levis denim, and able to dispose of my jeans in a more responsible way than ever before.

I get my first paycheck from my internship at the end of the month, and based on the current fraying situation taking place on my jeans, the beginning of April will be a good time to order a home try of MUD Jeans, and get myself started with 1 pair of organic/BCI/recycled cotton jeans.

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