Transparency seems to be the latest industry buzzword when it comes to sustainability, consumer education and brand communication. Recently companies such as Everlane, Alternative Apparel and Reformation have led the way in opening up their supply chain to show consumers where their money goes. It’s a positive movement and another step in the right direction for the apparel industry. I’ve been wondering lately how far this new movement will take us and how much tomorrow’s consumer will take an active interest in their clothing and where it’s made. Especially in jeanswear, one of the worst offenders of the apparel world.

Because let’s face it, the supply chain has never been a sexy part of the clothing industry and most people won’t get excited about seeing factories making 50,000 tee shirts. But I do think denim is a little different. People really have an active fascination with denim that they just don’t have about a mohair sweater for instance. Opening up the denim world to this transparent way of working has many benefits. Over the last few years we’ve seen mills taking a little more limelight and brands actively working together with mills to create a greener jean.

Today I’m going to explore a little-known relationship in our denim industry that has made a really big impact on denim production and continues to strive towards a sustainable future. It’s that of Turkish mill BOSSA and Swedish denim brand, Nudie Jeans.

Nudie Jeans

We all know about Nudie’s bid to be an 100% organic brand; a challenge that took them 6 years to achieve. The brand’s denim has been 100% organic for 6 years and last year they achieved the same standard across all their remaining products too. But I personally didn’t realise that BOSSA were the mill working behind the scenes with the brand to make that happen. BOSSA actually supply 80% of Nudie’s organic denim, which is a huge share of the volume. I talked to Eliina Brinkberg, Environmental Manager at Nudie Jeans about this cooperation between the two companies:

“In 2006, we were still working with quite small quantities, and if we wanted our suppliers to make fabric for us in organic cotton, the minimum quantities were often too high for us. We wanted to increase our use of organic cotton just as the economic crises hit in 2008 and other brands’ and suppliers’ interest to work with organic cotton decreased”

“For us that was simply not an option. And it was during this time we started to work more and much closer with BOSSA. They were one of the suppliers that believed in and wanted to work more with organic cotton and this deepened cooperation has also lead to our product development team becoming involved in an earlier stage of the fabric development process. We could discuss with BOSSA about what fabric we wished to work with and they would produce it for us in organic cotton. This was the start of a long and appreciated collaboration with them”

So when a brand decides to do the right thing and take initiative, it obviously takes a lot of work and commitment on the back end to realize their dreams. Onur Duru, BOSSA’S General Manager, tells me just how they’ve managed to change things around using what they call their ‘RESET’ range.

“We searched all the regions within Turkey to find the best place to buy organic cotton and found that the Aegean region of Turkey from Control Union-approved vendors was the best way to go. Farmers send the cotton to ginners and we buy the cotton from them. In fact, organic production is not that difficult for an experienced company like BOSSA. At spinning stage we had to set up a different production line for organic cotton, because the production should be clean and the chemicals and dyestuffs are GOTS certificated. These changes plus the cost of the raw material mean that organic cotton blended fabric makes a organic denim just a small amount more expensive than normal fabric”

Cotton fields in Aegean, Turkey

RESET is something that the mill has set up to explore not only organic qualities but also sustainable blends such as tencel and recycled fabrics too. They have explored organic stretch and rigid selvedge qualities and some are dyed with organic vegetable dyes like indigofera. Their work has also led to other sustainable fibers and yarns such as recycled polyester or Scafe, which is sustainable yarn made from coffee grounds, perfect for your cold-brew drinking millennials!

Five to ten years ago, sustainability and organic denim was banded about as a gimmick and used as a marketing tool. I personally spoke to a lot of mills exploring the area but heard the same story over and over again: ‘we are making it but they won’t buy it’

Brands were not willing to pay extra for a fabric that was organic, and they in turn blamed the consumer for not being willing to pay extra, either. It was a blame chain that needed to be broken and thankfully these days, brands have taken the challenge on board and started to brake these chains to change the future.

Organic Cotton at Bossa

Brinkberg from Nudie Jeans tells me:

“We believe in taking responsibility for the impact our business creates. For us it means taking responsibility in all stages of the production but also for the product. Choosing organic cotton is of course the first step. We need to work with a sustainable raw material if we want to make a sustainable product. We are also very conscious when it comes to choosing the right suppliers as we work in close cooperation” she says.

“Companies need to give the right preconditions to our suppliers, so they in turn can have the best and most sustainable production. For example, we need to have a well working production schedule, so our suppliers can plan for our production without the need of overtime work. We need to pay a proper price for our products, so our suppliers can give a proper wage to their employees. But of course the production company need to take responsibility for having good working conditions for their employees and to plan production properly to avoid overtime. The customers in their turn, need to use the product in a sustainable way, for example, use the clothes for a long time instead of throwing away and buying new clothes”

It takes everyone involved to make a difference: the brand, the supply chain and the consumer. And the way to get everyone involved is to make a very conscious decision and stick to it, as Nudie Jeans and BOSSA have done. To find the right partners who are willing and capable to make it happen is a huge part of that process. The final link in the chain is the consumer and with the consumer, it’s all about communication and education.

Cotton Yarn At Bossa

All this work has taken BOSSA’S organic production into a very positive place and Nudie Jeans’ business has subsequently grown to a healthy 46.8 million Euro turnover. So has it changed the end consumer’s attitude? Nudie have made it their brand strategy to make a point of shouting about what they are doing and that in turn has helped to alter their customer’s outlook.

“We have noticed that we receive more questions from customers regarding production, chemical use and working conditions” says Brinkberg. “From their questions we can also see that sustainability seems to have a stronger importance in the purchase decisions today than some years ago. The media attention on the issues in the textile industry have opened the eyes for many customers I believe. We think this is good as we believe the whole industry needs to improve, and I think we can see much more engagement from the rest of the industry as well. It’s definitely moving forward!”

Its changed BOSSA’S volumes and has had a really positive effect on their production too. From 2006 to today organic denim production at the plant has grown four times.

So the BOSSA and Nudie Jeans story is a very positive one, showing that a brand’s and a mill’s determination to make a more sustainable product during times of adversity can actually change consumer attitudes whilst building business too. Finding like-minded suppliers and partnering to grow together is really the only way this industry is going to turn things around. It takes drive and passion in all areas of the supply chain and adopting more involved relationships than existed 5-10 years ago.

Organic Denim at Bossa

Brinkberg: “For us, long term cooperation with our suppliers has been key to develop in the way we want, both in regards to quality of our products but also all things connected to sustainability. To build a relationship of trust and mutual respect is very important for us, and I believe it would be equally rewarding for other brands to work with a long term perspective with their suppliers”

What’s next for the pair? Right now the companies are in the testing phase of weaving denim that uses post-consumer Nudie Jeans, utilizing thier 20% discount initiative on any returned pair. BOSSA is already making post-consumer recycled denim (PCRD) where old jeans are shredded into fiber and the fibers are used in the production of post-consumer recycled denim. This progression would take Nudie’s ‘Repair/ Reuse/ Recycle program to the next level.

BOSSA has many sustainable initiatives underway but their SAVEBLUE concept has been adopted by Nudie Jeans for some of their styles too. In Saveblue, 85% of water is saved in comparison to conventional dyeing and the same saving in wastewater is also acheived.

Onur Duru is obviously very proud of BOSSA’S partnership with Nudie Jeans and see’s a bright future in the partnership:

“This is a long lasting relationship of over more than 10 years. We worked hand in hand to make organic production work. We can’t change everything at once but we can pave the way to a better future. We continue to do our part”