Producing a single pair of denim jeans uses up 1500 liters of water and 0.7 kilograms (24 ounces) of cotton on average.
One kilogram of cotton production requires approximately 5283 gallons of water.
Above that, 16% of all insecticides used globally are consumed by cotton crops.
No wonder there has been a massive shift in recent years towards more sustainable denim production and renewing/reusing apparel. Below is a summary of some of the initiatives you can take as a retailer, from producing more eco-conscious denim to promoting it and acquiring a loyal customer base.
1) Offer recycled denim perks or promos
Let customers know that they can bring back their worn-out jeans in exchange for a small discount on their next purchase or trade them in for a new pair. Brands like H&M conduct take-back programs where they offer 15% off for every bag of worn out clothes consumers bring, no matter what brand. “California startup For Days sells access to its t-shirts through a subscription model, taking responsibility for the entire life of its product and offering a free upgrade to a new t-shirt indefinitely. They have a waitlist of 16,000 people willing to pay $38 for their first t-shirt”, according to Vogue Business. Other denim retailers can easily build a similar model for a pair of high-quality jeans sold in an even higher price range.
Offers like these not only increase customer loyalty and ensure recurring revenue, but they also help gain new customers while keeping acquisition costs low through organic social posts and word of mouth.
2) Renew or recycle old jeans
You have collected a ton of old denim, now what? You’ve got two great options – renewal or recycling. You can use that denim to upcycle into new merch, i.e. fixing damaged older pieces and renewing them into more fresh material. Or you can recycle them - if the jeans are beyond repair, they can always be broken down into new fabric and remade into new designs by your manufacturing partners. It’s important to note that renewal “requires constructing a supply chain that includes receiving and sorting to dyeing and sewing new pieces. Due to the costs involved, upcycling tends to be financially sustainable only for higher-value items with consistently high demand,” according to Vogue Business. Lucky for you, jeans remain one of most timeless pieces in every closet.
3) Charge higher prices
The first question that arises is “can I afford to upcycle old products?”. The simple answer is yes, when the stakes rank high. Look at Patagonia for example. They recently ran an ad campaign discouraging sales…of merchandise consumers don’t really need. Patagonia creates some of the highest quality and most expensive outdoor gear, and yet doesn’t fail to continuously acquire loyal customers. By charging higher prices for sustainably sourced denim (and providing transparency – see below), you can convince your customers that each pair of jeans they buy from you is a good investment meant to last for years. A well-fitted pair of jeans never goes out of style! The bottom line is, as long as you are clear about your brand values and your consumers can build an emotional connection with your denim label, they will happily invest in it.
4) Invest in your denim factories/manufacturers
Building a relationship with your jeans factory and investing in it can go a long way. Some companies are experimenting with new production methods that significantly reduce water usage, and other brands are pursuing sustainability by powering their factories with renewable energy and recycling water. Levi’s is one brand that focuses heavily on sourcing organic cotton produced with less water and synthetic fertilizers.
This is a much easier process to carry out when you work with a manufacturer you can trust and be transparent with. Invest in a factory that you can easily communicate your needs to and that allows you to be involved in the production process. Such initiatives aren’t cheap, at least not at the beginning, but together you can build a supply chain your consumers can rely on.
5) Be transparent
Constantly communicate your brand vision and values to your consumers. Then show them you actually stand behind your words. This can include video clips showing the production of jeans using recycled denim, initiatives carried out for water conservation in the factories, or even details about the cotton plantation you are sourcing from. One of MakersValley’s own designers, Nicole Zizi, creates apparel from recycled plastic and shares behind the scenes images of the production process. The key is to build a unique brand and be confident and proud of the work you do.
Establishing such ideas as a part of your overall business cycle won’t be easy; it will take up resources and it might be a while before you grow that loyal customer base. However, with the amount of saturated production domestically and overseas, the fashion industry has owed this to the environment for a while. It’s about time to pay it forward; let’s start with that pair of acid-wash blue jeans.
Marketing Intern @MakersValley. Tashfia is a senior majoring in Business Administration. She loves working in fashion and learning about marketing and the global supply chain which makes MakersValley a perfect fit for her! Her favorite hobbies include traveling, bar hopping and everything arcade.