Once upon a time, Recycled Denim: Kuyichi INTERVIEW
Updated: Feb 27
I was recently reading on Eco Warrior Princess the fact that influencers are on social networks to promote freebies and feeling happy to be part of something. Prince EA was calling people to reconsider the word "influence". To step back from what we all know on social network and think further on what is the role of an influencer: "digging people into illusions of beauty, fame, etc making them anxious and unconsciously lowering their self-esteem or freeing people and truly making their lives better after coming into contact with our content"? In other words, being under influence. Somehow we need some people as a referent to go through life. So I agree on being an influencer,"what for"?
Maddie - I would like to start this interview to say that the Nora mom fit jeans I've received from our collaboration has turned into my everyday jeans! It is very soft and comfy. It has this more vintage shape in comparison with the other trousers you create. What cut had the very first jeans you created at the beginning of Kuyichi Pure Goods adventure?
Kuyichi - First, thank you so much, we’re happy to hear that you love our Nora! The first women’s jeans that were a serious commercial success for us as a brand, was named Sugar. It was in the early 00’s, when super low waisted flared jeans were very popular. Sugar had a very low front rise and a tilted waist because the back was much higher. And many details, because no one heard of minimalism at the time. Sugar was popular for a decade, but times change. The waist got higher and the fit skinnier.
M - Being comfortable in clothing used to be linked to a lake of taste in terms of styling. Sustainable clothing has also suffered from a reputation to be boring clothes. Now people start to consider that comfort is not necessarily ugly, and sustainable clothing is getting more attractive for people who still want to be in the side of trends-makers. Kuyichi doesn't only offer trousers. What inspires you in this modern society and its changes in considering fashion? What is the most important thing when you design clothes?
K - Sustainability, to us, is not only about sustainable fabrics and fair labour. We try to approach it as holistic and conscious as possible. This means that we also design our clothes as sustainable as possible, avoiding unnecessary and too trendy fuss at all times. Same for overhyped fits that end up at the back of your closet after just one season. Also, quality and comfort are important design topics. We want to create clothes that will be worn as much as possible, both because they have a long lifespan and they have the potential to become your wardrobe favourite.
M - Denim is a controversial material with the fact that it has been on media spotlights to denounce pollution and water waste. Maybe this comes from the fact that everyone has nowadays at least a pair of jeans in his or her wardrobe, so by pointing denim, we are all concerned. If we look at the history of jean, it used to be a utilitarian clothe, converted into a basic by getting famous through Hollywood. At the same time we can say that it was the beginning of a controversial history of denim: women's rights, dress codes, social movements, going or not in high fashion runway, having holes,... till being pointed as an item that damage the planet and its resources. One could say denim has been a sort of rebel with many causes. Was it what drove Kuyichi to create clothes from recycled denim, and especially jeans? To reintroduce it into a more positive fashion?
K - The main reason why we started with denim is because it’s one of the most polluting garments in the entire fashion industry. The impact of regular denim, that requires a lot of harmful chemicals, water and energy usage) is huge, both on the soil and on the people who work with it. Denim is also a very complex product to make. A pair of jeans have come a long way through a long and complex production process before it ends up in your closet. In other words: to seriously turn the cotton industry around and create a market for fair trade and organic cotton – one of the reasons why we started our brand in 2000 – it was interesting and important to focus on creating a way to turn around the denim production. We were the first denim brand making organic jeans ever and we’re very proud of having paved the way for so many others.
When it comes to recycling, denim is a waste stream that mostly consists of cotton. The higher the percentage of cotton it has, the easier it is to recycle into new jeans if you talk about mechanical recycling. That’s why worn-out denim is the perfect product to recycle into new denim fabrics. Lowering the impact of the new jeans you’re producing.
M - One day I saw a TV reportage from Canada where the journalist was actually taking her denim as an example of "how can I have a sustainable behaviour with my old clothes". Her started point was that the pair of jeans had a hole, so she would no longer use it. She started to ask in a charity shop if her jeans would be accepted and will get a second life. This question drove her till Africa where most of the unsold second-hand clothes are ending. This contributing to dysregulate the local production, she decided to try her chance back in Canada with a recycling company that produce isolation and construction materials. For some specific laws, they were not able to accept it. The all journey ended up in a University where she was told to eventually repair her denim and keep it, as so far it was the most conscious act she could make out of her broken jeans. Knowing that you recycle denim, what would you have advised her, and what can you tell about working on recycling denim?
K - It’s true that the most sustainable and accessible thing a consumer can do, is repair a garment before you throw it away. Even wearing a garment for 3 months longer lowers the environmental footprint up to 10%. Our fast consumption society has created a throw-away mindset, while a garment can last way longer if you just repair it. Recycling still is a complex process, especially with denim. We’re currently working on ways to recycled Post-Consumer denim ourselves and make it more accessible for consumers to participate. The hard thing about recycling is not only the logistics and the enormous process behind it (it’s not something you can easily start doing as a brand). Many clothes nowadays consist of a fabric composition that makes them hard (/with the current technology something even impossible) to recycle. We can only recycle jeans that contain at least 97% cotton. The collected jeans have to be sorted by this, but it’s a hard thing to do because the labels are often washed out and impossible to read. We’re currently working on how to work our way around these obstacles and implement it in our way of working. But it takes time. We believe that recycling is the future and the core of the fashion industry of the future. We would advise the journalist to start with only buying jeans that contain at least 97% cotton, which makes it easy to recycle. Reuse and repair it as long as you can and look for companies who specialize in Post-Consumer (denim) recycling. And keep an eye on Kuyichi… ☺
M - Is there any material inside of certain denim that can't be recycled at all?
K - As of today, there is not a way to extract elastane out of fabric, because the elastane is spun into the yarn. The rule is that it is more difficult to recycle blended fabrics, no matter what the composition is. This is if you talk about mechanical recycling, with shredding machines. However, there are developments and innovations in the chemical recycling field being able to extract both synthetic fibres into recycled polyester and cellulose-based fibres - like cotton - to reuse it for viscose/lyocell fabrics. They are currently still in their baby shoes, but they will become super important to close the loop in fashion. Time will give us a solution to this problem, we’re certain about that!
M - Your clothes are vegan. They also have a PETA certificate. Could you explain what is a vegan Denim and why it was important to you to have PETA certified on your clothes? Especially that in the general opinion PETA is more related to the leather industry.
K - We’ve stopped using leather for denim in 2016 and our jeans are officially PETA approved vegan ever since. You might be surprised, but regular jeans aren’t vegan. They carry a patch made from leather and often animal-based content is used in the dyeing or washing phase. Nowadays, there are many ways to produce a high-quality vegan jeans without a wash that contains animal content and without a leather patch. In 2016, we chose to make patches from jacron, a washable and recycled paper. We just updated our patches with a new one (your Nora carries this one) that is mainly made from recycled corn. This patch has a better leather-look than our previous patch and has even less impact.
As the road towards sustainability is a continuous process (there is no point of perfection, after all), there’s always something to improve. When you know better, you have to do better.