Where sustainability in clothing is concerned, denim is the elephant in the room — or at least it has has been for a long time. In the past decade, as the clothing industry has begun to address aspects of sustainability, the omnipresent cotton fabric has been largely ignored. It’s not really a surprise, as the worldwide supply chain for denim is far from eco-friendly and would take a major overhaul to reform. Cotton growth accounts for 11 percent of global pesticide use and dyeing and finishing processes for denim often use chemicals that are unsafe for workers and the environment. Through its lifecycle, a single pair of jeans uses over 3,700 liters of fresh water. In order to address these systemic issues, a number of brands have begun to focus on more sustainable methods to produce jeans. This week, California-based Outerknown released a new collection of S.E.A. Jeans which are some of the best you’ll find on the market.
The new line, which is available in three fits and a variety of colors and washes, is part of the brand’s continuing focus on reducing denim’s impact on the environment. Last year, the brand — co-founded by pro surfer Kelly Slater and veteran designer John Moore — partnered with Levi’s to offer a range of sustainably made denim classics including 511 jeans and Trucker jackets. Made with Levi’s WaterLess dying innovation, those garments used up to 70 percent less water than conventional indigo dying. Far from over, the ongoing collaboration will continue to examine aspects of sustainability in new garments as seasons advance.
Similarly, the S.E.A. jeans are made from organic cotton sourced from the Candiani mill in Italy and the Isko mill in Turkey. They’re manufactured at the LEED-certified Saitex factory in Vietnam. Notably, workers at Saitex recycle 98 percent of water used in production, and they air dry 85 percent of their jeans to save energy, they use solar power and they harvest rainwater. Though they aren’t cheap (they range in price from $128 to $168), these jeans are produced to the highest possible ethical and environmental standards and Outerknown guarantees each pair for life. If you wear them out, tear a knee or rip a seam, the brand will repair or replace the jeans at their cost — that alone is a great reason to invest in a pair.
To learn more about what went into these forward-thinking jeans, we caught up with John Moore to talk about the scope of the collection, the importance of not throwing your jeans away and the incredible promo images shot in Hawaii.
Q: Did you learn anything from the Levi’s Wellthread and Outerknown collaboration that you applied to these jeans?
A: We learned the obvious, that our man loves blue jeans.
Levi’s and Outerknown just makes sense together, and Wellthread was our first co-branded collaboration. Levi’s always stayed true to the vision, aesthetic and history of their brand as they developed the Wellthread innovation, and we’ve been proud to partner on telling this story. Levi’s and Outerknown is an ongoing collaboration that will get better every season, and this September drop is the best yet!
With the launch of S.E.A. Jeans, Outerknown is bringing our own innovation and personality to this important category. We are working with our own suppliers and fabric mills, and it is a completely different design approach. S.E.A. Jeans enable us to do something that is completely our own.
Q: Why did Outerknown decide to use denim made from organic cotton sourced from the Candiani and Isko Mills?
A: Candiani and Isko are two of the most well-respected denim mills in the world. It was important for us to use organic cotton, but it was equally important for us to get the right look and characteristics out of our denim selections to achieve the results we were looking for. Great style has always been just as important as sustainability for us.
Q: The S.E.A. Jeans come in three fits and a wide range of washes and colors — can you talk about the importance of variety in this collection?
A: Jeans are extremely personal. The perfect pair of jeans for me is probably different from the perfect pair of jeans for you, taking into consideration size, length, fit, wash, etc. I prefer a rigid jean, while many men may prefer stretch. We selected three denims to achieve twelve different finishes, washes and colors. We wanted to offer enough variety, so different types of men could find the jean they are looking for. You probably already own a few pairs of blue jeans, so we’ve created a style of S.E.A. Jeans called the Drifter that comes in four coastal colors (Fatigue, Mirage, Salt and Faded Khaki) that are different from any jean you may currently have in your closet today.
We shot our S.E.A. Jeans on 14 North Shore Lifeguards last month. These are men with a range of body types. I assumed the most challenging aspect of the shoot was going to be finding a S.E.A. Jean that each man individually felt comfortable in, but the range of inseams, colors and styles ensured that we found a pair that every man looked great in.
Q: The majority of fresh water used in the lifecycle of a pair of jeans happens during the production of the cotton, so recycling fiber and repairing clothing is essential for sustainability. Why is it important for Outerknown to guarantee these jeans for life?
A: Our goal at Outerknown is to make a jean that has the right (responsibly sourced) fabrications and lasts a long ass time. If your jeans tear or wear out at any time, we will repair or replace them at our cost. However, the idea behind the guarantee is not just about long lasting quality; it’s also about what happens when you are done with them. Don’t throw your old S.E.A. Jeans away, send them to us and we’ll upcycle them to make sure they don’t end up in a landfill on our watch.
Photo: Todd Glasser
Q: Is there anything that might surprise customers about the S.E.A. Jeans?
A: As I mentioned above, we didn’t want to just make another blue jean. We wanted to make Outerknown S.E.A. Jeans and bring our coastal personality into the trims and detailing both inside and out. One of my favorite styles is our Ambassador slim fit with the selvedge edge. I actually have it hanging inside-out on the wall behind me because I’m so proud of everything that went into our jeans. From the story on the pocket bag to the selvedge trim to the hardware with our S.E.A. Jeans branding.
I’m pretty certain the fits will also surprise you as our team spent more than a year perfecting all three — a straight leg called The Local, a slim leg called The Ambassador and a relaxed, tapered leg called The Drifter.
Q: The promotional photos produced with North Shore Lifeguard Association are incredible. What was the inspiration for this shoot and how was it produced?
A: Oh man, I could talk about this for days. S.E.A. Jeans are Outerknown’s way of doing our best for people and planet in a category — denim — that’s notoriously bad for both.
We’re so happy to work with our supplier Saitex, the cleanest denim supplier in the world, but that’s just part of the story. We’re not making denim in the traditional sense, which is why we called them S.E.A. Jeans (an acronym for Social. Environmental. Accountability.). We wanted to show our S.E.A. Jeans in harmony with nature. We wanted to make you feel something.
In my time in the business, these are definitely the images I’m most proud of. Before we shot, we spent 30 minutes talking to the lifeguards about the significance of what they were doing and how honored we were to work with them. Athletic ability was just as critical as the creative vision. They were 14 of the most badass watermen I’ve ever worked with — they trod water for four hours in jeans. Imagine that. At least Todd Glaser (our photographer) and I got to wear fins!