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The Impossible Jean Project

The shift in our systems, businesses is evolving fast – after all it needs to if we are to sustain our businesses as well as our planet. “The European Union will sell 225 billion euros ($267 billion) of green bonds as part of its pandemic recovery fund, in what will be a watershed moment for an expanding market. The debt will make up about 30% of the EU’s 750 billion euro rescue package, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a key policy address on Wednesday. The bloc’s offering will be equivalent to roughly all the green securities sold globally last year, likely making it the largest issuer, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

The shift towards sustainability is no longer a romantic vision but one which is connected to profits and people. We are not only discussing what business is doing to the climate but what climate and crisis are doing to business as well. By investing in our future, we can boost jobs, resilience of communities while maintaining the health of our environment. We will need to think creatively, holistically and act responsibly using the framework of circular business models defined by the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as leaders, managers as well as consumers.

I want to go back to the idea that I have been playing with in my mind for a long time of denim being a social and environmental currency. Denim is a canvas of integrated, connected and collected stories of people, innovation, creativity, regeneration, history and it has also become one of the most referred when talking about the harmful, polluting, colonizing impacts. The duality has become a part of denim`s story of the beauty and the beast. The effort, technicality, investments, patience that go into the making of the denim fabric as well as the jeans is hardly known to the consumers and even designers working for the fashion industry. Having been involved in the industry for 30 years I can confide in that it is intense. At the current state of the business this intensity is hardly rewarding as most of the discussions are based still around “price” discounting the economic, social and environmental value of the supply chain and the end products. Thanks to the diverse initiatives, responsible manufacturing practices at scale design practices, collaboration across industries, digitalization, policies in discussion and the fast evolving consumer demand patterns, this stagnant dialogue on the price of a pair of jeans as a main value currency is changing. There are amazing opportunities where one sees where to look and think otherwise. The consumers are making the connection between their clothes and the climate as they are also applying the same process to how and what they eat. The most critical aspect of transforming the industry is for businesses to see the future value of what they want their business to evolve into and this is not a risk-free proposition but a much needed one if they want to survive in business (also simply as healthy, safe human beings).

The task to move to a circular model needs collaborative approaches which define value (or the denim currency) as a means to the goal. There are multiple challenges that could be transformed into opportunities if the model becomes systems/platform based rather than product (profit/product) based. The Ellen Mc Arthur Foundation Circular Fashion report highlights that 500billion USD is lost from clothing being barely worn or recycled improperly. There lies an immense economic opportunity and the possibility of co-creating jobs for many.

The denim currency is integrated into how the product is originated, how it is designed, what kind of raw materials are used, where and how it is manufactured, the natural and the human resources invested, how it is cared for, for how long it has survived and how this investment is conceived by a regenerative system. I remember my discussions with Bart Sights (vice president of technical innovation at our Eureka Lab, Levis); almost 20 years ago to build the edible jeans which would not only decompose but would provide nutrition to the soil – the endless brainstorming sessions on co-creating the impossible jeans. Given the expertise, innovation tools, scientific progress, I truly believe that we have the right tools to curate, manufacture and market the impossible jeans at scale and it is time that brands move to a full life cycle ownership model and consider where and how they can transform the social and the environmental currency of denim into real profits. I challenge the readers to look beyond, into the future and reach out (to me and to each other) to dream, design and make the impossible denim our future.



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