Making our denim better for people & the planet
Jeans are a true wardrobe staple for the whole family and at M&S we absolutely love denim – serving 1 in 10 denim shoppers in the UK (read more here). For a clothing technologist, the material is one of the most interesting to work with as there have been so many technology developments. Denim was invented in France when weavers found a unique way of weaving cotton so that the fabric was much stronger. In the 70s denim jeans started to be washed industrially so they had the “lived-in” finish and it was the 80s when lycra got introduced to the fold (helping to create the skin-tight jeans lots of us love today). But one thing we’ve been working on for a long time – and continue to do so – is the sustainability of our jeans.
At M&S, we believe sustainable style is firstly about designing quality clothes made to last. And denim is a great material because it is so durable and hard wearing. However, producing jeans does use large amounts of water - growing cotton can be water intensive and industrial washing of denim has historically used significant amounts of water to get the finish right. We know our customers are concerned about sustainability so we’re on a mission to reduce water and chemical use each season. The new jeans we launched this Spring (including the Magic Jeans launched yesterday) use less water in the washing process than conventional jeans.
The fabric used in jeans is an important consideration. Today, 100% of the cotton we source for all M&S clothing (including denim) is organic, recycled or responsibly sourced from BCI, the Better Cotton Initiative. BCI supports farmers to develop more efficient production process, increase their yield and reduce water usage. We’re proud to work with amazing farmers such as Almas whose story we’ve shared with our customers on our Style & Living content hub. Aged 17, she took over the running of her family’s farm in Pakistan from her father and the Better Cotton Initiative classes helped her learn new techniques which ultimately increased her yields and decreased her overheads – she now trains farmers on how to use water more efficiently and work with natural pesticides.
With jeans we also have a great opportunity to reuse resources. I was really proud that the new supersoft fits we bought out in Autumn 2019 had 100% of the polyester made from recycled plastic bottles from a company called Unifi who makes Repreve yarn. Each super soft denim jean contains the equivalent of around ten plastic bottles. The yarn is created by melting down waste plastic bottles and builds on our wider efforts to tackle plastic usage by reducing, reusing and recycling (read more here).
I’m close to the whole end-to-end process of making jeans and I know that lots of customers care not just about what makes up their jeans – but who makes them. I’ve had some amazing visits to factories that make M&S jeans – the majority of which are in Bangladesh. All of the factories adhere to our Global Sourcing Principles which put simply guarantee good working conditions and fair pay. But we’re also proud of those who go above and beyond. Factories we work with are supporting projects across themes including health, gender empowerment and wage digitisation.
A lot of effort goes into our jeans and our denim is designed to be loved and to last – but we also continue to encourage customers to give their jeans a second life if they do purchase new ones – by dropping their jeans in one of our in-store shwop boxes – the jeans can then be re-sold by Oxfam or recycled. It’s a simple way customers can truly make sure their jeans are doing some good.
There are challenges with denim, but at M&S we’re passionate about our jeans and we’re passionate about clothes that don’t cost the earth, this won’t change. When it comes to denim, we’re making the big, bigger but we’re also making the big, better – better for people and better for the planet.
Read more about our approach to sustainable fashion here