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Italian brand Candiani is making fully biodegradable denim

In terms of environmental impact, most jeans are on par with clothing made from plastics. One European denim supplier is changing this, and you might be pleased to find that you own a pair of their jeans already.

You’re likely aware that one of the most environmentally taxing industries is fashion, with clothing production responsible for 10 percent of all greenhouse emissions.

And while decent quality jeans can last for years, producing a single pair requires 2,000 gallons of water. This amount greatly contributes to the 20 percent of the world’s wastewater generated by the fashion industry each year.

Making matters worse, the toxic chemical benzene (a rat poison) is commonly used to give jeans their blue indigo colour. Almost 80 percent of jeans on the market use ‘stretch denim’ which incorporates microplastic shedding fibres into their fabric.

The final, unfortunate truth is that many brands label their products as compostable, although they only really break down when placed in ‘high-temperature commercial facilities’ after being returned to retailers.

But you didn’t come here to read fashion industry slander, so let’s discuss the real star, Candiani – the Italian denim brand tackling each of these issues and becoming a pioneer of sustainable denim.

An unplanned journey to sustainability

Candiani Denim has been located in a small town between Milan and the Alps since 1938, an area that was declared as environmentally protected over fifty years ago.

This has presented operational challenges but relocating the factory has not been viewed as an option. Instead, the family-owned business viewed strict protection laws as an opportunity to adapt itself to be more environmentally friendly.

Candiani has been required to perform weekly water tests, something most other factories are not subjected to. As a result of this surveillance, the company managed to reduce its water usage by 75 percent, incorporating a water purifier to make production processes more sustainable.

The fourth-generation owner of Candiani, Alberto Candiani, commented on their techniques saying, ‘it is possible to produce a pair of jeans with 20 or 30 litres of water.’

The factory also reduced the amount of chemicals it used by 65 percent. By buying the patent to a dyeing process which uses natural fungi and binding the fibres and dyes together with a biobased polymer as opposed to a chemical formula, the amount of microplastics shed during Candiani’s stretch denim production has been cut to zero.

‘There is no reason for us to create microplastics anymore. We are going plastic free,’ says Alberto.  ‘We [also] collect and reuse 100 percent of our waste fibres for our recycled denim line.’

Say hello to compostable clothing

Candiani’s stretch denim is guaranteed to biodegrade within a year of the end of its wear cycle, a huge contrast to the hundreds of years typical stretch denim takes.

The company guarantees this because they tested it themselves, by digging holes next to the factory’s nearby river and burying brand new pairs of blue jeans. Uncovering the soil six months later revealed that the denim had almost completely disappeared.

Anthony Candiani finds speculations that compostable denim ‘might start falling apart’ in the event of rain somewhat humorous.

‘They are extremely durable, but at the end of their life, yes, you could send them back to us and we recycle them, or you could fertilize your veggies with them. We have even fertilized cotton fields with our scraps,’ he said in an interview.

Candiani prioritises the preservation of its historical ties to the Italian region where it started, rather than outsourcing to cheap labour countries where workers would be paid 1/1000th of what its workers currently earn.

Of course, choosing local production means an increase in price – for just one yard of Candiani denim, retailers will pay six dollars – but this price point hasn’t stopped global brands such as Lee, Levi’s, Lucky Brand, and Stella McCartney from investing in purchasing their denim from Candiani.

And with Gen-Z looking to buy clothing that will last in their closet (but not on the planet), it’s refreshing to see Europe’s largest denim factory working to meet this demand.


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