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#193 - Sustainable Denim: Is it Possible? with Laura Vicaria, CSR Manager of MUD Jeans

October 12, 2021

#193 - Sustainable Denim: Is it Possible? with Laura Vicaria, CSR Manager of MUD Jeans
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The dirtiest item in fast fashion sits in most of our closets. With its use of cotton, chemicals, pesticides, and indigo dyes, denim has been making its mark on the environment for decades. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

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The dirtiest item in fast fashion sits in most of our closets. With its use of cotton, chemicals, pesticides, and indigo dyes, denim has been making its mark on the environment for decades. But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Changemakers in the fashion industry are disrupting the denim space. Brands like MUD Jeans are choosing recycled and organic cotton and leading the way in circular, sustainable production. 

We’ve talked to fashion industry leaders about how to reduce textile waste, what to do with unwanted clothes, how to shift from linear to circular fashion, and more. Today, we’re taking sustainable fashion a step further to talk all about denim production. 

Laura Vicaria is the corporate social responsibility (CSR) manager at the first circular denim company, MUD Jeans. On The Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Podcast, Cory and Laura discuss the challenges and opportunities of producing sustainable denim. In this post, we’ll cover how MUD Jeans is leading the way for eco-friendly fashion, and we’ll learn Laura’s tips for sustainable denim production.

Full Show Notes & Episode Bonuses:


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Laura Vicaria  0:00  
I think, you know, we can not wait until the consumer finally says, Oh, we really want this or ask them to push. That's really irresponsible for us to do that. In fact, it is the industry's responsibility to provide good products to the individual to provide sustainable products and again, being idealistic here. But how would that happen? And I think, well, my personal opinion, it needs to come from policy.

Cory Ames  0:28  
Hey, y'all, it's Cory here with the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast back again with another piece to the puzzle that is our series on the impact of fashion that we're doing with our partners at Donna on exploring the social, environmental and economic challenges and opportunities facing the fashion industry. And today, as you perhaps heard, at the top, we are talking about the world of denim, we're talking about what truly makes a sustainable pair of jeans. And to do so I'm speaking with Laura Vaccaro, via the Corporate Social Responsibility manager of mud jeans and mud jeans is the world's first fully circular denim brand. Their objective is to demonstrate that there is an alternative to a fast fashion industry. Through its lease a jeans model, which you'll hear more about my conversation with Laura. The brand challenges this idea of ownership and incentivizes a world without waste, and mud jeans believes that be mindful of nature in people is an absolute necessity. And in her role, Laura works to drive continuous improvement in mud jeans, his sustainability and circularity objectives. And that's much of what what we discussed today we talk about what the problem is with denim, what's unique about denim jeans, the production process, as it relates to the world of fashion. And then we walk through step by step what in fact a truly sustainable or as Laura would describe it, circular, she goes really well into depth in defining each of these, what a a circular, sustainable production model looks for the world of data. So before we dive into this conversation, I want to invite you if you haven't yet to sign up for our Better World weekly newsletter. This is a newsletter that I write and publish myself every single Monday. This is our discussion with our community of changemakers and innovators from all sectors all over the globe. about what it takes to build a better world. So go to grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter to sign up for that again, that is grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter. Alright, y'all, here's Laura Victoria, from my jeans.

Laura Vicaria  3:06  
I'm allowed to Korea. I'm the CSR manager of machines. My jeans is a circular denim brand. Basically what we do, we take back our old jeans, recycle them and actually use them to make new pair of machines. We're based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. And we are pioneers in the industry of circular denim.

Cory Ames  3:27  
So much of that we're going to get into in this conversation. But I'd like to start maybe where you you wouldn't expect I understand you've lived in a good few countries over the years. I'd be curious to hear which one feels closest to your heart. Oh, boy,

Laura Vicaria  3:43  
that is a tough question. I have lived over nine different countries in my life, more or less if I'm counting correctly. My favorite. Israel was fantastic. But at the time I was a young teenager and school was incredible. Israel. Tel Aviv Hetalia was beautiful. So I really have very fond memories of being a teenager there. And Rome. Rome was Rome, Italy was also very beautiful. I was in my mid 20s had my own scooter worked for the UN. It was really fun. So I cannot complain. I would say those are top two for sure.

Cory Ames  4:29  
Excellent. I love it. Now you're you're based in the Netherlands right, but we are recording this call is he informed me from you're in Nicaragua at the moment, right? Yeah,

Laura Vicaria  4:39  
Nicaragua. So if you hear any weird bird sounds in the background. That's why that is

Cory Ames  4:46  
awesome. Well, I'd love to know, Laura, how, how did you get connected to my genes? Because from what I understand, it's a fairly new role. Maybe in the grand scheme of your career, I'd love to know How y'all got connected? And what appealed to you about the company and what they're doing?

Laura Vicaria  5:05  
Yeah, sure, you're absolutely right. I am, well, time passes by really fast, I'm now two years into a job. But before that I was actually working for the food and Organization of the United Nations at a very different role. It was more focused on trade related policy stuff. And but really, my objective from from a long run was to mix my two passions, which is sustainability and fashion. And I was already in my mid 20s. And I decided at that point, if you really want to work for sustainable fashion, you have to do it now. Like, you know, I felt like that it was really the moment to focus in my career, and the direction that I really wanted before I specialized too much into something because you can do that very quickly. Once you step into the human world, you'll end up being a specialist in cotton trade, or something random like that, which, if it's what you're passionate about, that's fantastic. But for me, I was really passionate about the world of fashion, because I connected to it from a creative perspective. But I also knew very well that it had tremendous potential from an environmental perspective. So I pushed for it. And I really started to hunt for the best brands out there where I could maybe get my foot in the door. But never did, I imagined that I would land this amazing opportunity with my jeans. The reason why I am so proud to work for machines is because of what they're doing. They're really pioneers in what circular denim is, which basically, it goes beyond sustainability, it really looks at using all of the materials and the most effective way. And as we have seen from many reports that are slowly coming out, for example, from the circular economy, initiative, etc. You know, circularity, while it is not necessarily the only solution for climate change, it is a very important one. And I think the whole fashion industry should start moving in in that in that direction. So to be part of that conversation is is really a dream come true.

Cory Ames  7:14  
Imagine so what was it difficult for you to make that leap from from the United Nation

Laura Vicaria  7:20  
or in the language part, you know, like, the UN is very bureaucratic. And once you work for a brand, the challenge is always shifting your words to a softer language, a language that everyone can identify with, and, and interact with. So that was maybe my challenge, at a personal level, to just lower the whole academic lingo, you really have to translate it into softer language. And actually, that's the challenge, right? There's no point to having all of the academia know what they're talking about, of course, they know what they're talking about. But we want everyone to know and understand and feel empowered, when it comes to circular fashion. So yeah, and it's really exciting. Also, again, my job is to do all of the LCA and figure out all of the environmental social part. But then I work very closely with the marketing team to ensure that this stuff doesn't get lost so that we can communicate everything that we do. And, you know, a good way.

Cory Ames  8:22  
And what I mean, you mentioned there very briefly, what's unique about mud in just for one using using all the materials that are available a very effectively and efficiently but I'd love to kind of start maybe from an assessment of like a cultural standpoint, like why why do you think mud jeans is the way that it is as a brand?

Laura Vicaria  8:45  
Well, really, it all started with Bert on song, he is the founder of my jeans, and he set up machines back in 2012. He at that time, already had over 10 years of experience, seeing sort of the darker side of the fast fashion industry, both from a social and environmental perspective. So he set off to build a brand that really demonstrated that there is an alternative to this fast fashion world. And what we're also very much trying to do as a brand. And when you talk about culture, and brands have a very big responsibility over this is to drive a culture of slow fashion. And maybe we'll dig into that later on. I'm not sure. But it's really you know, about slowing things down lowering that overconsumption and really care about the way the product is made, which is very much the opposite of what the fast fashion industry is today.

Cory Ames  9:46  
Well, I'd love to go a bit deeper into that. I mean, particularly the the conversation around slow fashion, if you could define that a bit further with with what might be some tangible examples of that. And perhaps you know how that kind of interests to the status quo of the fast fashion culture.

Laura Vicaria  10:06  
So I think the easiest way is to start with fast fashion. And then it's easier to understand that the slow fashion, right? fast fashion is really this industry where they take everything off the runway and try to make it the fastest and cheapest way possible. They really don't care about quality or environmental impact, or the people behind making those clothes, I mean, all they want is that the product is out in the market as fast as possible. So people can consume it. In terms of culture, they also drive this culture of overconsumption, I need to have the latest piece, the latest trend. And the thing is, now it is in just like to seasonal collection or, or something like that. But Zara, and h&m and all of these larger brands really have I mean, I don't know off the top of my head right now. But I believe it's between 16 and 24 different collections coming through their stores. So every time you go in there you go, like, oh, I need to have this. So there is this big culture of all I need to buy, buy, buy. And actually, I really don't care too much about my clothes, whether they're good or bad that I have to take care of them. And in fact, because I want new clothes next week, I'm just going to throw away, you know, the clothes that I don't want. And it's this massive production, but also consumption that then leads to a huge increase of waste that comes from the industry. In fact, the fashion industry is accountable for 4% of the world's waste production. And that's quite a lot. So there is that what slow fashion slow fashion has is the opposite is really, you know, think of your grandparents how they really have that like T shirt or jacket or even pair of jeans that they have kept. Since you know, let's exaggerate a bit, even maybe their 20s or 30s, right, it's really valuing your clothes, taking care of them, having these wardrobes of pieces that you can mix together. And constantly just use those pieces, instead of having a huge massive wardrobe of pieces that actually you're not even really using. It's really loving your fashion and identifying with the fashion style that you go for. And not so much going with the trends. I love

Cory Ames  12:22  
that and coming from an outside or outside the fashion industry. And what I'm learning here too, I, I was sitting with it the other day, as we're doing some kind of comprehensive writing on this topic, slow fashion in particular, I was thinking, like some of it relates to me to this sense of like taking a pause as well, kind of creating my own definition here. But like taking the time to actually appreciate kind of what you what you mean exactly the sense of value, but to appreciate the whole process of what goes into constructing a garment, you know, from the very beginning of where we're sourcing the materials and the fibers to the folks who are, you know, putting that very difficult the job task. And just taking that moment is we're considering acquiring new things or giving things away or disposing of something that we're wearing. I liked the concept of slowed like slow down, you know, and appreciate the the whole experience there because there's fashion that deeper that go into this. It's just there's so many different avenues of both opportunity and obviously, severe severe challenges. But I'd be interested to know, particularly what what's the issue with with denim and jeans that may be a bit different from something else within fashion and apparel? Where are the the biggest problems and complications in that process?

Laura Vicaria  13:48  
Yeah, I love that question. It's also the reason why my jeans decided to become my jeans. Well, we chose denim and that is because it is actually one of the dirtiest pieces in your wardrobe because of the amount of chemicals it uses and just resources. So, typically denim is made from cotton and cotton requires a lot of water. And it requires a lot of insecticides and pesticides. Already this is a big problem. Particularly if you start thinking about where this cotton is coming from it requires product to come to different locations to be used and are ready that causes an immense impact. Then you look at how a pair of jeans is made to obtain that dark blue color, you need to use an indigo dye that can be extremely toxic and along with other toxic chemicals and the dyeing process in itself. It is very high in water consumption typically. So there's that and then of course you have to you have to make the fabric and then you have to stitch it and cut it and make it. And finally, all done in starts in this dark blue that I explained before. And then different techniques, which are typically either you know, sandblasting, or bleaching, again, really dirty stuff are applied to it. So you can get your worn out look or your lighter denim. So, again, you're taking this fabric that is brand new, and then you're doing stuff to it so that you wash it out, make it look older, give it another color, or like a softer color, etc. Which is crazy if you think about it. So once the customer gets the product, it's already been worn out. So yeah, that's, that's a little bit the darker side of the denim industry. But where there is a big issue, there's also great opportunity. And that's the way we see it at my jeans. And we also decided to focus only on denim, because actually everyone can identify with it. Whether you are a fashionista or not, you know whether it's just what you like reach into your wardrobe and put on every day. It doesn't matter. Everyone has apparently. So that's a little bit also goes with our motto of really trying to revolutionize the fashion industry with

Cory Ames  16:16  
that that was one of my my following questions was the curiosity of why jeans and the focus of denim specifically, but I love that there is some universality to it. Everyone has a pair of jeans, and they all look different as well, at the same time being very similar, which I love about it not worrying right now. It's extremely hot in Boston. So I'll have to hold off until fall arrives. But do you notice that the trends in how jeans are produced the production process for denim is? Do you see it from your lens? I mean, the specific lens of my jeans is one but industry wide? Do you see that that it is worsening as a process like industry? Why like getting more destructive and negatively impactful? Or do you see widespread adoption of better practices and methodologies? If that? That makes sense?

Laura Vicaria  17:13  
Yeah, absolutely. The last option, I mean, I think there's definitely an improvement. And perhaps I'm I'm an optimist, but and also perhaps is my bubble and who I'm surrounding myself with. But overall, I have seen a big interest to improve overall mental, you know, the whole fashion production process. But focusing specifically in jeans, definitely. There's really great initiatives, for example, from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, they have started up a project called the jeans for design project, which is working with a bunch of brands and giving them guidelines on how to become more circular. And these touch on things like how to increase the quality of the jeans so that they can live longer, how to you know, to incorporate organic cotton, that already makes a huge difference to us, you know, to completely remove any toxic chemicals from production, recycle them, etc, etc. So, and we worked with them to develop those guidelines. And we're also part of this initiative. And it's great to see I mean, I think in there if I'm not mistaken as PVH and Tommy Hilfiger, I believe Zara or Inditex in general has also joined, you know, there, there are a lot of these bigger brands that are forming part of this discussion and trying to learn how to do things better. Also, at a Dutch level, there is the denim deal that is being pushed by the Dutch government and support, which really is bringing all of the key leaders, players, let's say, in in creating circular denim, so you have the sorters or recyclers, the different manufacturers, and the brands sitting at one table, and figuring out how to increase the amount of jeans in the market that contain postconsumer recycled cotton, which is already a huge step. So I think definitely progress. And if anything, you know, we see a huge push to really improve climate level, the whole industry. And I hope that the recent IPCC report, there will be an even bigger push. Let's see what happens.

Cory Ames  19:24  
What do you imagine are the the tipping points on that to go from the stark reality of that specific report? You're mentioning there to that being translated into meaningful and effective action? Like what do you think is teetering? Or maybe things are already tipping in your opinion? I might just be in my own bubble.

Laura Vicaria  19:45  
Yeah, no, I think COVID did a lot. Of course, it was a very dark period for everyone. But it also had an interesting way of shifting everyone's mentality to take climate change more seriously and realize that Actually, we're all in the same boat. And that also translated to the fast fashion movement. For example, during the period, a lot of the big brands completely abandoned their manufacturers and cancelled all of the orders, which then of course, trickle down to them not being able to pay their workers and leaving them completely isolated. And yeah, with no money. So a lot of people highlighted that issue. Well, once again, highlighting the dark side of the fashion industry. And I think it really hit home, we see a lot of people, customers pushing, wanting sustainable fashion, asking the hard questions really wanting to know more. Everyone's also very much aware of the risks of greenwashing. So again, we see that a lot of customers are following their due diligence. We also saw, for example, the bigger brands like Gucci suddenly saying, Hey, we're not going to do multiple collections, we're going to stick to two, which is great. So there is definitely a movement to answer your question, sorry about what is needed. I think, you know, we can not wait until the consumer finally says, Oh, we really want this or ask them to push that's really irresponsible for us to do that. In fact, it is the industry's responsibility to provide good products to the individual to provide sustainable products, and again, being idealistic here. But how would that happen? And I think, well, my personal opinion, it needs to come from policy. So for example, with policies such as the extended producer responsibility, which basically says, okay, brands you produce, but you need to take the responsibility over what happens to that product at the end of life. And that immediately will make a huge shift in brands saying, Okay, well, alright, if that's the case, we need to rethink completely how we're making this because we have to recycle it or reuse it or whatever, right. So imagine something like that. So I think policy has a huge role to play. So brands and NGOs and governments really need to start working together.

Cory Ames  22:10  
I'm with you on that, I certainly believe that we should use all the tools that are at our disposal. And so every sector from you know, consumer to government to the private sector has responsibility. But I definitely agree with you, we can't wait for voluntary commitments to come into fruition or as well to the markets to dictate when we're ready to address this climate crisis. So I appreciate the answer there. And so speaking to brands taking that level of responsibility, you've woven in a few tidbits as to what my jeans is doing to set this different standard. I'd be curious if we could dive deeper into that as to you know, if we're thinking about a sustainable pair of jeans, and I'll let you define that and sustainable denim with my jeans as an example, what what does that look like? So we can all get ourselves on the same page?

Laura Vicaria  23:12  
Yeah, for sure. So I think a couple of things to maybe break down here. So one thing is circularity. circularity is really again, like the opposite of a linear model where it's you know, you make or you take, make, use and throw away, it's the opposite of that. It's it's trying to make a product so that it can be reused and reincorporated into the business over and over again, it's really, really about the effective use of materials, and thinking about how you're making a product. And then that way, you are lowering the amount of new raw materials that need to be extracted from the earth, which actually, by the way, it's tends to be the biggest chunk of impact environmental impact. So if you remove that, and just start reusing your materials, you're having already a positive environmental impact, so to speak. There's that and then sustainability extends beyond that, in that it equates the social aspect. So it's about being responsible about how you're producing things for the environment, and your business model and everything. But also making sure that the people that are within your supply chain, also benefit from fair working conditions are paid well. And yeah, are more partners than just, you know, people that are below your supply chain, which is unfortunately, how the fashion industry works. There's a really strong power dynamic between the brand and the manufacturer. And there's a responsibility there to not have that and really ensure that everyone benefits across the entire supply chain. So that's basically an overview For a brief definition of those two concepts, what does machines do? Well, as as I already stated in the introduction, we're a circular denim brand. And what that means is that we design with circularity in mind. So our jeans are, first of all cross seasonal, meaning that you can wear them across multiple seasons. And we design them with, there's more or less seven fabrics, but they are all composed of between 23 and 40%, post consumer recycled cotton, and the rest is got certified organic cotton, we limit our Elliston to 2%. Because it allows us to recycle them and it stops the contamination of the fiber. And again, we don't have many buttons and rivets, we only have one type of button one type of rivet made out of stainless steel so that we can recycle them. And finally, for example, we don't have the leather patch at the back, we have removed that and it's a it's a painted on version, again to lower the amount of extra material that goes into production. But it allows us also to recycle greater part of the product. So there's that we design in that way. We also have a very short supply chain with four main supply chain partners. We are famous for our sales model, which is the lease a jeans model. Basically, this is a model where we lease our pair of jeans to our customers, and removing the environmental anxiety of owning a new product for customers. But as the instead of giving them the experience of owning a new pair of jeans, but given the responsibility to us. So once they're done using them, they send us back the jeans. And we take care of what happens to that product at the end of life. They get a discount on their on their next lease or their next purchase. But overall, we're just making sure that that pair of jeans, that material that we invested in doesn't end up in a landfill or incinerated, causing further environmental impact. And then the genes that come back to us, they either are part of our vintage collection, which we sell on in other events, or they are recycled. And what that means is that they are shredded into small pieces. And those small pieces, small fibers are blended back in with God certified organic cotton turned into yarn, that yarn is turned fabric. And voila, you close a loop, right. And through that process, we're really trying to use our materials in the most effective way. And this really ensures that we have a minimal environmental impact. And throughout this entire process, we of course make sure that no toxic chemicals are used. And we choose supply chain partners that really reflect our values. And that extends to our sustainability values, which means that we want everyone across our supply chain to benefit from those poor working conditions that I was talking about. And that's basically it. Sorry for rambling on. But that's the story.

Cory Ames  28:27  
No, it's a lovely overview. And I'm curious, then as to you came on to my genes to serve a particular role. Two years ago, I'm curious, what what sort of progress did you have to make, like when you came in? Was it related to that exact production process? Or was it was it focused elsewhere? Because that that is a wonderful overview, and I think certainly everything that we aspire to, but I'm wondering to know, like, Where Where have we come from? And then as well, like, where, where does my genes still need to make progress? But I'll let you answer the

Laura Vicaria  29:04  
first part. Okay. Well, that's a great question. You know, I when you walk into a circular brand, it's pretty easy quote unquote, because you know, that sustainability and circularity is already being supported from the top, which means the CEO is already like, alright, Laura, where circular pioneers, how do we get there? So or, you know, how do we stay there. And I was lucky enough also that my predecessor already had done a lot of great work in developing a sustainability report and giving structure to that Department of Sustainability. Then I came in, and basically, the sort of things that I managed to take off the bigger list was we completed a reassessment of our B Corp. So we are a benefit corporation. And this is really focused on businesses that want to use their business as a force for good, and it involves a very, you know, solid assessment of a business, and you need to score above 80. And we actually, you know, scored 124 points, which is, you know, one of the top marks in Europe. And we were actually nominated the best for the world from an environmental perspective. So we were really happy to do that. Then, what we also worked on was furthering our knowledge of the environmental impact of our entire supply chain. So I worked in collaboration with eco chain and with them, we developed a lifecycle analysis. And we develop this LCA. For every single style in our collection, we didn't want to just focus on on averages, and we didn't want to base it on datasets that came from somewhere else. So we really worked with our suppliers to get their direct data. So we want to know, how much water do you use? How much electricity do you use? What chemicals do you use, so we plug that all into the system, and it helps us calculate the exact environmental impact of that style. And from there, we can then actually develop further strategies to lower our our environmental impact, which is fantastic. So in fact, today, a pair of jeans consumes so from water terms, 477 liters, which you would think, okay, that's a lot. But compared to industry standard, that consumes 7000 liters of water, that's a 93% difference in water consumption, compared to co2, so So our machines today on average, consumes six point 10 kilograms of co2 equivalent. And compared to industry standard, this is a 74% difference, which is fantastic. But we're always striving for that continuous improvement. So your question was, So Laura, what is really your role? And what do you do? My job is to make sure that we're always striving for that continuous improvement, how do we keep on leaping for those extra things that might actually inspire other brands to join our circular movement and say, Hey, this is possible. And there's actual business benefits behind it. So for example, we have also, one of the leading things that we have worked on, is measuring our biodiversity impact. We are, to our knowledge, we have done quite a lot of research. We are the only denim brand that measures its impact. Also across its biodiversity impact. And from an industry standard perspective, based on the calculations we did, we have a 51% Lower biodiversity impact than industry stats. So this is, this is some of the work that we've been doing. And it's essential, because you cannot really bring change to your company without understanding what the impact of your company is. Yeah, that's basically the work that we have been doing. And it's a lot of my job, for example, is a lot of interacting with the different departments within the team, whether it's marketing, which is product development, even finance, you have to figure out how to translate all of the work we're doing across those different departments and also empower those departments so that they feel also that they can bring forward those missions in their own departments. Basically,

Cory Ames  33:39  
one thing you mentioned, particularly about the example of, of being an example and inspiring other brands to see all in have this sense that oh, wow, you know, there are these things that can be done that can make a significant positive impact or perhaps reduce a negative impact. Along those lines. If you were to say for example, step into another fashion brand, maybe not exclusively one in denim and jeans, what what might be some advice or initial things if you're giving them a console of sorts, to look at initially to to reduce their impact? Where are maybe some common biggest detractors for folks?

Laura Vicaria  34:27  
Well, definitely is to have transparency over your supply chain. Yes, transparency, give that transparency to your customers, but more importantly, it's about knowing exactly where every single piece of your product comes from. To have that overview is already a huge step because once you know that then you can start identifying ways of improving that. Whether it is working with those suppliers or finding new ones, whichever is a best fit for for your company or brand. And then from there is looking at looking at your virgin materials, that tends to be the location, where you have the majority of your impact, it's that an energy. So looking at your virgin materials, looking what you can do better. So don't use conventional cotton, if you can use organic cotton. And if you can use recycled cotton, even better, I'm stating here in case, you know, in the event that cotton is the material that's being used, right? And then also, and this, of course, depends on the size of the company. Renewable energy is a big part of making that improvement. But of course, none of this really helps. It helps. But it loses value if you're not measuring it. Because, unfortunately, still today, you need to demonstrate, okay, what are we improving here, from a sustainability perspective? And what are its benefits and those needs to translate or from a financial perspective, or business perspective, etc. So numbers go really a long way. So measuring, measuring, measuring, measuring, and finally, is really, you know, as a brand to commit to the net zero movement, and just start, you don't need to be perfect. Don't be afraid to have a few bumps, we all have them. We're all learning, but it's making a commitment and setting up a strategy. And from there, you already have a lot to do. So that would be my recommendation.

Cory Ames  36:34  
That's quite the to do. And then speaking specifically to the the recycled cotton, the post consumer recycled cotton. what stuck out to me was was that's that's a goal of yours to have, achieve 100% post consumer recycled cotton in your production process by 2025. I started to wonder of, you know, where are we at with that? And then what are what are the barriers that are? Like why aren't we there just yet.

Laura Vicaria  37:04  
I love that you asked this question, because actually, it's a project that we're super excited about. It's called the road to 100. And we're working in collaboration with suction University, actually, they are the fantastic scientists behind the work that we're doing. So to give a little background, as I mentioned, we use up to 40%, post consumer recycled cotton. And this cotton is mechanically recycled. And as I've explained previously, what that means is that you're basically shredding the fiber. And, and what that causes is that the fiber that's left over is really short. So when you start blending in, you end up with a yarn that if you have too much postconsumer in there, it's gonna be a very weak yarn, and then that translates into a very weak fabric. And that's a limitation. So above 40, it starts, you start having really bad quality denim, which is then counterproductive to our whole mission of durability, right? So we set off, okay, how can we do this better, we want to use post consumer, why post consumer because it goes back to this concept of, you know, taking responsibility over our own waste. There's brands that are using bedsheets and these type of things, which is not necessarily a bad thing, or what you call pre industrial waste, which is just like, you know, old fabric or things that were leftover. It's not a bad thing. But for us, really, our focus was to really take responsibility are of our own waste. So we need to figure out how to improve that yarn quality, while still recycling most consumer, cotton, are using excuse me, postconsumer cotton. So we set off on this mission. And actually what we came up with, was to incorporate the mechanical recycling, but also use what we call molecular recycling, which is in essence, chemical recycling. And what that does is just melt down the cotton, the fiber and then you it becomes this liquid form. And in a water base, you kind of stretch it out. And you use that fiber and you mix it mix those two together to create a final product. Why are we not using 100%? Just the chemically recycled. And this is the challenge that you were asking about. Because, you know, if you use only chemically recycled cotton, you end up with a very soft fabric, kind of like a silk or on viscose, which is either way that'd be skulls or tassel that maybe people can relate to which is just a very soft and floppy type of material, which is great, but it's not the denim feel that you know people really want so by mixing those two, you can create the look and feel and still have that 100% So here's the challenge To the challenges, what's the best percentage mix? And that's kind of like what we're doing now we are testing out what are those best percentage mixes and then figure out the best combination. So we hope by the end of 2020, to actually have the first sample of a pair of jeans that is 100% made from post consumer recycled cotton, which will be, you know, absolute, you know, victory and glory, we can't wait, I mean, fingers crossed. But from there, you know, the big the next big challenge is how to bring that to scale. And how to get enough, you know, post consumer recycled cotton, how to collect that and how to get that to locations so that we can use that effective.

Cory Ames  40:44  
I love hearing about where the edges at for brands like mud, like the word that the work that y'all are doing, because it's like, it does seem like math, they have so much figured out, which is really admirable. I love to hear the sectors of like, where are the edges of the problems that y'all are still working on and solving?

Laura Vicaria  41:04  
Well, let's see, there's always little challenges, right? So, for example, our buttons, they are stainless steel, but how can we remove them better? And how can we get them removed so that it can be recycled? Figuring out the logistics, and supplier for that can be tricky. The stitching yarn that we use, these are small, little details. But hey, if we find solutions, the better, right? It's still made with a polyester base sort of interior. It has a cotton exterior, but the interior is poly based. So that's not good. And also our LS da, we have a 2% Elliston limit on our denim. But again, it's poly based, so we want to find a better solution for that. But when it comes to finding biodegradable or recyclable based Elliston all of these have a limitation to them. And so we need to figure out, okay, what can we work with? What what country so those from, from a design perspective are a little bit the challenges and then looking at, you know, how to grow, how to scale up, but in a genuine way that still, you know, matches very much our values and everything that represents circularity, because we of course want to stay genuine to what we represent. But we also know that having a little bit of a bigger size, just a little bit bigger size, gives you a louder voice in industry, and gives you the opportunity to have more influence over the industry and allows us to, for example, easily get much use in the US. We don't have that yet, right. We want everyone to have access to sustainable products. So that is a much bigger question which we're still figuring out how to do to be really honest with you.

Cory Ames  43:07  
I'm always curious about that concept of scale as well for brands like my jeans because that it's it's been a word that I think has been kind of grossly molded by tech Silicon Valley, here in the United States, scaling things for the sake of scaling things when often I think people don't even know really what the word means. But I, I always wonder that of like what you know, what, what is the concept of growth that brands like mine are trying to achieve? Because there is something that seems inherent with wanting to to perhaps grow but in exactly as demand a way that feels very authentic, genuine and I guess controlled in a sense to where, you know, you do have a good handle on what is the whole, you know, the externalities that are created the impact that's created by being a bigger size? Not so much a question, but just kind of an expression of you know, I wonder that it just an open ended kind of wondering and curiosity because it sounds like it's an internal dialogue that that y'all are going through as well. It is

Laura Vicaria  44:12  
it is completely and so yeah, we are not sure yet how to, you know, what are we aiming for? What's the right number and as you get bigger that comes with the challenges of okay, we have more suppliers, how do we regulate all of that and having full transparency and traceability over all of that that's something that we value a lot. You know, we have chemical policies and code of conduct that we ask all of our suppliers to, to sign but also you have to be diligent and make sure that those are actually followed. But it's really interesting. So for example, we just had a great collaboration with IKEA. You know that the love at IKEA, we developed a clip on cover, a denim, circular Clip uncover with them. And we're super proud of it. And in fact, we just recorded a podcast with IKEA. And the conversation was very much on this concept of scale. And that we both kind of helped each other with the different things that we brought to the table. In that we sort of had all this knowledge about circularity, which they were very curious about, because they have all of these circular objectives. In fact, they want to be fully circular by 2030. And but then they have this scale. And for us, that's really exciting, because they give us this platform to really bring out the message of the value of circularity to a whole huge group of people. So an IKEA is actually doing a really great job. But by working with them, you know, I really noticed how diligent they are with everything that they do in terms of all of the suppliers, issues, and all of the different strategies that they have. There really are a great company. And of course, they might not have a full handle on the whole circularity thing. Who knows, maybe in the future, they will be very strong in that world. But something like that, I mean, IKEA is huge, I think he was telling me that it's like, they use 1% of cotton or wood in the world. So really, it's they're huge, and we don't aim to be that size. But I think that you know, there's definitely, there's definitely companies out there that can demonstrate how to do things properly. For sure. Well, maybe

Cory Ames  46:32  
further along those those lines with IKEA, perhaps being one who are other brands, or maybe organizations generally in fashion that are inspiring y'all with with your work at my jeans,

Laura Vicaria  46:43  
well, maybe not, I mean, fashion specific. And then the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's is great. They're doing a lot of cool work in, in doing the nitty gritty in terms of policy work, and working with the government and carrying out the research that maybe brands just don't have the focus to have. And also they're doing great work and bringing brands together and showing them how to make improvements. So they're great circle economy also has a textile unit. And they're doing also some great work, again, research based on the fashion world, fashion and shoes, which is also important to consider that I think the shoe sector is actually quite ignored when we talk about sustainability. And its increasing interaction there. So yeah, I think they have been really exciting and non fashion. You know, we are a B Corp. So we love to work with people that are leaders in their own fields. And so for example, Tony's chocolonely, they are a chocolate factory chocolate brand, they just do fantastic stuff, when it comes to Well, first ending the slavery behind the crop production process. But in general, just from a social perspective, they're super, super strong, and we love working with them, because they're really it's been inspirational. Then we started working with just dig it. Again, they are a Dutch based NGO. And what they do, they regrow trees, they regrow re stumps, so they're doing a lot of work in terms of nature based solutions to climate change. But instead of planting trees, and when it comes to planting trees, there's always the risk that you're planting the wrong breed. And it's not actually helping biodiversity. So what they do is in the region of Tanzania, they work with a local communities to regrow trees, so regrow tree stumps. And when they do that, immediately, yes, you're rebuilding biodiversity, but you're also capturing co2, you're improving the lands ability to absorb water, which then trickles down to improving sustainable agriculture techniques and helping local communities. So we love those types of initiatives and concepts and we support them as well. Those are a few examples.

Cory Ames  49:18  
Excellent. Well, Laura, I want to be respectful your time thank you so much for for this this in depth discussion. But before we wrap up, Could I could I ask you a few rapid fire questions,

Laura Vicaria  49:30  
but I'm scared but let's do it.

Cory Ames  49:34  
All right, well, first, what might be your your top one or two tips for a consumer, someone who's purchased a pair of jeans to in their care and maintenance of them to lower their environmental impacts and make them last the longest?

Laura Vicaria  49:52  
Well take care of them. Don't tumble dry. Don't tumble dry them. Okay, wash them and put them to just you know, drying your room. No. And just typical line dryer, you know, that is the most sustainable thing that you can do. wash it in cold water that has such a difference when it comes to impact. And then you know, sounds silly, but don't be afraid to pick up, you know, a needle and a thread in case you've wrecked them and you want them fixed. I mean, you really can learn anything on YouTube these days and stitching up your pair of jeans is pretty simple. And just love them really. And then when you don't want them, just give them swap them, sell them on vintage or whatever platform is best in your region. Because really, I'm confident somebody else will use them. And that has such a big positive impact.

Cory Ames  50:46  
Excellent tips. Next one for you. What's maybe one book, film or other resource that you might recommend? Something that maybe you always come back to or something that's impacted you recently?

Laura Vicaria  51:00  
Well, there's two I just finished reading the fashion opolis book by Danna Thomas. I believe that's her name. And I really enjoyed that book, it gives you a whole overview of the, you know, the fast fashion world, but where, where its impact is, and if anyone is really curious to understand the denim industry for the better. There's a great chapter on that they're on there, too. From a podcast perspective, I really love the wardrobe crisis by Claire press. She's so good, and has so many great topics and people coming on to tell their stories, and they're truly inspiration.

Cory Ames  51:41  
Lovely. And then what's one morning routine or daily habit that you absolutely have to stick

Laura Vicaria  51:47  
to. If anything, morning routine, I need to take an hour every morning just to myself, whether it is researching a topic, I love doing a course that inspires me. And after that hour, then I can start working. Because I feel better after that. Just taking some space for myself.

Cory Ames  52:08  
I like that. And one last question for you, Laura, what's one bit of advice that you might leave our listeners with? These folks are social entrepreneurs, change makers, from all sectors all over the world? Well, folks,

Laura Vicaria  52:23  
really, you know, we all have a role to play in this climate situation that we're all facing. So as intimidating as it may feel, and as big as a problem as it may seem, because it is, but we all have a role to play. And I think every little bit counts. So just start and read and listen to different things that make you feel inspired and motivated and empowered. Because there are a lot of stuff out there that makes you feel tiny and overwhelmed and like the world's gonna finish and and in the next day, stay away from those really focus on the people that inspire you and just just start, just start.

Cory Ames  53:04  
Excellent advice to end on. Finally, finally, where should we keep up with you in my jeans? Where should folks go?

Laura Vicaria  53:11  
Oh, love it. Well, we have all of our social media platforms, the typical things, my jeans on on Instagram and also on LinkedIn. And also please check out our website. We also just released our new 2020 sustainability report on lifecycle assessment report. So if you're curious to know more, I really encourage it. And that's www.bluejeans.edu

Cory Ames  53:37  
Perfect. We'll have all things my genes linked up in the show post at girl ensemble.com. Laura, thank you so much once more for taking the time. Thanks, Cory. Okay, that is a wrap another episode of the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast in the books. I hope you enjoyed it. As always your host here Cory Ames. I always really enjoy knowing that you're you're out there listening to this episode, engaging with the content, perhaps the folks that we featured doing this exceptional work in the world. If you enjoyed the show, and you haven't already, please leave us a review wherever it is that you get your podcasts and hit the subscribe button if you haven't already that really helps other folks like yourself, discover the show. And lastly, if you have not yet sign up for the better world weekly newsletter this is our weekly discussion of building a better world with our global community of changemakers and innovators from all sectors and all walks of life. So go to grow ensembl.com backslash newsletter to get the next Better World weekly in your inbox. Alright y'all, we'll talk next time

Laura VicariaProfile Photo

Laura Vicaria

CSR Manager

MUD Jeans is the worlds first fully circular denim brand. Its objective is to to demonstrate that there is an alternative to fast fashion. Through its Lease a Jeans model the brand challenges the idea of ownership and incentivizes a world without waste. MUD jeans believes that being mindful of nature and people is a necessity.  As the CSR manager, Laura Vicaria works to drive continuous improvement in MUD Jeans' sustainability and circularity objectives.