Did you know that making one pair of cotton denim jeans uses 42 liters of water, up to 15 dyeing vats and a slew of harmful chemicals? A PhD student at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt School University knew, and set about to find a more sustainable alternative. What Dawn Ellams came upon was Tencel, a fiber from wood pulp, which could replace the cotton in the iconic garment.
Tencel is the trademark name for Lyocell, a man-made fiber that is spun from the cellulose of wood pulp. Its texture is soft, silky and wrinkle-free. Ellams’ research shows that using Tencel in place of cotton can significantly reduce the carbon footprint and water waste that normally occurs in producing jeans. She said:
The sustainability issues associated with the manufacturing of cotton garments are already well understood, yet the use of cotton shows no sign of diminishing. The research challenged the design and manufacture of denim jeans, probably the most iconic use of cotton. The overall aim was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use associated with conventional manufacturing for denim jeans.
She created her jeans out of Tencel and then used digital printing technology to give the jeans the familiar stonewash appearance. Her process takes about one fifth of the water, energy, and chemicals needed to manufacture the pants in the traditional way.
Michael Kininmonth, Business Development and Project Manager for Lenzing AG, the manufacturers of Tencel said:
Innovation is the life’s blood of today’s denim industry and there are strong environmental reasons why this production route, if honed, might have a serious chance of being adopted commercially.