Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Live Long: How Mud Jeans Are Redefining The Way We Buy Clothes

The way we buy clothes is, it seems, logical and unchanging. You see an item of clothing you like. You buy said item. After a while, it starts to look tired or doesn't fit as well, so you get rid of it. Then you buy something else. The cycle continues, unbreakable.
The problem with this model only becomes apparant when you look to the events pre and post the shop/wear/chuck roundelay. The creation of a piece of clothing is incredibly costly in terms of material, water use and chemical output to the environment. We put millions of pounds of perfectly useful fabric into landfill every year, for no reason other than the cost and bother in getting it split back into its constituant parts and recycled. Change has to come from somewhere. As ever, when it comes to innovation in ethical fashion, it's smart to start across the English Channel, and look at The Netherlands.
Readers with long memories may remember that last year I wrote about Mud Jeans, a company that saw how hard-wearing, long-lasting denim could be used as a front-runner in a whole new business model: clothes leasing. You don't buy a pair of Mud Jeans. You rent them, paying, over the course of the term, about what you'd spend on a high-end pair. Over that period, any repairs needed are done as part of the agreement. At the end, you simply hand the jeans back and replace them with a fresh new set of strides. Mud take the old pair and break them back down to create new clothing. Don't forget, denim is incredibly hard-wearing. It can easily survive a good few go-arounds as more than one garment.
It all seems counter to the way we'd normally buy clothes. When I wrote the initial article, I was less than enthusiastic. But the success of Mud has both proved me wrong and shows that when it comes to denim, the model makes a lot of sense. The material is built to last. I have a pair of Levi's in my drawer that I bought in San Francisco in 2005 that I still wear, and that still look good. We should also remember that the leasehold model Mud are using is hardly original. Just look at the continued presence on the High Street of suit hire shops like Moss Bros. In fact, the success of Mud Jeans has led to another Dutch company, DutchSpirit, applying their model to the ownership and maintainance of far-trade suits for the well dressed lowlander.
The ethos is spreading, too. Swedish brand Nudie Jeans, who recently opened a flagship store in London's trendy Soho, have made a point of accentuating the recyclability of their clothing. A repair shop is front and centre in the showroom, and their website is full of tips on how to make your jeans last. When your trews are finally worn past your comfort zone, Nudie will take them back with a fat discount off a new pair. Your old jeans are recycled and resold as preloved in the same store. The focus is on keeping the denim out of landfill, and making sure it spends as long as possible where it belongs: hanging off your bum.
There's another factor to bear in mind, of course: the rocketing cost of cotton. It's tripled in price since 2011, and that, in conjunction with the increasing need for arable land to grow food crops, has given Mud a clear mandate as to their ethics and way of working. Bert Van Son, head of the company, made the point in a recent interview with The Guardian:
"We want to make good quality, ethical jeans available to more people. We also want to keep hold of our valuable fibres and materials. To lease them rather than sell."
I'm a great believer in buying clothes that last. It's always worth spending a little extra on quality goods, especially if you have a mind to making sure that investment is around for a long time. Mud and Nudie Jeans are taking that notion and redefining the idea of ownership, taking the stigma out of second-hand, and keeping control of the quality and recyclability of their clothes through the long life of the garment. It may seem radical, but in an era when clothes are becoming as disposable as the daily newspaper, a shift in our relationship to them isn't such a bad idea.

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