Turning blue jeans green

Jeans are the world’s most popular clothing item, but they come with a hefty price tag for the planet.

More than 450 million pairs of denim jeans are sold globally each year and the retail jeans market is estimated to reach US$56 billion by next year.

On average, the life cycle of one pair of denim jeans produces over 30 kg of CO2 and uses around 3500 litres of water.

Researchers from Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) are working on a process which could reduce the huge environmental impact of denim production. They grind used denim to create an ultrafine powder, which they then use to coat or print undyed new denim to create the typical denim appearance.

Professor Xungai Wang, Dr Rangam Rajkhowa, Dr Nolene Byrne, Dr Christopher Hurren and Dr Rebecca Van Amber developed the “circular denim” idea as an entry into the Global Change Award, an initiative of the H&M Foundation that provides seed funding for projects that promote sustainable fashion. The team was one of five finalists, out of a total of 2885 entries, to share in the international prize.

Team leader Prof Wang, who heads IFM and the ARC Future Fibres Hub, said the key to the project’s success in improving the environmental sustainability of denim production came from the team’s unique ability to create ultrafine coloured particles from used textiles.

“Our previous work shows that pulverised fibre particles can take up dye under room temperature within five minutes due to very high surface area.

“This significantly reduces the energy used to heat water under the conventional dyeing process,” he said.

“This process also allows dye to be reused, minimising water use and effluent discharge.”

IFM’s Circular Denim project addresses the key issues in denim production, while creating new fashion effects for denim.

The process is unique in that it not only recycles the fibres, but also the dye. If necessary, the colour of the fine particles can be enhanced or changed easily before the coating or printing process, providing new fashion opportunities for consumers.

The team has already developed a successful prototype and is now using the Global Change Award grant to scale up the idea and work with denim producers and fashion brands to explore its potential for the fashion industry and the environment.

More information:
David Pardoe, Deakin Research Senior Commercial Manager,
+61 429 5837827