The word sustainable has become key in the lexicon of marketers and from where I stand in social media, particularly from fashion and beauty. I started my Haute and Mindful series, otherwise known as Mindful Mondays actively avoiding the ‘S’ word because of the weight it carried. Slip up and I’d have people wielding organic deodorants with their 100% recycled pitchforks at me. Come across too pushy, people will start questioning why I don’t use period cups and other personal aspects they have no business knowing. With sustainability, it often feels like you can’t win.
But there’s a simpler way to look at it if you’re Jordan Nodarse, the founder of Boyish. If you’re wondering which is the world’s most sustainable denim brand then congratulations, you’ve arrived at your destination. Jordan is 100% no bullshit – higher than his denim which is 86% sustainable. And this is refreshing in a world suffocating in diplomacy. Also, he practices what he preaches in a way that doesn’t come across like a cult leader (I’m not naming any lifestyle brands headed by celebrities here) but an educator. And in an era where Instagram is leveraged to make brands look seemingly like an ‘overnight success’, the accolade of being a truly responsible fashion label has not been easily earnt. But it’s certainly remarkable.
What made you create Boyish and why denim?
It was definitely slow progress. Years ago I starting making jeans with deadstock fabric because I couldn’t make the minimums of fabric suppliers, which I didn’t realise was a sustainable move [at the time]. Then I created [my first] denim brand that used waterless washes, so the concept was to use less water in laundry. It wasn’t necessarily about environmentalism, more so for the aesthetic and design. I guess my career kept leading me towards sustainable movements but I didn’t coin the terminology.
The term sustainable has taken on different forms, what does that phrase mean to you?
People in the industry are looking at not even using that word because it’s kind of butchered. I was using the word ‘conscious’ but that’s been butchered by H&M, which is kind of tough. The word I feel can’t be butchered is ‘responsible’, so the way we look at this is a responsible process. Everyone on this planet has a responsibility to co-exist, I feel that people just forgot about it. What we might view as a sustainable product has a lower impact, non-toxic (twofold: safe to be reused as another product and skin contact), isn’t wasteful and is recyclable. That is barely even scratched by most people using the word ‘sustainable’. We’re still in the early days, most of the groundwork has been set by other companies that have been around for longer than Boyish. We’re taking the work they’ve done and redefining it into a something measurable, as well as making it transparent, so that the consumer can judge us on their own. Right now, it’s just a curtain for many brands that are using the term as marketing ploys for their capsule collections. If you’re able to do a capsule that’s sustainable, why aren’t you able to do your entire brand that way?
What did you learn from Reformation and Revolve that you used for Boyish?
Fabric was one of the most interesting subjects for me. People thought that recycled polyester was sustainable. When I started Girlfriend denim (at Revolve), I wanted to make the jeans look like the original Levi’s, Wranglers and Lees that girls were buying at flea markets and vintage stores. So that lead me to choose different chemicals to wash our jeans and I started seeing what went into making them. A lot of it is toxic and acidic. I changed those chemicals to biodegradable, cold-water enzymes that made traditional stone washes that would take up to an hour and a half, down to 30 minutes. We don’t use hot water, so we use less energy and they’re neutral in pH. Also, it created a better-looking product when I used 100% natural fibre with no polyester.
How does sustainability impact the design of jeans?
It actually goes back to designing the supply chain to have lower emissions and impact. When we dye denim, it’s pre-reduced indigo or plant based. You can dip them super dark or lighter, but there’s no point in us doing a super dark dye because we’re going to have to use more chemicals (environmentally friendly or not). We would also use more water in the laundry to wash them down. This doesn’t make sense to me. We design our fabrics to work with our wash process which is how every designer should be looking at things: I have my end goal, now to figure out what I need. Instead of trying to find fabrics that could work, we made our own – which isn’t as easy as you think because I wanted to find recycled content and reduce virgin fibre in our jeans.
What’s the future for Boyish? Will we see any new brands in the works?
In February we’re launching t-shirts and sweatshirts. I took the same concept with Boyish, taking scraps and recycling them back into the jeans for zero waste. We’re going to have this with our knits, combining recycled cotton with organic, which are both OCS (Organic Content Standard) certified. We’re blending this with Refibra Tencel, which is recycled cotton scraps from fast fashion retailers combined with eucalyptus pulp. Tencel alone uses a tenth of the amount of water that cotton would, without pesticides and chemicals. We’re going to be taking this yarn to some fun collaborations with other brands. This will include plant-based leathers and will reduce the amount of oil that is used in making vegan leather.
If you could’ve started any another brand, which one would it have been?
It would be in fashion but if I could start over it would be workout clothing. It would be naturally based fibres, not oil-derived which are carcinogens.
How did you use social to build Boyish as a brand?
It’s not just a brand that makes jeans, it’s that we are relatable. You can collaborate passion with good. In this world there’s so much bad, even with the good you find out sooner or later that it’s bad. This is no different to “love they neighbour”, you need to know who you’re working with. We’re working on a farm to brand concept where we have a relationship with our farmers. We’re building relationships that fashion has gotten farther and farther away from through the decades.
Where is the most demand for sustainability in the world?
LA has a big demand, but it’s not as high as from the people (celebrities) they’re inspired by.
What are personal tips you can share about being more mindful?
The first step is opening your eyes to the choices you have, [for example] cotton swabs. I recently discovered a brand that makes reusable ones. I’m constantly looking at ingredients. There’s so much marketing, people telling you it’s clean or sustainable but I don’t believe anybody. If it’s sustainable fashion, how much information are they willing to tell? The first thing you should do is contact brands for their sustainability reports. An email like that takes, what two minutes? If you don’t want to take any effort Remake.world is a great website that tells you about what’s happening in the industry and what brands are doing. Goodonyou.eco is very interesting, they do in-depth fibre studies.
Is there something simple brands can do that they’re not already doing?
The more you understand about your supply chain and its impact, you can then make choices about what you can and cannot do. Test your products in a lab for toxic chemicals. If you don’t know what to ask for then test against the constraints of baby clothes (which are very specific). Those are ways you can find out how badly you’re doing then replace it. You make change by identifying the problems.
Want to see what a real sustainable brand could look like? Check out Boyish’s website.