When you know better, you do better. At least that is our opportunity, right? Designers and producers in the fashion industry can no longer claim they don’t know better. Now that sustainable resources for the production of garments are more plentiful than ever, the question is, what efforts are brands making to step up their game and do better? We sat down with Adam Taubenfligel of Triarchy Denim to discuss his journey from awareness to action and how mindfulness, curiosity, and engagement keep him, and his team, always moving forward.
When was the first time you heard about sustainability?
The first time it really came up, was when our team, my brother, sister, and I, saw The True Cost. It was after our runway show at Toronto fashion week. We watched it and realized the world doesn’t need another denim brand. We had to ask ourselves, how can we remove our ego from this and think about what we are doing? If we are going to continue doing this, how are we going to do it better?
So seeing the movie alone was enough of a catalyst to spark this change?
It was an instant “oh yeah!” moment. We already had concerns. Every time we went to the laundry (denim launderers) we were like ‘what is going on here?’ But we had just accepted it as ‘this is the way it is.’ We didn’t really question it. Once we saw the film, we knew there must be a better way.
Wow. Did you think you’d have to start all over from scratch with Triarchy Denim?
Absolutely. It was a 100% breakdown of everything. At the time, the brand had fully launched, and it was growing. It was a really nice trajectory, and it felt like we were in a really good place. But once we saw The True Cost, it was one of those things you can’t unsee. We felt turned off by what was happening and knew we couldn’t just do one little tweak. We knew it had to be fully done. The only way to do that was to take everything away and redo it.
So at that time you didn’t know what “sustainable denim” looked like. How did you start to figure that out?
We started by revisiting all of our current denim mills and finding out what offerings they had. We quickly learned about tencel and how that drastically reduces water consumption. Then we just kept going down the path of discovering recycled fibers, recycled polys, then refibre, and putting it all together. Suppliers would say, ‘oh, did you talk to the guy that does the recycled metal buttons, and the recycled poly labels?’ One opportunity always led to the next, and then the next. Then, it became just about knowing the right questions to ask.
I think that leads to a great opportunity for not just designers and players in the fashion industry, but for consumers as well, which is the idea that as long as you stay curious about how you can do better and what else you can learn, it will always propel you forward.
Sustainability started becoming such a keyword that everyone had to focus on it. Everyone had to become more innovative. Every time we were looking for the next innovation, there became more and more options available. Then we really had to sift through all the available options to find the ones that are truly good and not just B.S.
Which takes a lot of trial and error, and cost.
Of course. When you start to implement sustainable washing, you have to test a lot of new recipes. A lot of the time the fabrics don’t react the way you want them to. Now mills are starting to weave (denim) with ozone in mind, so when I talk to my rep I’m like, ‘can you just show me the ozone and laser reactive fabrics?’ and they know what will be good for us.
As customers, we have an opportunity to demand more sustainable options in the hopes that it will increase the supply. Do you see that to be true for yourself, that as more designers like you are demanding sustainable resources, the options increase?
Yes, and not only that, but we have created more of an open dialogue with our reps where I can shoot them ideas that they will try and six months later they come back with the prototypes. It has become more of a collaboration.
You are helping them improve and they are helping you improve.
One hundred percent.
If every denim brand were sustainable, would that make the resources more affordable so that more people could access sustainable fashion?
It will get there. We are at the beginning. We have to bring more people into the conversation. As great and noble as your intentions may be, if you don’t have the money to spend, it’s hard. You are not going to not eat to get better jeans. That’s wishful thinking for us. And it’s been called out, this can’t just be a luxury conversation.
Let’s talk about the idea of sacrificing. A lot of people feel like their whole lifestyle has to change in order to be sustainable.
If anything, and it’s not even a sacrifice anymore, I wash things very infrequently. Gym clothes I wash because they are gym clothes, but anything else gets a lot of wear before hitting the washing machine because that is where the real impact occurs. We have become such creatures of habit, ‘just throw it in the washing machine.’ My brother-in-law and I buy the same shirts, and he washes his and puts them in the dryer. I wash in cold water and hang dry. His are a completely different color, and the shirts are almost done for. We’ve had them the same amount of time. That is just a small example of how we are killing the stuff we want to keep because we don’t even think about how we treat it.
Which also goes back to your point about mindfulness. We consider these actions an inconvenience, but at what cost?
Mindfulness is the foundation. You are not going to be able to communicate any message of sustainability to someone who is asleep. Everything around us right now is designed to make us fall asleep.
At Remake, we champion the idea that an educated, and mindful consumer, has the power to put dirty brands out of business — because the only way that they can stay in business relies on consumers not questioning what they are purchasing and how it was made.
Give it the one minute rule. Whenever you want to buy anything. In real life or online, just get up and walk away. Do a circle, come back, do you still want it? It’s almost always a no.
I read a great quote recently that said ‘you are not buying the clothes, you are buying the idea of how the clothes will make you feel.’
I was at a birthday party on Saturday and I met a woman that used to run one of the biggest department stores and she said in her speech ‘I spent the majority of my career convincing people to buy things they didn’t need with money they didn’t have and I hate that about my legacy. So the next chapter of my life is going to be about bringing awareness to consumption.’
So would your ideal customer only have one pair of your jeans?
Maybe blue and black, you need two pairs.
Fair enough, you do need two pairs.
Images: c/o Triarchy Denim