June 23, 2021

How Edwin USA bets on circularity and high-performance

5 min read

In 2019, Edwin USA, a company spin off of the Japanese Edwin brand (founded in 1961), was relaunched with the aim to further expand in the US and focus on various projects including becoming more sustainable and boosting circular economy practices.

As explained in its latest 2020 Impact Report and Lifecycle Assessment Report, Edwin USA wants to become carbon-neutral. While achieving its targets and setting future ones, Edwin is also progressing in offering more functional jeans such as its recently launched Edwin Endurance.

TSO asked Catherine Ryu, creative director, Edwin USA, about the brand’s newest achievements and most responsible results.

Catherine Ryu, creative director, Edwin USA

Catherine Ryu, creative director, Edwin USA

Why can we consider Edwin USA as a sustainable jeans brand?
Edwin USA jeans are produced using 69% less energy, 73% less water and have a 69% lower global warming impact than the industry average. Along with these results, almost half of the cotton Edwin USA uses now is organic-certified, and by 2022, it aims to raise this ratio to 100% organic cotton.

As the organic cotton available in the world is not much (and its production is swinging depending upon eventual weather disasters and other unpredictable factors), how can Edwin USA be sure to achieve such goal–and in such a relatively short time?
You are correct to say that there is not as much organic cotton available in the world compared to conventional cotton, but more than 60% of our fabric offerings in our current collection is made from GOTS certified organic cotton. We are a relatively new brand as we launched in fall 2019 and haven’t yet run into shortage issues. We produce 100% of our brand with Saitex USA [editor’s note: a sister company of Saitex, an eco- and socially responsible B-Corp jeans manufacturer in Vietnam (also see here and here)]. This new US mill, that opened in March 2021, will supply additional GOTS certified organic cotton fabrics to get us to 100% by 2022.

Look by Edwin USA

Look by Edwin USA

How do you calculate Edwin USAs LCA?
LCA is a methodology to assess the environmental impact of a product–in our case the life cycle of an Edwin USA jean. We started LCA on some of our products starting in 2019 following the ISO 14040 standard. This is a complicated process where we must look at the environmental inputs and outputs of a product. We had to pull enormous amounts of data on raw materials, different types of energy used in production, water, waste and emissions. The output of an LCA is a list of values from a long series of impact categories. We chose to feature carbon emission, water and energy as a starting point.

From your reports Edwin USA aims to use alternative types of elastane that can impact less once the pair of jeans is thrown away. By when does it aim to reach this goal and how?
For the last year we have been in deep research and development for denim fabrics with biodegradable elastane or spandex to replace conventional stretch. To date, our test results have been lackluster, as the quality in the strength of the biodegradable elastane has been an issue. I am hopeful that in the next year or so, the elastane industry will come up with a better solution.

Can you describe how Edwin USA’s impact of fabric and jeans production can be kept low?
We are currently using many sustainably manufactured organic denim fabrics from Candiani that take great steps to a greener denim production.

In terms of finishing fabrics, we are proud to sustainably manufacture at Saitex USA. The factory recycles 98% of the water it uses and the remaining 2% evaporates. The average pair of Edwin USA jeans use 0.61 liters of water per jean compared to the 90 liters of water used in a conventional laundry. The washing machines and dryers at Saitex USA are all state-of-the-art, high-efficiency machines that consume less energy and water usage. “3 in 1 Tonello” washing machines help us achieve one-step washes differently from traditional machines that need to unload and load multiple times. We also use a proprietary laser cut machine where the garment is cut in a single layer then lasered in minutes. The factory further utilizes an advanced hybrid model of production intermixing robots and humans to mechanize sustainability and consistency in production. Automation helps to decrease human contact with chemicals and exacts efficiency to reduce harmful chemical contact, time and waste.

Drying jeans at Saitex factory in Vietnam

Drying jeans at Saitex factory in Vietnam

Tell us about Edwin Endurance.
This five-pocket collection was launched in 2019 and offers wrinkle-resistant, thermo-regulating and moisture-wicking trousers. It represents the latest innovation in Lycra and weaving technology with ultra elasticity for its high comfort and recovery. It is made with high-performance stretch fabrics that allow perfect fit trousers that won’t bag out.

Edwin Endurance comprises four men’s styles–the Maddox, the Jace, the Mason, and the Otis–and includes a selection of skinny, slim and relaxed men’s jeans.

Edwin Endurance campaign image

Edwin Endurance campaign image

Is Edwin Endurance produced according to sustainable standards, too?
The collection features Lycra performance not marketed as an eco-friendly fabric. Though, all the rest of Edwin USA is sustainably manufactured at Saitex USA.

Is Edwin USA also focused on designing garments that can be more easily recyclable, reusable or upcyclable? If so, how?
Circularity is our biggest goal as a brand. We believe that sustainability and circularity start at the design stage. We utilize circular design thinking and sustainable manufacturing processes to make responsible jeans that last.

We have been working towards becoming a circular brand through our collaboration with Stelapop (an acronym for Save Trees, Eliminate Landfills and Protect Our Planet) [also see here], an upcycling facility and subsidiary of Saitex that diverts jeans from landfill and transforms them to give new life into other products such as decorative trays, toothbrushes, and furniture.

Stelapop made from recycling black denim and silk threads

Stelapop made from recycling black denim and silk threads

When customers are done wearing our jeans, they can return them and help close the loop. Customers get a US$20 credit for their next purchase on the Edwin USA website. We will be selling product from Stelapop on our website by July.

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