‘Wooden’ denim could cut carbon emissions of global jeans industry

Date:
Dawn Ellams

Jeans developed by a Heriot-Watt School of Textiles and Design student, using a fibre made from sustainable wood instead of cotton, could be the key to cutting carbon emissions in the jeans industry around the world.

Saving energy and water

The jeans have cotton-like qualities but only use one fifth of the water, energy and chemicals needed to manufacture conventional jeans.

Dawn Ellams, a PhD researcher at Heriot-Watt's Scottish Borders Campus, also used digital printing technology to create a stone-washed denim effect on the textile.

Manufacturing one pair of cotton denim jeans uses on average 42 litres of water and is energy intensive. Conventional denim production methods can also require up to 15 dyeing vats and an array of harmful chemicals.

Now Dawn’s research has identified several areas within the manufacturing process which offer opportunities for saving water and reducing carbon emissions.

She said, “The sustainability issues associated with the manufacturing of cotton garments are already well understood, yet the use of cotton shows no sign of diminishing. The research challenged the design and manufacture of denim jeans, probably the most iconic use of cotton. The overall aim was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use associated with conventional manufacturing for denim jeans.”

Using Tencel®

The overall aim was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use associated with conventional manufacturing for denim jeans.

Dawn Ellams, Heriot-Watt PhD student

Dawn worked closely with Jim McVee, Business Development Manager at the School of Textiles & Design, who was able to assist her with the development of the denim garment.

The ‘no-cotton’ jeans are made using Tencel®, a fibre created by man-made cellulose fibre production company, Lenzing AG.

Michael Kininmonth, Business Development and Project Manager for Lenzing AG, said, “When I speak to textile students I try and impress on them that sustainable issues are now at the top of the agenda of many leading companies within the textile supply chain.

“This newly developing business climate provides students a mandate to think in more radical ways and challenge long established conventional products and processes. Innovation is the life’s blood of today’s denim industry and there are strong environmental reasons why this production route, if honed, might have a serious chance of being adopted commercially.”