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Voices: A Route Interview Series Feat. Jordan Nodarse
Boyish Jeans Redefines Sustainability—and Gender Norms—in Denim
Jordan Nodarse is one fashion force on a mission to clean up an industry responsible for much of the world’s pollution. From behemoth carbon footprints to unsustainable materials and no true answer to life cycle waste, this California-native set out to start a clothing brand that treated the earth well. Not only was Jordan vying to change the wasteful trends of fashion, he was also focused on changing the gender norms steeped within.
Boyish Jeans was inspired by women with self-proclaimed “boyish” taste in clothing. It blends historically “men’s” fashion and materials with modern fits for women. From materials to manufacturing to production and shipping, boyish is bent of crafting high-quality clothing that aligns with the socially conscious shopper of today.
Q: What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
A: Focus on you. Don’t let people think you’re crazy. I was kind of early in sustainability with denim and I had a lot of struggles because people didn’t think my ideas were going to be successful. People would say my ideas wouldn’t work, and they ultimately ended up working great.
10 years ago, we were just coming out of the economic collapse. I would’ve told myself to focus on financial planning and time management. Those are things that, even today, I don’t know that much about, but if I had the chance to start working years ago I think I would have been a lot more successful. Now, 10 years later, I would be a lot more successful because as you’re younger, managing your time is not something that you really think is a necessary tool. It’s like that one 80’s song about when you’re young all you want to do is take over the world.
Q: What does the future of ecommerce look like in your mind?
A: Experiencing. A lot more customer-focused experiences. When you take the connection of physical touch and physical interaction away from commerce, you have to fill it in with other areas. You have to imagine that a lot of people don’t have an imagination, so how do you interact with that?
One of the biggest issues right now, especially in regards to sustainability, is returns. All that stuff creates a lot of carbon emissions with transportation and everything. This is why I’ve always focused my career on manufacturing products. I have focused on the concepts of nearshore and trying to get things to be as close as possible. It’s important to reduce the amount of miles and transportation that a product will have from seed to store.
This is the same concept with stores—you group ship everything and put it right into the store versus individually sending items to each person. There are a lot of resources that go into that. Everything from the facilities that sort it, the electricity it requires to run those, the amount of land and concrete that it was required to build, and everything else.
With Boyish, we use something called MySizeID. You can use your iPhone to measure your body to get it close to our measurements and our sizing guide. There are no standard sizes overall, every brand has its own sizing. Hopefully we’re able to create better sizing that reduces returns. People can understand the product much better especially if the product is better in regards to the manufacturing process compared to conventional practices.
It’s important to tell customers about where the organic cotton is coming from and how you certify it. Imagine if at the end of the day you voted for one presidential candidate, and then you found out that your vote actually went to another. People would be pretty pissed off about that, and that’s the same concept that’s going on right now with greenwashing. People are casting their votes with their dollars. Some companies are actually earnest about greenwashing and some companies are just riding the wave. People want to be sustainable, so they’re going to ride the wave with you. The real issue that it comes down to is that a lot of these companies have money. The money comes from the things that they do badly and sustainability becomes a marketing tool for them.
If you made 10,000 jeans out of the million jeans that you make a year in this way, your ratio of “good” products to “bad” products is so low that it doesn’t matter what you did to make that good product. Consumers will be encouraged to buy the goods and then make more of them in any way they want.
You need to do things because it’s the right thing to do, not just for the money. That’s the reason that, with Boyish Jeans, we focus on sustainability. It does make my life so much more difficult, but I know it’s the right way. We have to make sure that we figure out a way to make the profitability and the sustainability align, which is a challenge, but in some ways it’s fun to figure out.
Q: What is your best failure?
A: I think it was probably making rigid jeans. Rigid jeans means the jeans don’t stretch and are 100% cotton. Most of the vintage jeans that people are buying are vintage Levi’s Wranglers, but all these old vintage jeans didn’t have elastic yarns put into the jeans to make them stretchy because the plastic yarns are plastic-based fibers. They’re polymers that come from oil derivatives that were just byproducts of refining gasoline. I was just doing it because it actually looked better and there’s so many stretchy jeans and jeggings.
This was about seven years ago, and I was moving toward these rigid jeans because I thought they looked the most unique when you washed them. When I started to wash them, I realized I don’t need to use all those crazy chemicals that they’re using in laundry detergents. I started moving toward sustainability. I started reading about the life cycle assessment reports about natural fibers versus plastic-based fibers that have fiber shedding and long compostability and biodegradability time windows of 500+ years.
This “mistake” of moving into rigid jeans because I thought it was cool and unique actually ended up being more sustainable and gave me an edge on everyone else. I was able to start meeting companies and giving them these fabrics that I was finding. The fabric was actually considered deadstock fabrics. I ended up producing materials that were far more sustainable than anything else. First of all, they didn’t have any plastics and it was easier to upcycle them into new jeans. It creates something called circularity in the manufacturing process, so all the cutting scraps went back into our fabrics when we remade them again and turned into jeans afterwards. When you’re done wearing them, they can be recycled back into another pair of jeans.
This sort of concept was all built off of this mistake of just buying fabrics. I couldn’t find leftover deadstock and reducing the chemicals actually gave it a better appearance. At the end of the day it just sparked that sustainable sort of itch inside of me.
Q: How have you pivoted strategy during the pandemic?
A: I actually didn’t really pivot. The thing about the pandemic was that we had already been planning on doing a lot of things, and I stayed strong and made sure we didn’t steer off course. We were able to finally launch scientific, proven facts using life cycle assessment reports to show how much our garments save in comparison with traditional methods. There are a lot of companies that are just blindly putting numbers out for marketing purposes. I wanted to make sure that everything we did was going through some other professional third party to know the numbers are correct.
We wanted to make sure that we still stayed true. During the pandemic, people weren’t really buying much and if they were going to buy something, they wanted to buy something on purpose (or sweatpants). It was those two options. We were making knits and we were already making sweatpants and things like that, but it wasn’t a big thing for us. That was probably our biggest failure during the pandemic.
We worked with a factory that literally treated us like gum on the bottom of the shoe—as if they didn’t want to tell us that they wanted us to leave. They shipped products that were wrong and would ship four to six months late. It was really disappointing because at the end of the day, I had a relationship with these people. I cared about them personally, not just the business practices. I had built really unique products with them that other people were not doing, like using cellulosic recycled waste from the fashion industry called the refiber technology. Only one company in the world has really succeeded with this right now—trying to take waste and apply it to principles that upcycle into a better quality than just traditional trash. One human’s trash is another human’s treasure, right?
Pivoting was finding out what we can and what we can’t do successfully and making sure we don’t waste resources by trying to push something that’s not working. It’s almost like a relationship in a certain way. That’s always how I do my partnerships with businesses in general. It’s hard to force somebody if they’re a certain way to just rapidly change. If they don’t have the mentality that can coexist with you, it’s not like you can just teach them to change. You have to allow them to be who they are and keep them at a certain distance. Don’t allow them to, for lack of better words, suck up all your shit.