Hyderabad-based Chetna Organic started an alternative model: organic cotton, a seed bank, a co-op that rewards farmers with a stake in the organization. Funds are transferred directly to farmers for their crop, bypassing middlemen. A small administrative team leads workshops to educate farmers on better practices and oversees new initiatives such as a new seed bank to restore India’s collection of cotton seeds. Over 35,000 farmers are now part of their network.
Nudie Jeans is one of the brands that buys from Chetna. In the spirit of transparency, the entire supply chain is available on their website to track. We don’t mind if people want to contact our suppliers and buy from them, says Stenberg. “For change to happen, more companies have to participate. We are too small.”
More than 20 companies, mostly European and American brands, purchase organic cotton from Chetna. This open-source approach to manufacturing is similar to Patagonia, the California-based outdoor brand known for its environmental activism to create industry-wide change.
Not only does Nudie share its resources, but they encourage customers to bring in (or send in) their jeans for repair for free. If a customer lives too far from one of their brick-and-mortar stores, the company will send you a mending kit:, a nimble, a needle, thread, and some denim patches. For those jeans that are out of style or no longer wanted, the company sells them as used, vintage varieties or repurposes them into new material. More 40,000 pairs were repaired by the end of 2015.
Why? “Cotton is one of the most poisoning plants to grow,” Stenberg says. Known for extracting more out of the soil than replenishing it, cotton production is tough on soil health. That’s why even for cotton-based brand, the need for giving it new life, or the longest life possible, is not only trendy but a necessity.
This repair, reuse, and reduce philosophy fits into Nudie’s long-term vision: to change the world, Stenberg says. “This is not something we are doing to pursue an exit.”
In 2001, when the company started, the team (of three then) began with 3000 pairs, manufactured thanks to a 50,000 Swedish kronor loan from the bank. The jeans sold out on their first day at a fashion fair, giving birth to a company and a movement, he recalls.
“If we started the same company today, it would have been a different game. It would have needed more capital to build a brand.”
At the time there were only 5 to 6 major denim brands, Stenberg recalls. Now the market is saturated.
But what makes Nudie stick out? Aside from their Scandinavian minimalism and evergreen approach, a no-compromise attitude. Be it for people, planet, or the integrity of the product, says Stenberg. They’re so steadfast to these ideals that their mission is even written on a patch of fabric and sewn into the jeans itself.
**This post first appeared on The Forbes.