Tortoise Denim

Tortoise Denim


Wiser Wash Provides Cleaner Production Opportunities for Denim Brands

While Los Angeles apparel-industry veteran and Tortoise Denim founder Kevin Youn is now dedicated to cleaning up the jeans-manufacturing industry, his long-term plan after graduating with a degree in Latin American literature from the University of California, Berkeley, didn’t include denim.

“When I first worked in the denim industry, my intention wasn’t to work for a long time,” he said. “My intention was to only stay for six months, but after working with denim—especially on the wash side—it was very interesting.”

Developing a love for denim manufacturing, Youn became fascinated with washes. Initially, he didn’t realize these processes were creating an awful problem for the environment.

“At the time, we only knew the beauty of stone wash and bleaching, all of which were almost magical,” he said. “When I visited big factories overseas and recognized the river-pollution issue, it was serious, but we didn’t have any alternative for washing the denim.”

Approximately 15 years ago, Youn encountered ozone methods for denim processing, and seven years ago, while working with an ozone machine to create a variety of samples, he discovered the slow-moisture-transfer method.

“When I found the method, we applied for a patent [in the United States] and started a brand called Tortoise Denim,” Youn explained, noting that the industry was interested in—but skeptical about—a more ecologically sound denim.

“When I first went to Liberty Fairs four or five years ago with Tortoise Denim and mentioned that I didn’t use any chemicals, stones or hot water, a lot of people loved the concept but I don’t think they believed me,” he said.

The shift came when Youn partnered with Fuat Gözaçan—entrepreneur and founder of Turkey’s FG Group—in 2017. After Gözaçan founded Wiser Globe, a sourcing business based in Amsterdam, the pair launched Wiser Wash, a patented, clean denim-wash technology whose development center is in Paramount, Calif.

“With Wiser Wash, not only do we use fewer chemicals and less water, but visually it looks much better and the garment is much softer,” Youn said. “Since we don’t use hot-water chemicals, we don’t damage the cotton. The work environment is also better for employees than a traditional laundry.”

This technology relies on a formula that includes water recycling, which reduces usage by 90 percent. It doesn’t require pumice stone, nor does it include the hazardous chemicals prevalent in traditional denim-washing processes.

“We perfected the relationship between the moisture and ozone with slow-motion transfer to the garment,” Youn said. “That was the concept of our patent.”

Major names in the industry are taking notice, evident by Wiser Wash’s collaborations with companies including Pepe Jeans London. After working with J Brand, Levi Strauss, Ralph Lauren and Earl Jean, Mary Bruno discovered Wiser Wash before launching the sustainable Los Angeles label Life After Death Denim.

“The Wiser Wash technology is amazing,” she said. “When I gave them the challenge to completely eliminate all chemicals, stones, enzymes and everything, they were able to do that and also develop a cool-looking product quite easily.”

Despite Youn’s experience with skeptics in the past, Bruno sees potential for adopting a cleaner denim process as consumers gain more apparel-sourcing knowledge.

“It’s completely unnecessary to keep developing denim the same way that we did 40 years ago in terms of wash development,” Bruno said. “Consumers are more aware and care now. This is the time to seize the opportunity to start making sustainable apparel.”

At Wiser Wash, Youn feels there is more work to be done in the name of creating a cleaner denim by uncovering more washes and offering affordable, sustainable denim.

“We can produce a lot at a reasonable price,” he said. “We are now trying to meet the regular consumer’s needs for a reasonably priced, ethical product.”

In addition to a Wiser Wash production center in Turkey, Youn revealed that a site in Portugal is scheduled to open during the second quarter of 2019. Negotiations regarding a potential third-quarter opening of a center in South Asia are also taking place.

“Our goal is that we can develop in L.A. and they can repeat it anywhere in the world,” he said. “That is our target.”