AIR WASH: Tortoise Jeans get their distinctive “wash” look with ozone rather than water.

AIR WASH: Tortoise Jeans get their distinctive “wash” look with ozone rather than water.


Tortoise Jeans: Getting More Wash Using Less Water

The first thing that Lukus Eichmann points out inside the Tortoise jeans washing facility is not what is inside the facility but what is not there. There aren’t any trough drainage systems, no hot water being sprayed and no steam in the air.

The absence of water is because the ozone process Tortoise employs to alter the jean’s color and surface uses little water, except in the final step of rinsing.

Ozone washing is not new, but Eichmann claims that the techniques he uses for his men’s denim line, Tortoise, is more precisely applied and evolved in its depth of use over the entire jean.

“It’s the next generation of an ozone machine, and it’s mastering the process of applying the ozone in the correct way,” Eichmann said. “Ozone powers the whole wash. Other laundries will use it at the end for a pocket white to substitute one chemical.”

Eichmann launched Tortoise Jeans for Fall 2013 with a focus on washes. The hand-administered wear patterns and wrinkles range from painterly dye effects to hard and sharp striped edges. As men are becoming more educated about technical denim construction, Eichmann targeted the upscale men’s customer. Tortoise has been sold to specialty stores such as Ron Herman and Atrium in New York. Wholesale price points range from $125 to $166.

“I think men would be slightly more interested in the ingredients, process and story of how we make things than a trend-driven thing,” Eichmann said.

Behind the technology of the ozone machine that Tortoise uses is Greentech Corp., the manufacturer of the machines. Eichmann met Greentech through a wash house he used in the production of his first denim brand, Saddelites, which launched in 2003. He began to work with Greentech to develop washes and finishes to show the capabilities of the machine. Eichmann and Greentech’s Kevin Youn, who previously worked at Koos Manufacturing, developing washes for AG Jeans, partnered up to launch Tortoise and explore ozone-washed product further.

“It was important for us to have our own wash house to control quality,” Eichmann said. “There are all these variables [that can go wrong], which is why I think it’s so important for us to control that pipeline.”

By replacing most traditional processes—such as pumice stone and other treatments that require hot water—with ozone, the wash process produces less water waste and requires less energy. In the final step of rinsing, the dirtied water is filtered into clean water that is reused for the next batch. Eichmann claims that up to 99 percent of the water is recycled.

Eichmann said he has met with several of the top denim minds in Los Angeles to show the wash house’s ozone treatments and recycled-water technique.

“It’s a huge savings monetarily if you can eliminate chemicals, water consumption and energy consumption. That’s why I think machines like ours, laser machines and other things like that are advancing the technology of washing. They pay themselves back over time,” Eichmann said.

Denim veteran Christopher Enuke has been using the same ozone wash facility to develop washes for men’s brand Kasil. “That wash house is the future of wash houses in Los Angeles. It has more capabilities than the regular laundry,” Enuke said of the ozone technique. Enuke added that it was personally important to him to support a more environmentally friendly denim wash.

However, putting the environmental impact aside, he said that ozone is a more efficient method to achieve many of the same wash effects that would take several chemical processing steps using traditional water-intensive and abrasive wash techniques.

“This [ozone] wash is many tiers more advanced than the standard wash process. It costs more money, but this is a shorter, more direct process,” Enuke said.