A Sustainable-Jeans Story: SFI, EB Denim Partner on Vintage-Inspired Collection
When denim company Star Fades International announced its opening in January, the mission was more than simply cultivating the local Los Angeles jeans market. The Commerce, Calif.–based SFI sought to build an incubator space in which emerging denim designers could find inspiration and resources to build their brands. In September, SFI welcomed denimheads to its space, where the company revealed its partnership with EB Denim’s Elena Bonvicini, whose sourcing of vintage Levi’s 501s and upcycling the jeans to create unique women’s pieces set the designer apart in sustainable denim.
“EB Denim grew to the point where we were having difficulty sourcing enough vintage to meet demand,” Bonvicini explained. “I decided that I was going to recreate our bestseller because it would be a sure thing, and I wanted to do it in the most sustainable way possible.”
Reaching out to denim-sustainability advocate and consultant Ani Wells of Simply Suzette, Bonvicini admitted that, while her expertise in upcycling jeans was unmatched, manufacturing new denim pieces was not a strong suit. After discussing Bonvicini’s vision of re-creating EB Denim upcycled styles into a sustainably manufactured collection, Wells contacted SFI’s vice president of design, Alaina Miller.
“We decided that we wanted everything made in L.A. or as local as possible staying true to the roots of EB Denim, where everything started with only upcycled made-in-America Levi’s 501s,” Wells said. “We really wanted to drive that home and continue to bring that through to the new line and keep those sustainability standards in place. For fabric, I knew [SFI parent company] Artistic Milliners very well and their expertise, and I am a fan of what they do.”
Working together, the perfectly paired trio of EB Denim, Simply Suzette and SFI examined the best approaches to fabrics, dye processes and washes to create a jean that would reflect an elevated, more ecologically sound product. The result was EB Denim’s Unraveled Two collection—a reimagined version of the brand’s Vintage Unraveled Jeans that had been created by reconstructing secondhand denim. This fresh version affords a premium denim from Artistic Milliners that is washed in Los Angeles by SFI, and cut and sewn by a local partner, yet is rooted in Bonvicini’s ethos of blending sustainability with an exquisitely crafted jean.
“Elena sent over some of the Unraveled jeans. We were able to start making fabric recommendations based on the jeans that she sent with qualities that would be an appropriate weight and an appropriate shade to re-create that style,” said Miller. “Our global wash team is constantly researching the most innovative chemicals, so we perfected our Clear Fade technology, which allows us to use less water, less chemicals, less energy to create that beautiful vintage wash.”
While Bonvicini notes that the experience has afforded an invaluable education thanks to the SFI team, these denim veterans are also grateful for the partnership.
“When I bought this company last year, incubation was a huge part of it,” said Murtaza Ahmed, SFI’s co-founder and executive director. “Elena is not from the denim industry, which is amazing. It’s nice to have outsiders come in. The dream here is what happened today—people from all walks of life coming into a facility and just seeing how things are done and promoting made in America.”
Blending the design vision of EB Denim with the expertise of SFI, which relies on a staff comprising denim experts—many of whom have decades of industry experience—this partnership reaches further than simply creating a lust-worthy pair of premium jeans. The product is great denim that connects the customer mission, such as Bonvicini’s sustainability focus with SFI’s expertise, to build a new denim story.
“Rather than making this sterile and clean, we are focusing on the human component of what this place has to offer from every angle,” said Lizzie Kroeze, vice president of product design and development at SFI. “Our relationship with the mill team in Pakistan is super strong, and they come out regularly to share knowledge with us and to meet with customers that come in on the design side and development side.”
Available in an indigo comprising 95 percent organic cotton and 5 percent recycled cotton and a black that relies on 100 percent Better Cotton Initiative cotton, Unraveled Two is detailed using laser technology that lends a vintage appearance without potentially harmful chemicals. Buttons are eco finished, bypassing electroplating, and leather patches are sourced from reclaimed materials. The collection is available in sizes 22–34 and is priced at $325 at ebdenim.com.
“Working with new materials has really opened up a world of opportunities. There are so many limitations and production barriers when working with vintage,” said Bonvicini. “Now I truly feel that this is the next chapter for the brand. We are already in the works of developing several styles, and will have a whole assortment of new denim for Spring/Summer 2022, which we’re really looking forward to.”