A stitch in time: For Edmonton jeans maker, ethical clothing includes free mending

If the jeans fit great, why throw them out?

The owners of Edmonton’s Arturo Denim say they’re making jeans that buyers will love so much they won’t want to replace them, even if they’ve blown the crotch or ripped a pocket. So they’ll get them fixed, instead.

It’s part of the ethical clothing mission that James and Janna Stewart embarked on when they joined Scott Bates in starting the clothing company in late 2016.

“Disposable clothing,” Janna says with a sigh. “You know it’s happening and it sucks when it does. And it sucks when you buy something, and you really like it and it lasts three months, and then it’s in the garbage.”

Fast fashion is often defined as inexpensive or trendy clothing designed and priced to be purchased, worn a few times and quickly replaced.

Its opposite has been dubbed “slow fashion,” which includes purchasing quality items made in a sustainable manner, wearing the clothes for longer and finding ways to recycle or repurpose them when they’re no longer wearable.

The Stewarts define ethical clothing as clothing “made in a kind way.”

Inside the Arturo Denim storefront and workshop at 10443 124 St. (Jessica Fern Facette / Supplied)

That means kind to the environment, by using denim sourced from Japanese mills with high environmental standards. Kind to animals (and to Arturo Denim’s vegan customers) by sourcing leather patches that aren’t actually leather. And kind to workers — most of Arturo Denim’s jeans are manufactured in Quebec — by paying them a fair wage.

“When you’re buying something, like a pair of pants for eight bucks, it’s like, ‘What?’ ” James says in a recent interview with CBC’s Radio Active. “How does that even cover the cost of putting it on a truck and getting it here from wherever, let alone pay someone to make it?

“It’s just to feed this machine of fast fashion, which people, well, we just get hooked on it.”

Arturo Denim’s unique nod to slow fashion is providing purchasers of their jeans with one year of free mending — within reason — for issues like knee tears, bum rips and crotch blowouts. 

“People used to take their clothes to tailors … to repair them, and it’s not being done anymore. And I really think it’s important, for the life of clothes, to give them as long as life as possible,” Janna says.

“We have had people who have brought in — literally, they were, like, rags basically — and we fix them up and gave them another few months of life.”

Some of the jeans on display at Arturo Denim’s storefront on 124th Street in Edmonton. (Jessica Fern Facette / Supplied)

Offering alterations and mending in their combination storefront-workshop at 10443 124th St. is, the Stewarts say, both kind to local landfills and appreciated by shoppers, many of whom find shopping for jeans to be a painful exercise.

“So many people hate shopping for jeans,” Janna says. “It’s one of those things that you put off and you do every couple of years and that’s it.

“And that was kind of the idea of the store. To have a spot where you can can come and we have a few styles of jeans that are really great and everything fits really nicely. And if it doesn’t, we can alter them to make it fit better.”

Janna, who already had experience in the fashion industry with her clothing line Cinder + Smoke, designs all the jeans. It took a couple of years to get it right.

“Janna would sew pair after pair of jeans and I would try them on and I would be like … I know you spent all day on this but it’s still pulling up in my butt in weird ways,” James says.

The Stewarts say it is undeniably more difficult to remain committed to ethical production. Finding the vegan leather patches, for example, turned into months and months of talking to suppliers and examining samples. The costs are higher. Even making products in larger sizes is more difficult.

But, says James, once you’re committed, it’s just a matter of sticking to your beliefs.

“You just really need to dig your heels in and stick true to your principles. It’s harder. It costs more. But it’s ultimately more fulfilling.”

This story is part of a series on slow fashion being by CBC’s Radio Active. The next instalment will air Sept. 24.

We drop by local store Arturo Denim where they are designing and producing ethically made jeans. 8:25

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