NOW OR NEVER; LN-CC x NON AIMS TO DEMONSTRATES WE CAN ALL MAKE A DIFFERENCE WITH SMALL ACTIONS
EAGER TO CUT THROUGH THE NOISE OF GREENWASHED EARTH DAY RELEASES, LN-CC ENLISTS THE MINIMALIST DENIM, MINIMAL IMPACT BRAND FOR AN EXCLUSIVE CAPSULE AND AN HONEST CONVERSATION.
Before we start, let’s address the greenwashed elephant in the room. Born out of activism in 1970, the growing movement around Earth Day has, in recent years, been co-opted as a marketing platform to consume products, some far better produced than others. While these initiatives can be a great way to engage customers on important issues, it’s all too easy to get lost in the green-tinged white noise of releases as words like ‘conscious’, ‘responsible’, and ‘sustainable’ lose meaning through mass-adoption and questionable appropriation. Rather than opt out this Earth Day, LN-CC shares its platform with non. The soft power, transparent and honest approach of this minimalist denim, minimal impact brand encapsulates the pressing need to take action.
With the world shut down in 2021, uncertainty rife and usual opportunities limited, London-based creative director Pete Hellyer launched non to create the perfect jean. After working in various roles across the fashion industry, this was his first attempt at creating his own product. From inception, non considered its materials for their environmental impact and durability; “goods that last longer, can be repaired or easily recycled are inherently more sustainable.” As we collaborate on an exclusive “minimalist maximalism” capsule featuring signature pieces in hand-painted, washed raw black selvedge denim, Pete talks us through the challenges, rewards and opportunities of building a brand the right way.
As LN-CC continues to evolve its conscious offer, we are challenging brands to push the limits, asking them to place the planet at the forefront of their minds as they create within traditional frameworks. Working with non on this capsule embodies that ethos; colour dying processes have such an impact on the environment, so to be able to problem solve and create something beautiful, functional and conscious, brings a true sense of achievement.
-Reece Crisp, Creative Director, LN-CC
With your client-focused and highly collaborative career on hold, what would you say was the overriding catalyst that drove non from dream into reality?
It was a really spontaneous moment in an otherwise unspontaneous period. In recent years, I’ve been working exclusively with conscious brands and the climate emergency is clearly becoming more and more pressing. Ultimately, I live in jeans but also know they typically have a negative impact on the planet — huge amounts of water usage, pollution and contentious labour. I felt like I needed to do something and create something "better than what was available — non is actually short for ‘now or never’.
We love that! You’ve previously referenced Li Edelkoort’s must-read Anti-Fashion manifesto from 2015, and specifically the line; “Fashion is dead. Long live clothing”. To what extent is non a response to, your frustrations with the fashion industry and the culture of consumption it encourages?
My original intention with non was to create the perfect jean, singular, rather than a wider range. It was anti-fashion in the sense that it would be timeless and designed to last — one jean to wear for the next twenty years. While the range eventually grew, to make the brand actually viable, each piece still has the same sensibility. Our first few drops were actually non-branded — without any labels or visible markings — which was an anti-fashion move on my part. Brands drive irrational consumption — wants over needs — and I wanted to try to negate that. Unfortunately, stores and customers alike then didn’t know what the product actually was, so reluctantly we added a discrete label.
I felt like I needed to do something and create something "better than what was available — non is actually short for ‘now or never
– Pete Hellyer
It’s a balancing act, right I can imagine. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started sketching?
That the perfect jean doesn’t exist. Our bodies are all unique and therefore you need a range of fits that can work for everyone. Our Wide Jean, for example, has a wider leg and long-rise which means it would be worn either high-waisted or slung low by different people.
How did the collaborations with ISKO and EON arise?
With EON, I came across them in my initial research (whilst looking for a digital ID solution) and non was one of the pilot brands for them in the early stages. Natasha (the founder) and I actually got on so well I subsequently did their recent rebrand. As for ISKO, they are the vanguard of conscious denim mills; they have an emphasis on technology and innovation which is a real synergy of how I wanted to develop the brand.
Given that denim is notoriously unsustainable, can you talk us through your minimal impact approach?
Starting the brand from scratch presented the opportunity to do everything as consciously as possible using the latest technologies and innovations. We only use recycled or organic materials and environmentally conscious production with ethical partners — all independently certified. Our selvedge denim is 50/50 recycled and organic cotton which ensures durability and comfort whilst minimising our usage of virgin materials. We recycle our production waste into new yarn and ensure our denim is fully recyclable at end-of-life. Our specialist washes have been carefully developed to save water and use planet-friendly alternatives to the often heavily toxic options like acid washes or bleaching effects. Our latest Ozone Wash for example uses ozone gas (O3) that naturally bleaches material which can be turned back into normal harmless oxygen after the process.
What would you say is the strongest truth about denim through the lens of responsible design?
That denim jeans are one of the most water intensive products to create. Using recycled cotton reduces this impact but current techniques to recycle cotton result in a fiber with reduced strength and softness. I initially wanted to create jeans from 100% recycled cotton but in testing they lacked the durability and hand-feel we wanted — so landed on 50/50 recycled/organic cotton which is strong yet soft.
And the most common misconception that we can set straight here?
Greenwashing is abundant and especially so with denim. A small amount of recycled or organic cotton does not make for a “sustainable” product.
Can you talk us through this exclusive capsule?
The capsule was inspired by the idea of “minimalist maximalism”. All the pieces were designed as co-ordinating looks but everything can mix-and-match. Wearing a ‘loud’ design head-to-toe always quietens it down for me —reducing the contrast with other garments— which inspired doing one unique wash and effect across all the pieces. For the wash we laundered our raw black selvedge to a mid-grey before hand-painting the effect on — making each piece unique and artisan. We used an ecological “bleaching” agent that is non-toxic with low energy and water consumption, unlike most typical bleaching processes. The capsule consists of our signature Relaxed and Wide Jeans; Raglan, Pocket and Work Jackets; and classic Tote — all favourite pieces of mine.
Denim jeans are one of the most water intensive products to create. I initially wanted to create jeans from 100% recycled cotton but in testing they lacked the durability and hand-feel we wanted — so landed on 50/50 recycled/organic cotton which is strong yet soft.
– Pete Hellyer
Beyond product, what do you hope readers take away from this Earth Day launch? Cutting through the greenwashing white noise that so frequently surrounds releases on this day, what is the key takeaway you hope readers and potential non-consumers take away?
The world needs lots of imperfect people trying to make a difference, rather than a handful of people living perfectly — we can all make a difference with small actions. If you wear designer brands, either regularly or infrequently, then there is no excuse not to ensure they are conscious by design and ethically produced as a minimum.
We feel the same way. What advice would you give a designer brand consumer who wants to buy responsibly but is unsure as to how? Firstly, how can they better educate themselves? And secondly, how can they better avoid being greenwashed?
Sometimes an item will be labelled or titled as ‘organic’ but it only has 20% organic content for example. Same applies to recycled goods or vegan claims… the latter often means a high plastic content (made from fossil fuels) as leather alternatives. I'd recommend always looking for the compositional breakdown to see exactly what you are buying — and there is probably a reason if you can’t find that breakdown anywhere.