How a T-Shirt Inspired the Next Phase of Bluer Denim

My nature is at odds with my business philosophy. I’m an impatient person who believes that incremental improvements are the only way to move forward. I’d embroider that old chestnut, ‘don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress,’ on throw pillows if I knew how to embroider, or owned throw pillows.

The Tee that Started it All

When we began Allmade, as part of Ryonet, three years ago, we knew we wanted to change the promotional apparel industry. An industry that, by its very nature, is meant to create as much waste as possible. (Show of hands: who has ever worn a team-building tee outside of the confines of Topgolf?) Instead of crusading against the entire industry, we quietly began to source a t-shirt made from recycled and sustainable materials that actually felt good to wear. The problem? It cost a bit more than the normal scratchy tradeshow tees. For an industry that shoots clothes from a cannon, this extra dollar wasn’t going to work. And there was a stressful lean period, during which we had more sustainable shirts than we had people willing to slingshot them into the stands.

This is one area where the incremental improvement piece comes in. We had meetings and lunches and took phone calls with these marketers who needed to keep their budgets lean. We asked them whether they cared more about the cost per shirt or the cost per impression and if those traditional tees aligned to their corporate values. (Turns out, a cheap t-shirt made in a sweatshop from toxic chemicals aligns with no one’s corporate values.) Over time, the orders increased and this September, we celebrated our 1 millionth shirt out in the world. Has the industry changed? Not really. But are there one million less toxic shirts out there? Yes.

Bluer Denim, Greener Jeans

Despite the small wins with Allmade, my impatience is never sated. After years of being a fan of the beloved denim company, Bluer Denim, I had the opportunity to buy the brand. With the help of a small team, we are staying true to the original Bluer Denim vision of making quality, selvage denim but we’re putting much greater focus on creating the jeans in a sustainable way.

The fashion industry is the second largest contributor to waste and pollution in the world. A few stats (of many): About 20% of water pollution comes from textile dyeing. Cotton farming is responsible for 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides used worldwide. Every second the equivalent of one garbage truck of apparel is burned or thrown into the landfill. So how to change this massive industry? We can’t do this overnight. But Bluer Denim, like Allmade, can move the industry incrementally in the right direction.

This means favoring natural and organic fibers, and transparently sourcing fabrics and finishes from manufacturers that share our values. It means finding vegan back patches that don’t look quite as sumptuous as leather. It means we don’t chemically or otherwise distress new denim to chase trends. It means rescuing old denim from the landfill by offering a discount when our customers send us back used jeans and working towards a closed-loop supply-chain as quickly as we can. It means that I write a note to each customer on 100% post-consumer recycled cards printed with water-based inks, thanking them for their commitment to small improvements. And it means the whole thing is shipped in recycled and reusable, recyclable or compostable mailers.

Bluer Future

As Bluer Denim grows, we hope to change the conversation about apparel. We want to make jeans that make people feel good because they fit well and because they know that every rivet was chosen to create less of an impact. And, frankly, we hope people buy less jeans. Right now, we’re making only two classic styles so people don’t feel pressured to buy a bunch of pairs they won’t wear in a year’s time. And we reject trends of new jeans looking old. Yes, I do know that we’ll sell less as a result.

Would I love to tear down the apparel industry tomorrow and start it again with only a closed-loop process? Yes, I would. But can I? No. For now, my impatience takes a back seat to incremental improvement. But, hey, if you’re ready to take the entire thing down, send a note to I’m happy to recommend ways to accelerate changes toward that goal.