Time to step out of the comfort zone
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Interview: Bert van Son, CEO & founder of Mud Jeans

Time to step out of the comfort zone

Rent, repair, re-use – Dutch brand Mud Jeans has been revolutionising the denim industry since 2013. From 2-4 July 2019, the label will be presenting its new collection for SS20 during Neonyt at Kraftwerk Berlin. We caught up with Bert van Son for a chat about the clothing rental services offered by big players like Urban Outfitters and the challenges of sustainable jeans production.

July 2019

More and more big retailers are launching clothing rental services. One of them is Urban Outfitters who will start to lease out clothes including jeans by Levi’s, Wrangler and Citizens of Humanity. You started renting out jeans in 2013 – do you think companies such as Urban Outfitters are taking a step in the direction of a more sustainable industry?

I don’t know how these companies make their jeans, whether they are sustainably produced in factories where people are treated fairly, or whether this is only how they want to present themselves to the outside world. Circularity is not only about the lease scheme, it’s about much more. It starts at the design phase. For example, you can stick to products made of mono-materials by not using leather labels. Another aspect is taking responsibility for your raw materials. We offer a repair service because we are responsible for the raw materials and want them to last as long as possible. Then it’s about the reverse logistics, taking your jeans back in order to re-use them. We are 100% sure that our jeans are used to make new MUD jeans. They are not just downcycled to end up as isolation materials. Having the control over this process is no easy task.  And lastly, being circular is about acting against fast fashion and the throw-away mentality. We made a trans-seasonal collection of essential denim pieces. A comprehensive approach to circularity is crucial to really making this industry more sustainable.

What are the main challenges the denim industry is facing to reduce its environmental impact?
Traditionally, the main resources for denim production are conventional cotton, chemicals and water – and a lot of it. In order to shift the denim industry towards more sustainable materials and processes, a holistic approach is needed. Sustainability needs to be present in every step of the supply chain. You need to think about the materials, the production processes, water and chemical usage, CO₂ emissions, workers’ rights, wages, working environment and lots more. 

The problem with conventional denim starts with the fibre. Cotton is being called the dirty crop. Conventional cotton needs a lot of resources, space and pesticides to grow. In order to bring about change, the industry would need to switch to recycled and organic materials. Both the production of denim fabric and the laundry of a pair of jeans (where the different colours of denim are created) are very water and chemical-intensive processes. There are already plenty of innovative processes to replace the old and dirty methods of toxic dyes, PP spray and sandblasting. At this point, it is a matter of implementing rather than developing. 

Our Tunisian garment manufacturer, Yousstex International, for example, has a water filtration system in place that filters 95% of the production water. The additional 5% evaporates and is filled up with rainwater, meaning that zero freshwater is required. Bleach washings are created with ozone and laser instead of using harsh chemicals and though manual labour. At Tejidos Royo, our Spanish fabric mill, they use a steam turbine to transform the steam from the production line into energy. This installation allows them to be self-sufficient in terms of energy. 

You’re presenting the new Mud Jeans collection at Neonyt. What business opportunities are you looking for at the global hub for fashion, sustainability and innovation? 
We are looking for sales agents in the Scandinavian countries, the UK and France. And we’d like to work with big retailers in Germany who care about telling our circular story. So far, we have not met a truly big player that sells our jeans. It seems as if they are lacking the guts to offer a new sustainable brand. In the meantime, consumers are well informed and asking for sustainable alternatives. The clock is ticking on climate change, it’s time to get real on tackling it. This is why the buyers from the big retailers really need to step out of their comfort zone.

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