It’s not every day you get to discuss sustainability inside a shopping mall, but that’s exactly what I found myself doing last week. On Thursday, Montreal-based menswear (and more recently womenswear) brand Frank + Oak hosted an experiential event and fireside chat all about denim inside their new Toronto Eaton Centre retail post. Located on the main level of North America’s busiest shopping mall facing the bustling Queen Street West, Frank + Oak’s new shop is a marker of success for the once online-only apparel company.
While I’m skeptical anytime a brand, particularly a fashion one, tries to sell me anything sustainable (after all, isn’t sustainability all about buying less?) they had my interest. Maybe it was the language the company was using (“Circularity” and “responsible,” not “green”) or maybe it was the mass of denim they’d placed at the store’s entrance.
Sustainability has become increasingly important to conscious fashion consumers, and as such, brands are beginning to take note. Frank + Oak is no exception. In response, they’ve focused efforts on innovating a product we all own and love: denim. Their new initiative, the Responsible Denim Lab, designs with circularity in mind. As we’ve discussed on the Electric Runway podcast and throughout the blog before, a circular fashion system is a regenerative system in which garments are able to circulate with maximum value retained for as long as possible before being able to re-enter the system through reuse or recycling.
F+O’s jeans are made of post-consumer waste (that’s the jeans that you throw out or donate but don’t get resold). According to the company’s website….
Worn-out jeans that were destined for the landfill are collected and redirected to a fabric recycler where they are shredded and broken down over several steps until they’re reduced to fibres. Those salvaged fibres are then re-spun into new materials, reducing our footprint and giving your old jeans a new life.
Frank + Oak also boasts other innovations when it comes to denim, including laser distressing (a 3D twin laser system that replicates a worn look without excessive washing), Nano-bubbles (where air is transformed into bubbles to control denim from shrinkage and to achieve a soft hand), and Ozone Wash (where jeans are added to atmosphere generators where air is converted to ozone gas to prevent the excess indigo from bleeding).
The event was legitimized by the presence of Kelly Drennan, the Founding Executive Director of Fashion Takes Action. Kelly is committed to making the fashion industry more sustainable through her work and advocacy. From a designated area of the store, Kelly shared her thoughts on the state of the fashion and the challenges of bringing new products to market in a sustainable way. Her talk was streamed live on Facebook.
Frank + Oak isn’t new to innovation. In its early years, the company became known for undercutting traditional retail models by selling its goods through its website, with no physical location. F+O grew popular for perks like curated subscription boxes and no-hassle returns. Plus, its vertically integrated DTC model made it affordable in a market where men lacked reasonable apparel options (this is especially true in Canada).
Now that they’ve disrupted retail as we know it, it seems the company is turning its ingenuity towards product development. In an atmosphere of increasingly faster fashion (I’m looking at you, Boohoo) Frank +Oak’s Responsible Denim Lab is a welcome step in the right direction.
Check out Frank + Oak’s Responsible Denim collection here. If you are interested in learning more about fashion, the circular economy, material innovation, and more, check out WEAR Conference, October 7-8 in Toronto.