By  on July 29, 2008

NEW YORK — Companies involved in garment development, washing and finishing are welcoming the return to washed down vintage denim styling with improved technology that reduces the environmental impact.

Exhibitors at the boutique denim textile show Kingpins, which ran here July 15 and 16, welcomed the vintage looks after several years of denim being dominated by dark washes and untreated raw fabric. The style shift should translate into more business, and will give companies involved in washing and finishing a chance to better differentiate themselves through unique techniques and treatments. Advancements in technology were a major element in many exhibitors’ offerings.

Spain’s Jeanologia is using laser technology to give jeans vintage looks that it believes are indistinguishable from naturally worn jeans. The company’s booth consisted of vintage jeans from the 1950s and 1970s hung side-by-side with its reproductions. Designers and buyers were challenged to identify the reproductions.

“We have come with a new technology to clone jeans, to reproduce vintage jeans,” said Enrique Silla, president of Jeanologia.

Lasers have been used to finish jeans with whiskers, holes and shading for about five years, Silla said. “But what is new is the software that makes the light of the laser reproduce exactly a garment.”

Jeanologia uses its own denim archives to reproduce looks. A picture of the original garment is taken and imported into photo software that converts the image into a pattern that the laser is able to replicate in less than a minute.

“There’s a perception in the market that we are on a mission to dispel, that if you use a laser in production of the jeans it will look fake,” said Michelle Branch, creative director at Jeanologia. “Many think there’s no way to make it look authentic, and 10 years ago that was true.”

Branch noted that using the laser offers several advantages. Jeans are traditionally finished and sanded by hand, a process that requires considerable time and skilled labor. The laser also can replicate looks normally achieved by using permanganate, a chemical abrasive. The company is working with brands such as Levi’s, Abercrombie & Fitch, Polo and Edwin.

Dystar, a chemical supplier and one of the largest suppliers of indigo to the denim industry, has introduced a line of low-impact dyes and new methods that require less bleach.

George Cook, regional business development manager, said many designers and buyers still had questions about what qualifies a garment as environmentally friendly. Cook said Dystar is encouraging people to consider the entire process of making the garment, from selecting the cotton to the wash process.

“Some people think natural indigo is a really great, ecologically superior way to go and actually it isn’t,” Cook said. “Our synthetic or produced indigo is really a more ecologically friendly dye” because it doesn’t have heavy metals typically found in natural indigos.

Novozymes is pioneering treatments utilizing enzymes that are environmentally safe. The company introduced DeniBleach at the show, a process that decolorizes indigo with an enzyme. The product allows better control of how much color is stripped away.

“You typically get a sky blue color with bleach,” said Julie Clemmons, technical sales representative with Novozymes. “This is not as drastic a change, because it just removes the indigo without bleaching the fiber.”

DeniBleach also maintains the strength of the fiber and can eliminate the need for stone washing.

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