Nearly half a century after François Girbaud started his career in the denim industry and pioneered the first stonewash, the French designer now is leading the fight for designers to embrace environmentally friendly techniques for the treatment of denim.
Opening his presentation with a video emphasizing the importance of saving water, and various means to do so, Girbaud shared his insights on alternative treatments for aging denim and touched on the ethics and social responsibility that designers and manufacturers should maintain for the industry’s 2 million workers.
“Buying a jean is also a political act,” Girbaud said. “There is still time to invent a new tomorrow.”
According to Girbaud, laborers face risks from manual scraping, which entails repetitive movements; sandblasting, which can lead to pulmonary disease, and potassium permanganate sprays, which can damage lungs even when employees wear face masks.
“I was always against the sandblasting,” he said, noting that factories in Turkey stopped sandblasting after some workers died from related ailments.
Girbaud said the denim industry currently faces a series of colliding “truths” involving costs, efficiencies, energy and ethics. “It is our collective responsibility to consider the social impact of what we do,” he said.
One solution is laser technology, which Girbaud began using in 1995. He claimed that laser machines use almost 98 percent less water than conventional aging techniques. Furthermore, the output from using a laser machine to create whiskers and lighten parts of jeans is higher than what could be accomplished with manual scraping, potassium permanganate sprays and sandblasting, he said.
A denim factory can finish 10 pairs of jeans an hour through manual scraping, 30 pairs an hour via sandblasting and 60 pairs an hour with potassium permanganate spraying, he said. In contrast, a laser machine can process between 60 and 120 pairs an hour, he said.
Another way to age jeans is to use ozone. In a conventional wet process, 20 gallons of water, one kilowatt hour of energy and 0.33 pounds of chemicals are used to treat a single pair of jeans, Girbaud said. Ozone, on the other hand, uses 70 percent less water and cuts the amount of energy and chemicals by 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively, he said. In other words, the amount of water that ozone technology saves would equal two years of water consumption in Paris, and the energy rate would equal two years of general consumption in Nepal.
“We are reinventing everything,” he said.
He’s already distanced himself from the stonewash process that he created. “I refused to do stonewash like everyone else,” he said. “I didn’t want to make jeans like that anymore.”
Ever since he started his company in 1964 with his wife, Marithé, Girbaud has been constantly growing his business and exploring new territories. He opened his first store in China in 2008 and unveiled last year a new shop in Paris that, for the first time, groups together all the brands in the Marithé + François Girbaud portfolio.
“It’s important for me to be here,” Girbaud said at the end of his presentation. “I share the love here.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
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Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast