By  on January 12, 1994

MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- A dyeing process developed by Burlington Denim is taking the stone out of stone washing.

The proprietary technology, which has been adopted to a line of denim fabrics called Stone Free, allows indigo shades to break down 50 percent faster in the laundering cycle -- without the use of stones and chemicals -- according to company executives. Stone Free fabrics, said Burlington executives, are also designed to reduce imperfects, lower costs and substantially lessen the amount of effluence emitted into the environment during the wash cycle.

Traditional stonewashing is done with a pumice stone, a lightweight, volcanic rock. The pumice rubs against the fabric in the washing machine, causing an abraded look. Stone Free has taken two years to develop at a cost of about $500,000, according to Burlington executives. It is currently available in 14 3/4-ounce, 100 percent cotton denim fabrics. Stone Free-type fabrics for shorts, shirts and sportswear applications, along with denim using a blend of cotton and Hoechst Celanese's ESP polyester, are in the developmental stages.

"The stonewash look is a leading laundering finish for denim, and we project that look to continue," said Kathy Barton, Burlington Denim's vice president of fashion marketing, noting the product is being sampled by Levi Strauss, Lee, Guess and The Gap. Denim using Stone Free will be available to consumers in spring 1995.

Although the process adds from 10 to 15 percent to the price of the fabric, Burlington executives said apparel makers will save money because more products can be made in less time.

Stone Free denim can be used to create the three key looks of stonewashed denim: the classic six-to-eight dip denim, which is dipped by the mill, then washed by the launderer; a classic with bleach look, which is bleached and washed by the launderer, and the destructed look denim, which uses the heaviest washing process.

Achieving the first two looks with Stone Free requires no stones at all. Some stones are needed to achieve the destructed look, said Doug Murphy, a Burlington Denim vice president of marketing, but the stones required are about one-third of those needed in the usual processing, and the time required is cut about 50 percent. In a traditional stonewash process to achieve a destructed look -- about three hours -- stones are added every hour on average. With Stone Free, they're only put in once, and the laundering process lasts only 1 1/2 hours, he said.

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