LONDON — Exhibitors at Denim Première Vision embraced sustainability and eco-responsibility with gusto, touting their efforts to save water and put fewer chemicals into lakes and rivers. The two-day showcase returned to London for its December edition at Printworks, with 97 exhibitors taking part.
“Sustainability in recent times was a marketing tool, but now it’s something required by the consumers and one of the criteria that we take into consideration when we select our exhibitors,” said Guglielmo Olearo, director of Première Vision.
Many exhibitors said they’ve seen a pickup in interest for their sustainable lines. The American fabric supplier Cone Denim has pioneered a degradable polyester fabric, known as Ciclo, and it is already garnering interest and buzz.
“We’ve only had Ciclo for a month, but there have been people coming just to see it [just based on] the press release,” said Kevin Reardon, the company’s managing director.
Cone, whose buyers include Levi’s, VF Corp. and Asos, said it is working toward 100 percent recycled cotton. Right now the line is 5 to 20 percent recycled cotton.
“We’re also going to be producing fabrics with laser-cutting technology and running natural indigo dye, although for some people that’s not really sustainable because you still need to use chemicals,” said Reardon.
In July, Vicunha, whose buyers include Diesel and Versace, revealed it is setting new targets to reduce water consumption throughout its production chain.
“We’ve been working on our sustainability efforts for 30 years. We have a partnership with Lenzing, we used recycled polyester and recycled cotton. Our cotton from Brazil grows with 92 percent rainwater, which is different from USA cotton, which uses about 22 percent rainwater,” said Stefano Pozzobon, product manager of Vicunha.
Pozzobon said business has been growing in Italy, Germany and France in particular, while Brexit uncertainty hasn’t affected business given that the company’s warehouses are located in Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Brazil, and Sri Lanka. The warehouses are close to its garment manufacturers.
Chinese denim mill Advance Denim has also seen business picking up because of its eco-efforts. The company recently released a sustainable line called GreenLet, which has been certified by Global Organic Textile Standard using recycled plastic bottles and cotton.
“It has had a good response from clients in Europe, the U.S. and Australia because they are particularly interested, and looking for, sustainable products and using dyeing-friendly techniques,” said Klaus Wu, a sales representative from Advance Denim, which supplies brands such as Levi’s, Gap, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.
Advance Denim also launched an aniline-free line in September. Aniline is a toxic chemical used in the process of producing indigo and is damaging to aquatic life. It is the first Chinese denim manufacturer to offer this new technology.
Responsible production is now a vital part of how buyers shop. This means that buyers are looking for fabrics and garments that are certified and cultivated in a sustainable way throughout the entire production process.
According to Manon Mangin, fashion product manager of Première Vision, this has also trickled down to fashion trends. “This season, in general, calls for something that is more relaxed, a feeling of well-being,” she said.
“We’ve also been seeing that there are a lot of compositions that are 100 percent eco-friendly. It can be fibers that are organic or blended with recycled fabrics and natural fibers like hemp and linen. We’re seeing a lot of inspiration from water elements, such as more graduated colors and softer silhouettes,” added Mangin.
She said this year, in particular, there has been a definite focus on innovation in the field of sustainable practices.
Saving water and dumping fewer chemicals in lakes and rivers has been a major talking point. Like Vicunha, brands are working on using less water in their production process.
Exhibitor C.L.A.S.S. a material consulting agency from Milan, pointed to the use of cutting-edge, sustainable materials from companies such as Varvaressos that has created Supreme Green Cotton, a new premium cotton that uses 40 percent less water.
Companies are reevaluating the entire supply chain, with “traceability and transparency” at the core, said Giusy Bettoni, founder of C.L.A.S.S.
She added that thanks to technology, advanced responsible solutions are booming.
“Heavy chemicals and harmful processes will be replaced by ‘green chemistry,'” Bettoni said, adding that the Greek yarn manufacturer Varvaressos is bringing a whole new level of sustainability to cotton via an advanced, satellite-powered drip irrigation system.
While exhibitors have been having success with their sustainable lines, the fair as a whole has faced some challenges. Audience numbers at Première Vision are lower than in past years, and there appears to be more interest in the competing denim trade show Kingpins, which takes place in Amsterdam.
“We have participated in this show for many years, and we see that customer flow is decreasing year by year. We’ve gotten feedback that customers are more interested in going to Kingpins,” said Wu from Advance Denim.
Reardon from Cone Denim has also noticed that Kingpins is picking up. “I think that Kingpins sets sustainable parameters for the exhibitors who show there. You have to meet certain criteria before you exhibit and PV has just started doing that. You also see more U.S. brands at Kingpins.”
Reardon added that at Kingpins, “you might see one team from Asos. But here all six of the Asos teams, or however many there are, will come here and I think that’s also important.”
Olearo of Première Vision said footfall has slowed because sustainability has a high cost and, overall, the fashion industry has been in a phase of stagnation in 2019.
“We look at what our exhibitors do in terms of product, process, how they produce and their social responsibility. But sustainability has a cost because it requires every company to change its organization, think in a different way. We also see that European countries are in a phase of stagnation in the consumption of fashion and apparel, but that’s because consumer behavior is changing, they are consuming less but better and that, for sure, has an impact on the volume of production in the industry,” he said.