The main hall at Kingpins Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM — Sustainability has been a key issue in the denim world for several years, but the latest edition of the Kingpins trade fair showed the industry is ready to tackle the issue holistically.

From Oct. 24 to 25, exhibitors in the three halls of the Westergasfabrik venue in Amsterdam rivaled each other in ways of showcasing their sustainable initiatives.

Posters detailing water-saving processes, potassium permanganate-free finishes and recycled fabrics were at the front of most stands, easy to spot from afar thanks to their symbolic green and blue hues.

Green tags were added to each garment presented at Bangladesh-based manufacturer M&J Group’s stand, on which were listed the level of water, gas or chemicals used for the conception of each denim piece, which could be tweaked according to the client’s wishes.

Over at Global Denim, the manufacturer’s EcoloJean technology was illustrated with an oversized blue poster. On it was depicted a regular pair of jeans next to a pile of water bottles, explaining that it takes 20 liters of water to dye a single pair of jeans. The EcoloJean technology, said the poster, boasts zero water discharging.

Visibly flagging sustainable initiatives seemed to work. “We’ve just sourced a fabric called Repreve, made from recycled plastic bottles,” said Tara Jessop, who was attending with Rebekah Hough, a fellow designer at Fundamental, a British denim manufacturer that counts the Arcadia group among its clients.

“We keep seeing the green plastic bottle tags on every stand. They are an amazing marketing tool; they help the customer understand the process,” she added.

They pointed out that more affordable denim mills were taking steps toward sustainability. “Repreve has been around for a couple of seasons, but the great thing is that it has reached a more accessible price point,” said Hough. “Making it more mainstream means it is easier for us to plug it to our customer.”

Other designers were already on a mission. “We’ve been going round to each stand to ask them what they’ve been doing from a sustainable angle,” said Lee women’s designer Natasha Goforth, who added that the brand was looking to make its carryover fabrics more sustainable.

“But we’re looking at every single element: fabrics, trims, finishes. It’s not just about the sustainability of the fabric itself, but rather how we can bring in more elements of sustainability to our brand,” she added.

In other words, sustainability has to be treated exhaustively. “Everyone is trying to put in a few figures and specifications about initiatives and products they’ve developed,” said Aditya Goyal, managing director of Indian denim manufacturer Anubha.

“But we need to look at sustainability from a holistic perspective: we don’t want to claim that some products are sustainable and some aren’t. It confuses us, and confuses our end customer,” Goyal added.

Brands have increasingly been opting for sustainable trims, according to Mariateresa Ricciardo, creative director of Metalbottoni. “When you think of a pair of jeans, most of the surface is covered with fabric. But details like buttons, zips and stitches are what are specific to a brand — and sustainability can also be achieved through a choice of trimmings,” she said.

After presenting recycled leather patches last season as part of its “No Impact” accessories range, Metalbottoni, which works with high-end brands such as Balenciaga and Burberry, has branched out into recycled cork patches, which have the benefit of being vegan.

Metalbottoni's first copper button produced for Swedish denim brand reDEW8

Metalbottoni’s first copper button produced for Swedish denim brand ReDew8.  Courtesy

The Italian company introduced its first copper button at Kingpins. “It was worked mechanically, meaning it wasn’t chemically treated,” explained Ricciardo. “That’s why at the end of its life you can recycle it: it is pure copper.”

At Garmon Chemicals, the company, which has just been bought by biotechnology group Kemin, noted a recent surge in interest in eco-friendly solutions.

“Everyone knows now that the fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world,” said Donald Mulazzani, marketing and business developer for Garmon. “Brands are really feeling the pressure from consumers, who are getting more and more savvy about how a garment is made. We specialize in garment finishing, so we are at the very end of the process, but we want to add our contribution by reducing the impact of our techniques on the planet.”

The denim finishing business was promoting the second edition of its Stretch Care program, made of six products dedicated to enhance the quality of stretch fabrication.

“In the past, stretch was only used for women’s jeans,” explained Mulazzani. “But now, thanks to the ath-leisure trend, stretch is associated with people who have a dynamic lifestyle and to whom flexibility really matters. It has become a key trend in denim.”

Stretch pieces were spotted on stands throughout Kingpins, often made out of sustainable fibers such as Tencel. “In terms of fashion, vintage looks are ruling the roost, but when it comes to functionality and daily use, you can’t do without stretch now,” said Goyal of Anubha, who added that fabrics with a “softer hand feel” seemed to be all the rage.

Garmon Chemicals was also launching its Color Runs collection, made using the direct dye technique. Direct dye uses on average 40 percent less water and 40 percent less energy, and takes almost half the time of reactive dyes, the industry’s preferred dyeing technique. It also yields a more vivid hue. So why have manufacturers historically opted for reactive dyes instead? “Because it’s cheaper,” shrugged Mulazzani.

Ultimately, it all trickles down to price. Some see it as a structural problem. “As an industry, we have ruled the market by always going for the lowest of the lowest,” said Jan Cees Van Baaren, sales manager at YKK. “But new developments come at a certain price.”

“The fact that an end user can buy a pair of jeans for 20 euros, use it and throw it away spoils the whole market. The user should consider this: that is not the correct pricing,” continued Van Baaren. “Quality comes with a price, and so does sustainability. Clients don’t always understand that.”

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