AMSTERDAM — Blue was the overriding hue at Kingpins Amsterdam denim trade show, spotted on sticks of cotton candy and customized matcha lattes, in addition to jeans. But that didn’t stop the fair from getting greener.
Following the organizers’ announcement in February, the Amsterdam edition of Kingpins, which ran April 10 to 11 at the Westergasfabriek exhibition center, was the first to require exhibitors to meet a list of mandatory standards across categories such as corporate social responsibility, chemical usage and environmental policies.
“These aren’t simple guidelines, they are criteria,” said show founder Andrew Olah. “I would consider them as the boundaries of a football field: The game is inside those boundaries.”
This edition focused on getting mills and companies informed about the different certifications available to businesses. On the second day of the fair, Olah hosted a seminar titled, “Does Your Denim Mill Have Any Social Standards?” It dealt with how denim mills can meet standards by 2020 and how the changes will impact brands and retailers, presented by representatives from CSR-certification entities Social Accountability International and Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production.
“We want the industry to start behaving properly,” said Olah. “We don’t care what CSR standard a company chooses: they just have to have one. It’s like a driver’s license.”
The founder deplored the lack of an industry association in order to solve these issues. “That’s the very first problem,” said Olah. “Everything is broken down by brands doing whatever they want. It’s like we all have 500 languages but we don’t even speak to each other.”
To help businesses ease toward more sustainable chemical management, Kingpins partnered with the ZDHC foundation, a Netherlands-based association that has developed a set of tools for cleaner chemical usage within the textile industry. It has been a Kingpins partner since 2016.
“This first year is a transition year,” explained Mariella Noto, ZDHC senior manager for implementation.
“For this first show under the new criteria, we would like to engage the mills and make sure that they understand the work of ZDHC, how they can build the capacity within the factories on the topic of chemical management and how they can implement the ZDHC tools to help them phase out the use of hazardous chemicals from the production process.“
At the ZDHC booth, Noto and her team presented the different tools the foundation has developed over the years. These include the ZDHC Manufacturing Restricted Substance list, encompassing chemical substances banned from intentional use in facilities that process textile materials and trim parts in apparel and footwear; an online gateway accessible via invitations issued by ZDHC brand partners on which factories can enter their chemical list and be presented with sustainable solutions; and a training academy to work on chemical management internally.
“The specific goals still need to be defined: Our next step is to sit down with the Kingpins team after the fair to review the most frequently asked questions and see how we can further develop the collaboration to fit with each party involved,” said Noto. “It’s not about getting there in the first year, but about understanding what you need to do in your practices to improve your impact. It’s a step-by-step process.”
Visitors were enthusiastic about Kingpins taking a firm stand toward more sustainability within the denim industry.
“It’s the first thing I ask when I go to a booth” said Aimee Green, senior denim designer at Hong Kong-based apparel brand Zamira, who praised the playful badges used by Brazil-based mill Vicunha Textil to illustrate their steps toward sustainability.
“Sustainability is very important for our company,” she said, adding that Zamira, which counts Inditex and Walmart among its client list, was planning to eliminate polypropylene from its chemicals by 2020.
“We’ve had to stop working with some of our factories: We told them two years ago they needed to buy the right machines, and if they didn’t we’d move the lines somewhere else — and it happened,” recounted Green. “It’s a bit cutthroat, but you have to change with the times. Maybe if they come to these shows they’d understand: If you don’t have a sustainable option, others do.”
The denim designer is particularly excited about the introduction of Oeco-Tex’s Made in Green program, allowing brands and consumers to trace every step in product manufacturing thanks to a QR code. “It means everything needs to be fully transparent: the fabric mill, the dyeing mill, the zip supplier, the button supplier… Everybody has to be audited and the information is directly accessible to consumers on the finished garment in stores,” said Green. Zamira will be shipping items in the Made in Green program later this year.
Garmon Chemicals also thinks QR codes are the way to go.
“It’s a great tool to allow brands to communicate directly with consumers and show them what they have been doing to make their product more sustainable,” said Donald Mulazzani, marketing and business development director, demonstrating Garmon’s Green of Change platform live on his phone.
He flashed the QR code on a pair of bleached jeans and showed the results that popped up on his screen. “The techniques used to manufacture this pair of jeans saved 43 liters of water as well as 0.8 kW of energy,” he read out. “This is powerful information: Often consumers read ‘sustainable’ on a label but don’t have access to the actual details. Thanks to this, they know for a fact that the brand is making an effort.”
According to Rodolfo Iarini, of Mauritius-based mill Denim de L’Ile, the quest for sustainability has changed the way brands shop for denim.
“More than looking for specific styles, people are asking about the way specific garments have been made,” he said, adding that Denim de L’Ile has just starting working with ZDHC in compliance with the new Kingpins criteria. “The focus is more on how the product is manufactured, rather than its aesthetic.”
Are we at a point where a sustainably manufactured garment can imitate the favored styles in traditional manufacturing?
“When it comes to washes, we are definitely on the same level aesthetically,” said Iarini. “But there are still things you cannot do with recycled fabric: You can’t develop the same super-light weight or fine yarns, for example. There are still some limitations.”
The next step in the sustainability scheme is to boost performance of the greener options. American mill Cone Denim’s star line for this edition was its Modern Retro capsule, which adds sustainable ingredients to its stretch offering.
“Garments from this line are made using 50 percent post-industrial recycled cotton and 50 percent Tencel; dyed with distilled indigo, our most sustainable dye; and the stretch performance is obtained using a recycled polyester component,” said Pierette Scavuzzo, director of product design. “The line checks all the boxes, and visually it just looks like a good product.”
While acid washes and tie-dye prints were particularly strong this season, buyers and stylists confirmed that the main things they were on the lookout for are greener compositions for their best-selling products.
“We’re looking for new ways to do what we’ve always been doing, but in a more eco-friendly direction,” said Louise Leurent, a buyer for French budget-friendly women’s apparel brand Camaïeu. “But we don’t want to increase our retail prices, so we need to work in collaboration with manufacturers to give our customer the sustainable angle she is demanding.”
Camaïeu is currently working on eco-washes and waterless options to manufacture its denim lines. “Tencel, organic cotton and eco washes were definitely strong for this edition,” said Pauline Nafre, fashion designer for denim and sportswear at Camaïeu. “It’s interesting that the trends are a lot more focused on what the product is made of, rather than what it looks like.”