LOS ANGELES — Counting every raindrop and snowflake going into the bucket has done some good for California’s record drought. Conservation is at an all-time high with the well-manicured grass on Beverly Hills street medians gone brown and desert-landscaping becoming more and more chic in suburbia.
A panel this week at denim laundry Eco Prk in Paramount, Calif., brought together executives from a variety of backgrounds to mull what major changes the broader industry has done, and can do, for sustainability.
Even with conservation creeping up, the state reported last month that Californians missed the mandatory savings mark in January that was set by Gov. Jerry Brown in June. “We’re hoping for a miracle March and an awesome April,” State Water Resources Control Board chair Felicia Marcus said at the time of the January results.
Sustainability measures — or at least a conversation around them — within the denim industry appear to be budding.
Patagonia began experimenting with more sustainable practices for producing jeans and came up with a product that uses about 84 percent less water than a typical pair of jeans and also chose to forgo the use of indigo in favor of a fast-dye alternative.
“That is a matter, of course, with most of the approach…doing anything at Patagonia is they usually try and find the most environmentally sound and safe way of doing things foremost,” said Patagonia creative director Miles Johnson. “It’s not a fashion brand so it’s not interested in trying to set trends. It just wants a decent pair of jeans for a decent price made from good stuff.”
Calik Denim, a Turkish denim manufacturer, has been researching ways of developing fabrics, including pre-treating the fibers and combining the steps in the dyeing and finishing stages, that can aid the laundries in the conservation process, said the company’s head of sales and marketing Ebru Ozaydin. As a result, she said, the process may take 30 minutes rather than five hours, thus saving water, energy and labor costs.
Eliminating the use of indigo — which results in waste water — is something being considered at Calik but it’s in the early days of development, Ozaydin added.
“There have been lots of efforts that dye stock companies are working on and there have been some different approaches from different mills [where] they use non-indigo dye. The thing is, it still needs much more profound research. [We can’t] all of a sudden…switch from indigo dye to another alternative.”
The consumer is another part of the equation, said George Wilson, owner of L.A. manufacturer Double Down Development and founder of Rivi Goods.
“There are seeds being planted but you also have a thing where people don’t have money so what are they going to do?” Wilson said. “It’s the consumer but the brands are the key.”
“It’s not cheap. We are an expensive laundry, to tell you the truth,” said Kevin Youn, owner of denim laundry Eco Prk and founder of Tortoise Denim. “We charge a lot to Tortoise Denim and then we did 2,000 pieces of product for Lucky Brand Legend Line. We charge[d] them very high [prices].”
The manufacturing infrastructure — or lack thereof — is the challenge and one of the key reasons the cost for more eco-friendly denim processes is so expensive currently, he said. The cost is in the setup of things, such as the washing machines, but those are one-time events, he pointed out.
“What’s going to happen [next]? Eventually costs [are] going to go down…because energy’s going to go down,” Youn said. “Now it’s expensive because people are not willing to change the model of the laundry.”
It’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg conversation, though, as businesses face rising costs, making the affordability of coping with the higher costs in the presumed short-term a problem for many.
“There are all these prices going up on the laundries. The brands have to pay for that price and it’s kind of driving business out of [Los Angeles],” said Blue Salt Product Development Co. founder Heather Morton. “It’s creating this kind of smaller, boutique-y industry that we have here in L.A. That is the reality of what is happening today.”
The general consensus from the day’s panel — that it will take everyone to affect change — was more cliché than earth shattering, but still a start to the conversation.
“If we’re thinking about it, I think the next thing is to convince the consumer,” said denim consultant Amy Leverton.
At the end of the day, the product has to look good, Johnson pointed out.
“You have to make it appealing. People are really granola-y about it so they just kept on thinking every time they saw organic when it came to denim, it’s that sort of hippie denim. And it’s taken a long time for [the industry] to start to do something with organic that actually looks really modern and really kind of completely different.”