MILAN — Indigo is getting greener.
International denim apparel producers, chemical specialists and weaving machine manufacturers are riding the wave of sustainability, banking on eco-friendly pipelines, high-tech treatments and machines to meet consumer demand for high-performance, greener fabrics.
Although sustainability is a trend denim companies have engaged in for the past few years now, Ebru Guler, Isko’s senior corporate social responsibility executive, emphasized the industry’s priority “to improve, to achieve and to maintain a supply chain where all the suppliers are ‘safe’ and to actively take action in the creation and guarantee of safe purchasing habits for final consumers.”
Garmon Chemicals’ marketing and business development director Donald Mulazzani agreed, pointing out that the Italy-based research and development company’s aim is “to connect the chemical industry with the fashion industry, with a sustainable approach.”
The company, which provides the apparel industry with chemical solutions, is gearing up to unveil the latest additions to its products’ catalogue at the upcoming specialist denim fair Kingpins Amsterdam, which runs April 18 to 19.
Garmon Chemicals will showcase the Stretch-Care collection aimed at enhancing the performance of stretch denim fabrics and adding new solutions to the company’s range of certified, sustainable products.
“We pioneered the Green Screen for Safer Chemicals [certification], which didn’t exist before within the textile industry,” Mulazzani said proudly, highlighting that the company applied for the certification in 2015. The certification is issued by the U.S.-based, nonprofit corporation Clean Production Action, which identifies chemicals of high concern and safer alternatives.
Among the six different solutions that Garmon will debut at Kingpins Amsterdam, the Avol Oxy White is a compound developed for bleach applications, free of manganese, heavy metals and halogenated derivatives, helping the fabric to retain elasticity. The Fortress Flex dispersing agent is designed to protect the fabrics’ elastane fibers, preventing the indigo dyes’ back staining during washing steps.
In order to embrace an all-round eco-friendly approach, Garmon will introduce the Geopower NPS solution, as well. “We are not only a company looking to stay strong [in the market] and sustainable, but we also care about our workers. We are committed to ensure safe and healthy working conditions,” Mulazzani said.
The stone wash finishes obtained with the compound in a cold-temperature environment and without employing pumice stones benefit the employees’ working conditions while enhancing properties of the stretch denim fabric.
Mulazzani, who has previously worked for fashion groups such as Aeffe and Gilmar, said “stretch denim is all the rage right now, in women’s as well as in men’s fashion, thanks in part to the hype around the ath-leisure trend and sportswear deluxe brands such as Off-White,” explaining the reasons behind the company’s efforts in the development of stretch fabrics’ solutions.
Garmon Chemicals, acquired last January by chemical giant Kemin for an undisclosed sum, expects to grow further becoming “a glocal company, relying on Kemin’s [international] structure to deliver a more customer-centric service and reduce the timing of deliveries of products,” explained Mulazzani, who cited India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Italy among its best-performing market.
At the upcoming edition of Kingpins Amsterdam the company hopes for a positive feedback from other markets including the U.S. and Brazil “with an ambitious plan: that all our products will be Green Screen [for Safer Chemicals] certified soon,” he said.
Also Turkish denim specialist Isko pushed its commitment toward sustainability further, in an attempt to fully evaluate the environmental impact of its pipeline.
The company has worked on several eco-friendly projects including new automation systems, installed in the company’s weaving halls, and 1,100 new, more efficient lamps, which saved more than 1.7 million kilowatts per hour and 86,000 kilowatts per hour of energy per year, respectively. The reduction of the production processes’ environmental footprints gained Isko the Life Cycle Assessments on its whole catalogue, which counts more than 25,000 products.
“[With green certifications] we can identify any areas where improvements can be made and they allow our customers to make fully informed decisions, telling them that they are buying a safe product, produced in an ethical and environmentally friendly way,” Guler said.
In keeping with this goal, Isko is also the industry’s first company to have applied for and obtained the Environmental Product Declarations. Issued by Sweden-based EPD International, the documents validate the production steps, and “a product’s total life cycle from raw material to waste and recycling, taking into account environmental problems in each part of the supply chain,” Guler explained.
This marks a significant turning point for the denim industry since Isko’s decision paved the way for the release of Product Category Rules for the assessment and comparison of denim products. The document, which is expected to be published in November, will spotlight the requirements for every other denim specialist, which will apply to obtain the EPDs.
Guler stressed the importance of setting an example for the industry. “We think that it is our responsibility to lead the way to drive industry change and to actively build a better and greener future.”
“I believe green certifications are useful tools only when it comes to real, tangible, genuine innovations,” explained Alberto Candiani, the fourth-generation executive who leads the Italian family-run business from the product development side.
On his end, Candiani is committed to pushing the company’s high-tech know-how toward a greener approach by 2020. “Our main goal is to enhance the environmental compatibility [of products] investing in research and development with the aim to be residual free by 2020,” he said.
This year marks the 80th anniversary for the denim weaving company and Candiani will introduce the INK collection, which stands for indigo, nitrogen and Kitrotex, at Kingpins Amsterdam.
The collection of greener fabrics combines the N-denim dyeing technique with the patented ingredient Kitotex. While the former cuts the use of chemicals by 30 percent and avoids hydrosulfites and fixation agents, the latter, which is a derived from Chitosan — a naturally occurring polymer obtained from shrimp waste — replaces common sizing agents including poly vinyl alcohol, or PVA, in the dyeing and finishing processes.
Overall, employing the INK technology requires one dyeing bath as opposed to the traditional seven, thus reducing water waste by 75 percent down to 22 liters from 90 liters. The technology also avoids polluting water waste with salt and microplastics “which never go away,” commented Candiani, while Kitotex helps purifying the discharged water.
The INK collection is available in both rigid and stretch fabrics with the aim of engaging different customers. “With the growth of activewear, four or five years ago, the denim industry faced a slowdown, but I believe it’s now recovering. Even more traditional denim can have high-performance features and then I firmly believe in the importance of [using] natural fibers, cotton denim is more sustainable than man-made fibers,” Candiani contended.
The company’s projects for the future include developing denim fabrics that can fully decompose. “We wish to be able to put a pair of jeans in the organic waste at one point,” he said, highlighting that, on the other end, what the industry should face is the problem of leftovers since “denim supply is 15 times the demand.”
Last March, Candiani presented Re-Gen, a 12-piece capsule collection with Los Angeles-based Atelier & Repairs, created using 50 percent recycled Tencel — Lenzing’s recycled material known as Refibra — and 50 percent recycled cotton from Candiani’s own denim waste.
“In order to be sustainable in a tangible way, you need to innovate with ideas and technologies. Investments can account for 5 to 10 percent of the company’s turnover,” Candiani concluded. The company posted revenues of 98 million euros in 2017, up 4 percent compared to 2016, and is expecting a growth in 2018 in line with last year.
Itema, the Colzate, Bergamo-based provider of weaving machines, which counts Candiani among its customers, has debuted a new denim-dedicated rapier-weaving machine. Developed by ItemaLab, the company’s R&D department, the loom, called R9500 Denim, was presented at the International Textile Machinery exhibition in Istanbul, which wraps up today.
“The question was, how to make this [weaving] machine more sustainable? We talked to our customers on how they can reduce their footprints,” explained Christian Straubhaar, group sales and marketing director, on how the high-tech loom was conceived.
The new weaving machine is equipped with a device reducing selvage waste by 2.3 inches on the left hand-side of the fabric. “Once you put it in perspective, this means 800 kilograms of cotton saved every year per each rapier-weaving machine,” insisted Straubhaar, highlighting that “we wanted to break down the cost of ownership, the electricity consumption by 15 percent, and to introduce a new design.”
In 2017, Itema had revenues of 305 million euros, up 13.1 percent compared to 2016. On April 9, the company filed for a listing on the Milan Stock Exchange’s STAR segment.