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PARIS — Sustainability was front and center at the two-day Denim by Première Vision salon held at La Halle Freyssinet.

This story first appeared in the December 14, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Volatile cotton prices were among the factors helping to raise the profile of sustainable alternatives such as recycled denim and cellulose-based fibers.

“It’s definitely the season to add Tencel and Modal, which previously have been regarded as premium fabrics,” said Gayle Johnston, head of women’s wear fabric trends and sourcing at Marks & Spencer, which has a major sustainable program under way.

Denim guru Adriano Goldschmied said a “widening of vision” will be necessary for the denim industry.

“[In the future], jeans could be made out of milk, a tree or bamboo,” Goldschmied said. “Cotton can be a component of that…but there are amazing things that are giving a new look to denim.”

He cited as examples Cupro, MicroModal, Tencel, viscose and rayon.

“From a design point of view, it’s very exciting, especially for women’s denim, as these blends give a very feminine, sophisticated hand,” he added.

Goldschmied said he plans to “invest a lot of energy” in developing recycled denim fabrics and 100 percent cellulose-based fibers for his signature AG Adriano Goldschmied denim line and is working on a filament concept using long Cupro fibers to experiment with construction.

Among mills investing in sustainable fabrics, Turkish weaver Orta Anadolu, with clients that include Diesel, G-Star, Replay and H&M, presented recycled denim, as well as nettle and silver denim blends.

Turkish weaver Isko, a division of Sanko Textil, presented a capsule Wattwash range by Marithé + François Girbaud featuring Isko’s patented Recall technology for maximum shape recovery. The firm produces 200 million meters of fabric annually, 10 percent of which is made from recycled yarns.

Designers attending the event said volatile cotton prices were playing havoc. Exhibitors at the show had increased fabric prices by up to 30 percent.

“It’s difficult to manage, the situation is very chaotic,” said David Bardin, European marketing director for Tavex, which had just implemented its first price increase on cotton fabrics, of 12 to 15 percent, valid until the end of March.

Among the few cotton-rich exhibitor mills was India’s Arvind, which since October has increased production capacity by 25 percent.

“Not only are we seeing a spurt in existing customers, which means that they are moving away from other [mills], we’re also seeing many new clients,” said Raj Kapur, head of marketing. “Most of our regional competitors are running short of cotton. There is a lot of opportunity.”

Marks & Spencer’s Johnston said her team was prioritizing bulk buying across mills in order to negotiate prices.

Araceli Lopez, a designer for Zara’s Premium Denimwear collection, said the brand is still trying to work out how to deal with skyrocketing cotton prices.

“It’s all quite new, we haven’t had time to adapt,” Lopez said. “We will possibly have to reduce workmanship. We don’t [yet] have a solution.”

She noted that for wovens, soaring cotton costs have led to an increase in the use of polyester for Zara, whereas the options for denim are narrower.

Lopez lauded Isko’s colored jeggings range with 100 percent elasticity, coated fabrics and contrast color wefts.

“The blue jean as we know is going down,” Lopez added. “It’s a basic you will always have, but the trend has been replaced by different cotton treatments and new washes.”

Salli Deighton, a denim development consultant for the likes of Fat Face and Marks & Spencer, was among designers signaling sluggish sales on jeans.

“I sense a slump is coming and the cotton prices are killing it,” she said. “It’s changing daily. I just got back from a trip to Bangladesh and they wouldn’t even hold the price for 24 hours. I don’t know how we will manage going forward.”

Goldschmied said, “Denim is not in good shape. We’ve seen a few years of slowdown and all nondenim product is doing very well.”

Key trends for the spring 2012 season, meanwhile, included colored denim, sateen finishes, supersoft hands, light weights, power stretch, chambray shirting fabric, chino-inspired fabrics, flat weaves and coatings, from natural to neoprene finishes.

While Lycra spandex and Harris Tweed figure among the world’s few household-name fiber and cloth producers, Isko’s Lucietti, a former Lycra executive, is spearheading a major marketing initiative to establish Isko as a quality denim supplier.

“As fabric and technology producers, we would like to be recognized as the best ingredient [supplier for denim], just like Lycra is for stretch yarns,” said Lucietti, noting the company’s current co-branding Turbotech initiative with Diesel.

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