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AMSTERDAM — Two questions dominated at Kingpins, the premium denim trade show that ended here on Thursday: “What’s new?” and “How much does it cost?”

With technological novelty and new looks governing the fair, mills and denim brands were looking to make sustainability a viable business.

“There is a positive change in the air,” said Miguel Sanchez, global head of business development for denim and casual wear at Archroma. “2015 was a transitional year. We could feel the recession. People were not willing to invest in premium denim. This year, the mills have more orders. Look around, almost every stand here is launching new collections. And that means they are confident it’s a good investment.”

Among the standouts was Cone Denim’s back-to-the-roots collection of fabrics dyed with natural indigo, grown exclusively for the mill in Tennessee. “We have an exclusive agreement with Stony Creek Colors. And we are trying to make this a scalable business venture with the farmers,” explained Kara Nicholas, vice president of product design and marketing at Cone, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.

Showing off the new gamut of natural shades on its signature selvage qualities, already picked up by Tellason, Nicholas said the retro look was still a strong trend, spotted also at Bossa. The Turkish mill launched the Re-set collection, based on organic vegetable dyes which it applied to organic cotton, Tencel, Newlife as well as recycled cotton left un-dyed, boasting a range of natural colorings instead.

For the first time, Berto took to digital printing to be able to produce smaller quantities. Building on its fashion credentials, the Italian manufacturer showcased a new indigo wool, an extra-soft selvage developed for suits that were destined for what it dubbed the “indigo gentleman.”

Elsewhere, visitors gathered underneath an infrared lamp set up by Invista to promote its new Thermolite infrared technology, which can raise the temperature of a garment by 2 degrees Celsius. “There are special ceramic pigments in the fiber, which absorb energy from the sun and make denim warmer,” explained Jean Hegedus, the company’s global denim director.

A recent study conducted by ICM Research for Invista revealed that 78 percent of consumers were interested in purchasing a performance “winter jean,” which the firm proposed in tandem with its Thermolite Dual Layer technology that traps air within the open spaces of a fabric.

But as Tavex noted, technological innovation comes at a cost. The mill came with an extended offering of its healthy denim line, sporting three new fabrics: X-Heat, made with recycled coffee charcoal that captures natural body heat; X-Zeox, upped with caffeine and retinol, which sat within the fiber instead of just being applied as a finishing, certified to improve skin elasticity, and X-Fir, a combination of 30 metallic oxides meant to eliminate toxins and increase energy levels. “We always seek to widen our range, but we need to find brands that are willing to invest in communication and marketing,” said Tavex area manager Margot Lopez, lamenting that brands were “not labeling the products separately, which is a shame.”

Denim brands interviewed at the fair said they chose not to communicate on single products but instead strive to be as sustainable as possible as a company.

“This is an issue. European producers have to be different to defend our market, but the consumer needs to know,” argued Lopez on behalf of her new collection, which costs 6 euros per meter, or $6.80 at current exchange, versus her average price point of 4.5 euros, or $5.10, echoing the voices of other mills.

To help buyers navigate through the latest in technology, Archroma together with fiber specialist Lenzing, textile maker Royo and Garmon Chemicals introduced a “road map to rational denim, i.e. garments based on the most efficient use of resources at each stage of production” – from a sustainable fiber to clean dyes and ecoefficient finishings that save water, save energy and reduce waste. “There is a lot of confusion among consumers, but I can tell you the brands are confused, too,” said Sanchez, describing the road map as a source of inspiration for buyers. “We want designers to consider sustainability as a core. If a brand comes to us, we can show how, where and by who it can be done, and make it available immediately. Also, sustainability doesn’t necessarily need to cost more, when you can use existing technology,” he assured.

The rational denim collection was housed within Why, launched as an expansion of Kingpins Amsterdam and dedicated to methods of branding denim. “Why do we need Why?” asked its founder Kris Dumon. “Because branding is important. It’s the face of the brand and it’s where you can differentiate yourself from others. Without it, in denim, everything would look the same.”

Dumon noted how the concept has lost its original meaning. “The first branded item in the history of denim was the rivet. Levi’s had created jeans but they were falling apart at the seams, so they took a patent on rivets. But the rivets damaged chairs and saddles, so they had to be hidden on the inside. To let consumers know that the new product was still as good as the old one, Levi’s invented the first pocket flashers. Branding actually made sense back then. Today, it’s no longer about the product, it’s pure marketing.

For its first edition, Why hosted about a dozen  leather, metal and paper branding experts, keen to offer added value, such as “the smart label” developed by Dienpi. The label contains a chip, which — when flashed by a smartphone — can provide information about the product, play an ad, show off more looks from the collection or certify the authenticity of the garment.