The Martelli Lavorazioni Tessili Group has been an innovator in dyeing and laundry in the denim sector for more than 50 years. The company operates eight facilities, including four in Italy and one each in Romania, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia. Clients include a who’s who of top jeans makers, such as Levi’s, Replay, Sixty, Nudie, Dolce & Gabbana, Dsquared2 and Roberto Cavalli.

This story first appeared in the May 18, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

At Martelli, advances in technology and the imperatives of environmental and social mandates are fast changing the nature of denim finishing, Giovanni Petrin, general manager of the Imola, Italy-based company, said at last week’s WWD Denim Forum.

“We believe there will be a radical change in the organization of the industrial production industry,” said Petrin, pointing to three key factors: environmental concerns; new technologies such as automatic machinery and brush robots, and globalization and de-localization, which have sent manufacturing to developing countries.

On the technology front, Petrin highlighted the increasing implementation of ozone and laser machines, which can treat denim without the use of water. “Twenty years after the first tests, these machines have become today a fundamental part of the change thanks to new software,” he noted.

This embrace of these technologies by the denim industry will provide many benefits, said Petrin. Among them: a reduction in the consumption of water, electricity and chemicals; faster finishing processes and fewer second-choice or imperfect garments, and fewer emissions of wastewater. Additionally, he said advancements in technology will improve production planning and create less fluctuation in the work flow — while also attracting more skilled labor to the field.

Traditionally, laundries have been organized into two departments: the laundry and dyeing departments and the manual labor department, where workers scraped and sprayed jeans by hand, explained Petrin. In the laundry departments, technology and automation were of primary importance, whereas in the latter, handwork was paramount. The manual work is difficult and tiring, which makes it challenging to find workers who have both the technical skills and aesthetic sensibility to expertly treat the denim.

“The next step will be to team these departments of laundry and tinting and high-technology machinery with the final phase, a completely manual department where the sensibility and creativity of the product will be very high,” said Petrin. “This is in order to give the garment an added value, which is obtained only by enhancing the details and particulars in our small masterpiece.”

Denim finishing, particularly sandblasting, has been a source of health concerns. “The problems in Turkey regarding sandblasting techniques made front-page headlines. This means that almost all major clothing brands have abolished this process,” noted Petrin. “This affected the world and hence finishing treatments and brought about organizational and productivity changes.”

Levi’s and H&M, for instance, have banned the technique on all of their denim product.

“Today we are struggling to bring more social ethics to poorer countries. The recent [political] events in China, North Africa and the Middle East are evidence of these issues related to wages, working conditions and little regard for safety,” added Petrin. “Globalization can improve democracy and bring self-improvement, but it must include social ethics.”

In the end, advances in technology, better products and higher standards of environmental and social ethics go hand in hand, observed Petrin.

“Only the companies who are able to develop good product will be able to be competitive in the market. This will avoid black market deals or underpaid labor,” said Petrin. “Countries with strong textile traditions like Italy will not have problems in competing with the developing countries because the quality of the product will be very high. Consumers will be able to see the difference in the quality of the products and benefit from this.”

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