Sustainability continues to move from superficial marketing tool to greater reality in denim.

This story first appeared in the July 22, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Across the supply chain, European executives are taking steps toward water reduction, using natural dyes and organic cotton, and the elimination of certain chemicals from the treatment process as a standard for doing business.

Jeanologia, the Valencia, Spain-based firm that produces garment finishing machinery, has introduced the Light Scraper, which uses laser technology to create virtual sandpaper, replicating the look typically achieved with manual scraping that puts workers at risk of respiratory disease and repetitive motion injuries. Enrique Silla, founder and president of Jeanologia, said the technology also “changes flexibility and time to market, and means less inventory.”

Marco Lucietti, global marketing manager of ISKO, a major denim cloth manufacturer and part of Turkey’s Sanko Group, said, “Instead of talking about sustainability, we like to talk about ‘responsible innovation.’ The fact is, we’re an industry that pollutes. We’re trying to minimize our impact” across the board.

Lucietti noted that ISKO’s factories use renewable energy sources and now recycle 90 percent of the water used in the manufacturing processes.

Ebru Ozaydin, marketing manager at Orta Anadolu, another Turkish denim fabric producer, said many of its customers are increasing the share of better cotton used in their denim and phasing out certain chemicals used on fabric.

“It’s not a gimmick,” she said, noting that many consumers are wary of the myriad ways companies claim to be ecological.
Although jeans made with organic cotton, treated with natural dyes and finished with eco-friendly chemicals are likely to cost more, “as members of the supply chain, we definitely shouldn’t expect to get this money from consumers,” said Ozaydin. “It has to be kind of melded within the whole chain.”

Orta recently kicked off its “Vegan Denim” project, exploring natural alternatives to the synthetic indigo dye favored by the denim industry, and even turning to tea, walnuts and acorn shells that yield a dye she described as “something between ecru and mustard” for new colors.

Alberto Candiani, global manager at the Candiani SpA denim mill, agreed that “sustainability as a marketing tool is over.”

His firm’s patented N-Denim dyeing technology uses nitrogen to delay oxidation and accelerate the absorption of indigo into yarn, allowing for a 35 percent reduction in water consumption and the elimination of hydrosulfates that can produce hazardous waste from the processing.

Denim dye-works and laundry company Martelli Lavorazioni Tessili has seen a lot of interest in its ice, laser and ozone finishing treatments, as well as in its Bio Nut Wash and other natural dyes that are part of its Development, Ecology, Research (D.ECO.R) project, according to Giovanni Petrin, general manager.

Fabio Adami Dalla Val, trade marketing manager and head of research and development at the M&J Group apparel company, said he has seen a “momentous” shift in the attitude of denim brands, many of which had previously limited their efforts to pushing sustainable “mini collections.”

“They’re not looking at the single garment anymore — they’re looking for manufacturers who can implement entire systems,” he said.

M&J Group is focusing on three goals in the coming years: converting all of its factories to the U.S. Green Building Council platinum-certified model of its Dhaka, Bangladesh, headquarters; accurately measuring resource consumption with its Start to Measure technology, and working with chemical suppliers on greener options.

“The new nuance of green today is transparency, because it’s no longer possible to hide behind anything,” said Alberto De Conti, managing director of The Italian Job, a branch of Garmon Group, a chemical firm that counts Orta among its recent converts.

The Italian Job aims to fine-tune the number of achievable looks in fashion using eco-friendly chemical treatments that pass the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals test, developed by Clean Production Action, a nonprofit organization.

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