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AMSTERDAM — Sustainability, Nineties nods and activewear were some of the key themes of the fall 2018 edition of specialist denim fair Kingpins Amsterdam.

More than 80 exhibitors — the cream of the crop of mills, industrial laundries, chemical companies and more — offered a first look into the upcoming season’s textile choices, enhanced with seminars and exhibitions to complete the fall 2018 denim panorama.

The short-lived spin-off Why, dedicated to branding and accessories, was reabsorbed into the main exhibition, placing the denim accessories, tags and label exhibitors at the entrance of the show. As highlighted in previous editions’ roadmaps for cleaner denim production, shifts were often on the microscopic level, found intimately blended in the threads or washed as finishes.

Revisited loom techniques were seen at ITV, a family-owned Italian mill that supplies brands such as Tiger of Sweden and True Religion, and provided the winning fabric of last year’s Global Denim Awards. The company premiered a Stretch Non-Stretch construction that gives up to 15 percent of elasticity to 100 percent cotton denim.

“Denim’s definitely coming back in its more authentic variations, with rigid and comfort stretch being more popular than super stretch,” said Barbara Gnutti, the company’s export manager. Likewise, historic U.S. mill Cone Denim soft-launched its S-Jean Plus power-stretch denim, featuring a dual core polyester-Lycra thread that incorporates post-consumer recycled polyester sourced from Thread International, which produces fabric from recycled plastic bottles.

“Stretch is as important as ever, so we are updating vintage denim to retro-classic, old-school looks. We have also engineered leg-twists into comfort stretch fabric by giving less skew in the finishing processes,” said Kara Nicholas, vice president of product development and marketing at Cone Denim. “Retro is in high demand, and we are bringing back fabrics from the late Eighties and Nineties such as the 1662P and other pure-cotton denims, with super soft finishes for draping.”

“Vintage, salt’n’pepper, old school, twill are on trend at the moment,” says Alberto Candiani, global manager of Candiani, the Italian mill with the reputation of being the most sustainable mill in the world. Its water- and energy-saving Kitotex and Indigo Juice technologies were the underlying thread of its trend-led offering. “The addition of bi- or four-way stretches makes any sort of fit possible without compromising on performance,” he added.

Fiber innovation remained key for those looking to supplement their loom work with state-of-the-art raw materials. Lenzing, the Austrian fiber specialist which produces Tencel and Lenzing Modal, presented its new Tencel variant Refibra, a blend of lyocell and 20 percent post-industrial cotton waste, which has already attracted interest from a major European fast-fashion retailer.

U.S.-based fiber producer Invista, which specializes in enhanced nylon, Lycra and polyester, was showcasing its thermo-regulating Coolmax Eco-made fiber, which includes post-consumer PET.

Sustainability was explored from all angles at Kingpins, from reduced water consumption to human costs, and even garment life cycles. “We looked at sustainability quite broadly, including garment durability. If a garment can last longer, there is a lesser expenditure in fiber energy,” said Jean Hegedus, Invista’s global segment director, pointing to the use of their thermo-regulating and strengthened fibers.

Finishing was another area in which innovation was sparked by ecological concerns. Garmon Chemicals, the Italian leader of garment finishing chemical solutions, unveiled its Geopower NPS compound that eliminates the use of pumice stones used in “stone wash” finishes. “As iconic as the stone treatment is, companies are keen to replace the pumice stone, both for the optimization of the supply chain and the worker and environmental benefits,” said Alberto De Conti, Garmon’s chief marketing officer.

Garmon also announced its certification by the GreenScreen Certification program, a best-in-class clarified certification path launched on April 19 by Clean Production Action, an advocacy organization that promotes the use of safer chemical solutions through business-savvy reforms, as a bid to set a global benchmark to simplify and consequently reduce the cost of certification for denim producers. Ultimately, De Conti suggested, sustainability in denim is a middle road between consumer demands in product and pricing and genuine good business practices.

“Is sustainability a reason to buy denim? Probably not. Consumers are looking for the product they want with aesthetic concerns at the price they want. But brands should not underestimate consumer expectations on keeping their kitchens clean,” he added. “Environmental concern is a ticket to play. You must have it; you can no longer ignore these issues.”

“More than a concern, sustainability should be an initiative,” agrees Soorty’s marketing and production manager Muhammad Mansoor Bilal. “It should be a going-forward package, as a win-win story for everyone with downstream benefits for the industry and the denim community at large.”

Indicating that innovation sometimes comes at the micro-level, Italian button and fastener manufacturer Metalbottoni presented its new Gravita collection, entirely dedicated to pressure buttons. Creative director Maria Theresa Ricciardo emphasized the importance of even the smallest choices, citing its No Impact production protocol, which includes water-based paints and rational resource consumption, as a “virtuous innovation” addressing demands throughout the supply chain.

“There is human value not yet paid for in denim,” said Rodolfo Iarini, marketing manager of the vertically integrated Mauritius denim fabric supplier and garments manufacturer Denim de l’Île. Its products bore tags that read “100 percent handmade” as a reminder of the human cost of denim production. “Sustainability starts within companies before it can be applied outwards.”

While sustainability remained an overarching theme of the edition, an emphasis was put on fit, durability and enhanced versatility as a way to recapture denim’s position as a universal fabric. In the “Around the Denim World in 80 Days” seminar, a study commissioned by Invista revealed sizing and fit inconsistencies, as well as the lack of durability, as pain points reported by some 2,600 consumers polled across five countries.

Manufacturers were also moving beyond woven denim to bridge the gap between denim and activewear.

Advance Denim, a Chinese denim mill established in 1987, is developing its range of indigo knit fabrics, which incorporates fibers produced by Invista. “With lifestyles moving from activity to activity, garments have to follow. That’s where denim is evolving, going to more performance-oriented fabrics, to find its next level of growth,” said Invista’s Hegedus.

Pakistan-based denim manufacturer Soorty, which also uses Invista fibers to add thermoregulation and antibacterial properties to its product, “wanted to give a different dimension to the conventional denim business,” said Bilal.

“Activewear is a lifestyle, so our platform was to bring denim to that category, while keeping its usefulness as day-to-day apparel,” he added. Soorty’s Denim Active fabric won a Hightex Award, which distinguishes new, creative and innovative product developments in fabrics and additionals, at the Munich Fabric Start fabric trade fair in January.

“The basic segments are quite saturated, so many brands are looking to offer more technical benefits with their denim garments,” agreed ITV’s Gnutti, who pointed out the mill’s Cordura-enhanced fabric targeted at motorcycling gear. “Everything sporty-technical is strong, as well as areas where denim has not been, such as yoga or horse-riding.”

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