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Kingpins 2018: 'Sustainability is more than just a buzzword'

By Huw Hughes


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Amsterdam - Kingpins is one of the largest denim trade fairs in the world, and so - quite unsurprisingly - the most innovative and forward-thinking players in the denim game are there. This year, amid the sea of indigo blue denim and excited industry professionals, one word dominated the display booth fronts: sustainability.

The issue of sustainability is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the denim industry - and the fashion industry as a whole. But does the word risk becoming more of a label-selling buzzword than a call for action? That question was bouncing around the walls of the Westergasfabriek in the heart of Amsterdam on Wednesday.

“Our pipeline is ramping up like a hot plate in a chemistry lab, but we’re not just focusing on what sounds good in marketing, we’re focusing on what has a real world impact,” said Roian Atwood, head of sustainability at Wrangler. He had just given a presentation about sustainable practices in denim production at the Kingpins Transformers event.

“Sometimes I’m frustrated because there's a love affair with our supply chain in terms of the great work that's being done, but when you really see the data, it doesn't look quite as significant as the marketing material. I think a forum like this is the perfect platform for the discussion to peel the layers back and see what’s really being done.”

In September, Wrangler became the first denim brand to introduce a new ‘Dry Indigo’ foam-dyeing process that eliminates 99 percent of the water typically used in indigo-dyeing. But this is just one step in a much larger picture, according to Atwood. “We need to attack the issue from all angles if we really want to resolve it, and that starts at the first stages of the process, meaning sourcing and energy production. As an industry we need to make sure everyone is doing their part in those key areas.”

Through working closely with American farmers and implementing a "no-nonsense" rule on sustainable practices in their supply chain, Wrangler hopes to advocate more transparency in denim production. “I’m very proud to work for a company where, if you don't meet our compliance regulations, you have a chance to fix it, and if you don’t, you’re out,” Atwood said. “I would challenge every other actor in our supply chain to do the same because we don’t serve our industry well when we have substandard innovations or technologies that are simply marketing buzz that sounds great but doesn't pass the litmus test.”

'Sustainability is more than just a marketing tool'

“It’s great that sustainability is being talked about more and more at the moment,” said Anatt Finkler, creative director of Global Denim Group. “People are talking about having ozone used on their jeans, and yes that is really good...on the finishing stages of production. To really be sustainable you have to focus on it from the beginning - where you create your energy and where you source your materials.” Finkler explained that Global Denim uses a low-emission cogeneration plant, a water treatment plant and CO2 recycling to focus on sustainability from the bottom up. Global Denim has also set up a programme called Ecoloop, a process that recycles discarded yarn which is then used in a line of jeans (pictured).

“Today, talking about sustainability is more of a cool trend than an Aim,” said Paolo Biondaro, sales manager at Italian Elleti group. He believes customers shouldn’t only be told about a brand’s sustainability - they should be shown it. The group displayed a unique student-designed capsule collection at Kingpins to showcase its sustainable methods.

The selection - created by James Bear Mootram, Muhammad Umar Manzoor and Maxime Linn, all former students of the Jean School, House of Denim - placed denim garments made through traditional methods (pictured above) side by side with items made using their their more sustainable methods (pictured below). “We know they’re not the same. We’re honest about that. What’s important is that the difference between the traditional and the sustainable alternative is only about 20 percent. Even with that difference, the market is becoming more and more sustainability focused - there’s much more of a ‘less is more’ mentality now.”

Proudly describing themselves as a “fresh and up-an-coming mill from India,” Anubha Industries caught the eye with its bold ‘SUSTAINABILITY FIRST’ logo that proudly stood next to its stand at Kingpins. In 2017, the company became the first Indian denim mill to partner with Bluesign Technologies, a Swiss company whose systems focus on sustainable textile production. “While other mills try to have a line or concept based on sustainability, our whole ecosystem revolves around it,” said Akshat Chaudhary, director of Anubha. “The idea is simple: I want to live in this world as long as possible, so what can I do to ensure that?”

According to Chaudhary, the denim industry is taking big strides towards a sustainable future, but everyone needs to do their fair share in order to make the goal a reality. “It’s a network that needs to be worked on from all sides. For us, we’re focusing a lot on water consumption at the moment. One of our most bought products only use 5 litres of water per kilogram.”

Splaying out pairs of jeans across the table of his booth, Donald Mulazanni, marketing business development director of Garmon, was keen to show off his new OVD dye collection. The new dyeing method uses 40 percent less water, 35 percent less energy and 40 percent less time compared to conventional active dyeing methods, according to the company. “Sustainability has always been one of the three pillars driving Garmon, along with "The Italian Job" - Garmon's creative lab, ensuring the inimitable touch match with a striving attention to detail - and quality customer service,” Mulazanni said. “We prove to our customers that we are sustainable minded, because we’ve always been ahead of the curve. 5 years ago, we were already green screen certified. Now everybody’s talking about sustainability.”

Mulazanni noted the increasing trend of sustainability in marketing and the importance of following through with tangible results. “For some brands, it seems like more of a marketing tool than anything, but I think slowly the industry is working towards a shared goal, though we can’t do it alone,” he said. “Other industries like the laundry industry need to follow us and replace their existing machines with new machines implementing greener technologies. Our planet is in danger and customers are becoming more concerned, so we want to offer a product that they can buy and know that it isn’t killing the environment.”

Sustainability was, unsurprisingly, a dominating theme at this season's Kingpins in Amsterdam. The word was dotted around the sea of stalls and was the hot topic of excited conversations. While the topic risks becoming a buzz word in the industry, attendees of the event seemed to share the same message: It’s no longer enough to simply say that you’re advocating change - you need to be able to prove it.

Photo credit: FashionUnited/Wrangler

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