"Some denim brands do think of sustainability, but most just go for what looks good," said Kris Dumon, branding and futuristic consultant, and co-founderof Why by Kingpins Show, to FashionUnited on sustainability in the denim industry. "Or they do certain collections that are sustainable, but not the entire range." Part of the reason attributed to this decision at denim boutique trade fair Kingpins is linked to denim aesthetics.
"[Brands] think that sustainable fabrics are old-fashioned looking," noted Fabio Forti, Global Marketing Director for Garmon Chemicals, an R&D and marketing platform for fashion innovation. He believes that designers are more likely to go for a non-sustainable fabric because of the way it looks. But this is something that a number of denim mills and factories are looking to change, which was one of the key topics at this year's edition of Kingpins. The trade show enjoyed its fifth edition at the Gashouder in Westergasterrein, Amsterdam, alongside of its debut trade fair, Why by Kingpins, this week.
Sustainability at Kingpins: “The discussion is moving in the right direction”
"People still want that denim look," explained Ibrahim Ethem Büyükpep, Product Develop Manager from Turkish denim mill Calik Denim, when asked why he thought some brands were hesitant to use more sustainable fabrics, made from organic cotton, tencel or recycled polyester. Although the denim mill does offer a range of sustainable fabrics, made using less energy, water and chemicals, they continue to offer less sustainable denim fabrics as it is also what the customer wants, added Büyükpep. However, considering that 11,000 litres of water are needed to make a single pair of jeans, with approximately 167 million pairs of jeans being produced monthly, a staggering 1.837 billion liters of water is being used each month just to produce jeans.
With the global denim industry projected to grow between 13 to 15 percent per year, it seems high time to make a change. "If you look at the denim industry now, it is a ridiculous industry," argued Michael Kininmonth, Technical Manager at Lenzing, the fibre company behind Tencel. "Denim mills spend so much time and money to produce this high quality material, only to destroy it afterwards...it has to be remarketed. In the past it was seen as a casual, easy material when in reality it is a very complex material." This is part of the reason why Lenzing has teamed up with Achroma, global colour and specialty chemicals company, Garmon Chemicals, an R&D platform for fashion innovation and Tejidos Royo, Spanish textile manufacturer, to create a new concept: ‘Roadmap to Rational Denim.’
'Rational Denim' aiming to make the denim industry logical again
The collaborative concept aims to produce denim garments which are based on the most efficient use of resources, in particular water, at every stage of production. “We chose to use the word rational, instead of sustainable because of the way denim is produced now,” explained Miguel Sanchez, Head of Special Dyes at Archroma. “I would not say it is irrational, but it certainly is illogical.” By working together to create an open platform which offers brands all the ‘ingredients’ they need to create a transparent and ethical chain, these companies hope to inspire those around them to work more sustainably. Some of the steps mentioned in the roadmap include using tencel, pure or blended, which is compostable, together with indigo alternatives to safely dye the fabric through minimal water usage and chemical auxiliaries, which minimise eco-toxicity.
"Finding a convincible alternative for indigo was impossible until now," said Kininmonth, Technical Manager at Lenzing. “Thanks to Archroma the dye is completely indiscernible, making it time to rethink what we can do with denim.” However, offering sustainable alternatives to brands is just half of the battle, as brands still need to make the decision to purchase it, which can be influenced by more than just physical aesthetics. "Sustainability also needs to be financially viable," admitted Kininmonth. "However, I do not necessarily see it as a profit maker for a company, but more as an investment, a safeguard, for the future." When speaking to denim mills present at Kingpins, most reveal that there is a small difference in price for recycled, organic or BCI-cotton compared to other, more traditional fabrics. "Our organic and recycled denim does cost a bit more, yes," said Muge Tunceren, Product Development Manager for Turkish denim mill Bossa Denim, which has been offering sustainable denim fabrics since 2006.
“Sustainability is must for European denim mills"
Over in Why by Kingpins, at Colombian, vertically integrated denim mill Don Matías Blue Town, Camilo Gaviria, General Manager, points out the lack of awareness for sustainability in Colombia. "Brands in Colombia have yet to become more conscious. They do not understand the benefits of selling more sustainable denim and are unwilling to pay 30 percent or so more for it." However, although sustainability has yet to become a selling point in Colombia, Gaviria revealed that company does do a lot of business with brands in the US and Europe, using sustainability as one of its selling points. "We did it before it was fashionable,” he said with a laugh. “We have always been conscious of the impact we have on the environment and have invested in technology over the years to work as green as possible.”
Another denim mill which prides itself on its wide range of sustainable denim fabrics is Royo. “Sustainability is must for European denim mills," said Alberto Guzzetti, Sales Manager at Royo. "Ethics is everything for us and in everything we do...all our five mills are certified with Step and we are the only denim mill in the world to have this certification, so we can proudly say that our complete production process is sustainable." When asked which denim fabric had been in high demand at Kingpins, he replied that Tencel, a fiber made from raw-wood, was their best-seller at the moment, in spite of vast difference in appearance from regular denim.
Conscious versus Sustainability
"I think because it's in fashion - it's floppy, soft and shiny and easy to work with." He added that the demand for recycled denim has also gone up, although most brands tend to use it to develop more of a capsule range rather than a full collection, highlighting brands such as Kings Of Indigo and G-Star. The Dutch denim brand was amongst the number of brands whose names kept popping up throughout the day when it came to using sustainable denim in their collections, which included the likes of H&M (conscious collection) and Patagonia. "Patagonia was the first brand to ask people if they really need to buy something," noted Dumon, who praised the company for imparting consciousness on their customers and stressed others should follow in suit. "In the future we will be helping market leaders make the right choices when it comes to sustainability."
Andrew Olah, founder of Kingpins, believes that demand for sustainability the denim industry should go both ways. "It’s up to the consumer as to how much they know,” he said to FashionUnited. “You have a purse, what do you know about the purse? You don’t know where it’s made, if it contains toxic chemicals, if slaves made it, you don’t know anything. I think it’s wrong we don’t share more and it is the industry duty to do that."