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  • Writer's pictureDavid Connolly

Top 10 Denim Sustainability Moments of 2017

Top 10 Denim Sustainability Moments of 2017

Denim, a key wardrobe staple of consumers worldwide, saw a sustainable revamp this year.

In the past year, denim mills and makers have pursued a greener path as industry members continue to recognize the need for circular manufacturing practices and look to fulfill consumers’ demands for eco-conscious garments.

From denim supply chain improvements to recycled jean innovations, here are the biggest denim sustainability highlights of 2017.

Sustainability was in the spotlight at Kingpins New York and at the show, denim companies highlighted their new eco-friendly fiber partnerships and recycled material varieties. DL1961 and Lenzing Fibers are creating a new denim blend for DL1961 jeans—which features Lenzing’s Refibra branded lyocell fibers made from renewable wood sources. Cone Denim debuted its new S Gene with Repreve denim, a performance denim that uses as up to three post-consumer plastic bottles in a pair of jeans, while Lycra unveiled its T400 fabric—two different polymers that are made from plant-based and recycled materials—that may be used in future denim garments.

Denim sustainability measures, including water conservation, aren’t the only solutions for the industry’s pollution problem. At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, global denim manufacturer Isko noted how crucial it is for consumers to be part of the greater denim sustainability conversation. According to Isko, 93 percent of denim water waste is caused by consumers washing and ironing their jeans constantly. To help consumers preserve their denim, Isko created Reform, a patented fabric technology that helps jeans preserve their shape and stay flexible throughout use.

Zero waste denim, chemical-free dyeing and revolutionary recycling methods were some sustainable solutions denim mills unveiled at Munich Fabric Start this year. Orta’s Recycled Collection demonstrated that post-consumer denim could be transformed into trendy garments, as consumers demand more eco-friendly denim garments for their wardrobes. Italy-based Berto showcased Sky & Blue, a new denim line developed with its Greenpeace Detox-approved dyeing processes that require less water and energy use. Bossa, who increased its BCI Cotton commitment, debuted new eco projects that eliminated dependence on fossil fuels, minimized water use and advanced denim recycling systems. Candiani also presented a smart dyeing technique—Indigo Juice—which reduces the amount of energy required in the denim laundry process.

Performance and sustainability are coming together for Twin Dragon’s denim presence. In September, the company integrated Sorbtek, a moisture-wicking performance fiber created by global textile solutions provider Unifi, into its men’s and women’s denim lines. The performance fiber, which is available at Twin Dragon’s facilities in Asia and Mexico, advances denim capabilities by preventing stains and maintaining body temperature. Additionally, the performance fiber is blended with Unifi’s Repreve fiber, which is made with recycled plastic bottles and requires less natural resources in its manufacturing process. After the successful launch of the Sorbtek collection, Twin Dragon plans to create eco-friendly denim that keeps wearers comfortable throughout all seasons.

With denim sustainability on the rise, denim mills and trim suppliers are taking multiple approaches to reduce their carbon footprint. At Denim Première Vision in Paris, industry members came together to showcase their water-less technologies, post-consumer waste fibers and circular denim concepts. To facilitate an eco-friendlier denim washing process, companies, including Firemount Textiles and Arvind Limited are offering eco-responsibility washes that omit toxic chemicals and use laser technologies to minimize water use. Circularity is also gaining momentum among denim companies, like Tavex, and Kilim Denim, who are making the denim supply chain more sustainable by collectively using post-consumer recycled materials in their products.

Improving the denim industry’s environmental performance has become a collective effort and Kingpins Transformers, a bi-annual global denim summit, partnered up with the ZDHC Foundation’s Roadmap-to-Zero Program to foster more eco-conscious manufacturing. With their partnership, Kingpins Transformers and the ZDHC Foundation aim to move the denim industry toward zero discharge of hazardous chemicals and work with companies on universal wastewater compliance standards.

Artistic Milliners is continuing to make its mark on denim sustainability with its latest dyeing innovation. The Pakistan-based mill teamed up with chemical manufacturer DyStar to create Crystal Clear—an eco-friendly indigo dyeing process that uses an organic fixing agent without harmful chemicals and salt. Unlike conventional dyeing processes, Crystal Clear leaves recyclable water effluent and requires less energy consumption. With retailers, including G-Star Raw, already incorporating Crystal Clear, Artistic Milliners aims to help other denim industry members transition to this more sustainable indigo dyeing process.

The denim supply chain yields most of the industry’s pollution, however, Pakistan-based company Naveena is tackling the issue with its ozone-infused denim. Naveena collaborated with Jeanologia, a sustainable technology firm, to create its new “thirst-free” denim line, H2NO. The line, which debuted at Kingpins Amsterdam in October, is manufactured with eco-friendly technology that reproduces ozone gas conditions. The technology is a groundbreaking innovation for denim supply chain, since it uses ozone and requires no steam, chemical or water in the process. What’s more, brands, including Levi’s and Marks & Spencer, have already expressed interest in this technology, which may boost sustainable denim production in the future.

Lenzing’s eco-friendly products had a major moment at Kingpins Transformers this year. The fiber company, which recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of its botanic fiber Tencel, had more laundries and garment makers visit its sustainable design inspiration booth. At the show, Lenzing showcased its new Refibra product. A combination of wood chips, 100 percent cotton post-industrial scraps and a transparent fiber ID, the cellulose fiber has become part of many denim companies’ environmental initiatives—including Adriano Goldschmied and Italian mill Candiani.

IndigoZero, a new sustainable foam-dyeing technology, has captured the interest of numerous denim companies, including Lee, Wrangler and the Walmart Foundation. Developed by Indigo Mill Designs (IMD), IndigoZero minimizes overall energy and water use in the denim dyeing stage by more than 90 percent, enabling mills to conserve resources, produce smaller runs and minimize waste. IndigoZero will first be used by Lee and Wrangler in Mexico and the U.S., and the technology is slated to debut at additional global facilities in the future.

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