Denim is a wardrobe must-have with mass appeal. We all have something denim in our closet; whether it be a pair of jeans or your favorite jacket, denim is the go-to wardrobe staple that transcends gender, age, and class. The big problem with denim is that it has been associated with several sustainability issues, the most highlighted problem being water. It is well documented that water is used quite a bit in the denim supply chain. So much so that WWF published in 2017 that it takes over 20,000 liters of water to produce one pair of jeans.
The other issue is the use of chemicals. The careless practice and disposal of dyes and chemicals in the production process are having a devastating effect on the environment. A prime example of the impact of chemicals and dyes is the East River in Xintang, China. The factories located in this region produce 300 million denim articles per year, a turnaround that has changed the water blue due to wastewater from dyeing being dumped directly into the river. As we enter another decade, the denim industry is far from a final solution, but the great news is that research and development have now become the beating heart of the denim industry.
Transparency and The Ecologically Correct Garment
Full knowledge of your supply chain is vital when it comes to being transparent. It is a message that the denim industry has taken on board when it comes to labor injustices and sustainability issues. Many denim businesses are starting to understand that a company’s transparency can often be traced several levels down the supply chain. So what is the answer? The answer is visibility, which has been made easier thanks to various technology platforms like the Suuchi Grid. They make it easier for businesses to see their whole business from a zoomed-out perspective, so they can make improvements that address the problems of the modern-day denim supply chain head-on.
By making these changes, denim businesses are attracting a new customer, one that is more mindful of their purchases and has a deeper understanding of the worth of an item. A denim brand that recognizes and appreciates the enlightened consumer is Boyish. It is a label that helps customers create items they want to keep. On creating an ecologically correct garment Jordan Nodarse, Creative Director at Boyish Jeans told Suuchi: “The first step to improving supply chain sustainability is to identify where you currently are in regards to emissions, waste, and efficiency.”
Nodarse continues: “At Boyish, we take water, energy, recyclability, land use, and transportation at the core values of determining effectiveness in our supply chain. This means using our cutting waste to upcycle into a new yarn, using factories and mills that recycle water and publish their effluent water tests with the ZDHC, and utilizing fibers like Refibra™, and Tencel™ Lyocell’s that use around 1/5th the amount of land and 1/10th the amount of water to produce its fibers.”
When it comes to building a more sustainable supply chain Tricia Carey, director of global business development for denim at Lenzing, told Suuchi: “Brands can build a more sustainable supply chain in several ways. First, brands need to define what sustainability means to them. They can do this by using the UN SDGs for guidance. Assessment and setting goals from fiber to a finished garment is required to lower environmental impacts.”
Believing that sustainability is no longer a trend because it will be embedded in the supply chain, Carey acknowledges that measurements need to be established to achieve goals. “Additionally, social responsibility must be considered because the environment and society are interconnected. Each season there is an opportunity to make a change,” she shares.
Also on the topic of what the denim industry needs to do to support a more sustainable supply chain Forbes contributor Samantha Radocchia wrote, “The real value will come from bringing the denim industry together to create an ecosystem focused on sustainability.” Radocchia’s point is a valid one. It makes sense to create an ecosystem that allows us to focus on decreasing the number of chemicals, power, and h2O used by businesses in the denim process. Also, by concentrating on the longevity of garments, denim brands will be able to take the whole lifecycle of a product into account, ensuring their clothing has a longer lifespan.
The Denim Industry’s Future Will Not Be A Somber Affair
With denim not going anywhere soon, Panos Sofianos, Denim and Textiles innovation curator at Munich Fabric Start BLUEZONE told Suuchi: “The answer is simple and coincides with what our humanity is facing with the COVID-19 crisis. In the New World that will emerge, brands have to act with intimacy and transparency-respecting every single detail that makes denim the cleanest product in the world”.
Looking to a greener future, more and more brands like Closed and Candiani Denim are taking a more “eco” approach to innovation by introducing modifications like water and chemical, reducing ozone washing, laser finishing and also integrating sustainable fibers. As crucial as sustainability is, we should also acknowledge that we also need to close the loop. “Instead of constantly producing more and more, we need to learn to reuse what we already have”, said Rebecca Larsen, product development manager at House of Gold at The Kingpins trade fair in Amsterdam back in 2019.
As technology continues to help sustainability become ‘fashionable’, we are seeing an increase in the adoption of practices like reintroducing denim as a raw fabric into the supply chain. Another change that is taking place is that denim companies are going digital. The main reason being that they understand that doing so will not only eradicate things like unnecessary waste, but they will be able to understand their targeted consumer preferences at an earlier stage in the production process. So what does the future of the denim industry look like? Well, as long the industry continues to rebuild through collaborations and investments in new technologies designed to take over from conventional techniques of yesteryear, I do believe that the future is bright.