Drapers goes inside the production centre Tommy Hilfiger argues will make it the master of denim
Tommy Hilfiger has some very big ambitions when it comes to jeans. The US label is focusing on innovation to achieve its self-set goal of becoming a global leader of all things denim – and it has something of an ace up its sleeve.
At the Amsterdam headquarters of Tommy Hilfiger owner PVH, which also owns Calvin Klein, staff in white coats are bustling around its denim-focused production hub.
The PVH Denim Center, which opened last month, is intended to help create faster, more consistent and more sustainable jeans manufacturing. Daniel Grieder, chief executive of Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe, says it will allow Tommy Hilfiger to “reimagine production processes in terms of innovation and sustainability.”
Sub-label Tommy Jeans (which rebranded from Hilfiger Denim at the end of 2017) is launching 100% recycled-cotton denim styles, including on-trend “mom” jeans and an oversized trucker jacket, for spring 19. Leftover cotton salvaged from cutting tables and factory floors has been used to create the range, which will become a permanent part of the collection each season. Threads used in the range come from recycled plastic bottles, and buttons are from previous seasons’ unused stock.
Meanwhile, traditional “dry” processes to finish denim products – pre-wear, whiskering, holes and so on – have been replaced with laser technology. This is more sustainable, as no chemicals, water or stones are used in the process, and no dust is created. It is also quicker – finishing a pair of jeans using lasers takes under two minutes, compared with up to 40 minutes of hand scraping.
A host of different technologies are also used at the centre to wash jeans – create the desired shade. Nebulisation technology, which uses minuscule “nano-bubbles” to dye, soften and tint garments, saves up to 70% of the water and chemicals used in standard methods. Ozone gas gives jeans a faded effect without using traditional chemicals and lightens indigo in 15 minutes, compared with 45 minutes using chemicals and stone-washing.
To take these methods further, Tommy Hilfiger’s network of global suppliers, which includes partners in Turkey, Tunisia, China, Vietnam and Bangladesh, are required to invest in the technologies on offer at the PVH Denim Center to achieve the same results at scale.
The brand also hopes that the PVH Denim Center will increase speed to market and help create exceptional fit. At its denim atelier, patterns are created digitally and then used in house to create a prototype. The sample is then tried on by a fit model. Any tweaks and changes are made digitally, and another sample is produced – until the desired fit is achieved. The full process takes 48 hours, and the master fit pattern is then shared with suppliers digitally.
Previously, patterns were created in house and then sent to external partners to make into prototypes, and the resulting samples were sent back in four to six weeks. The old process, PVH argues, was both longer and more vulnerable to inconsistencies, as different partners ended up with their own take on the perfect fit.
Tommy Hilfiger believes strongly that its customers do want to know where their jeans are coming from, and expects 3D design in pattern creation to cut down on waste and speed up design process still further over the next couple of years. The commitment to innovation, and particularly to sustainability, on display at the PVH Denim Centre is a sign that a being open to new ideas will help the denim industry clean up its act.
Denim by numbers
Tommy Hilfiger creates 7 million pairs of jeans worldwide each year
PVH produces 15 million pairs of jeans per year globally
It takes 90 seconds to finish jeans by laser
Tommy Hilfiger aims to produce 50% of its denim with less water, chemical use and energy by 2020
Daniel Grieder Chief executive, Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe
Why is denim so integral to Tommy Hilfiger? The very first product Hilfiger sold was denim, so it is part of the heritage of our brand. Denim is never out of style – it might have moments when it is more or less popular, but it will always there. We must keep innovating to ensure that denim remains relevant. It’s our dream to be the leader in denim and to become that, you must have the right set-up, you have to test things, you have to look at things in a different way.
How do you plan to make the brand a global denim leader? Consistency in our product is so important. The end customer wants to buy jeans in the same size they bought last time, and if they are always having to try different sizes, they don’t like it. Creating a consistent denim product is actually quite complicated to achieve, because of the different washes, finishes and fabrics. Circularity is also key. You have to get more sustainable, because the end consumer wants to know where and how their products are produced. And you have to tell a story. It isn’t enough to say: “We sell denim and our denim is cheaper than someone else’s.”
Do consumers care about sustainability? The end consumer is dictating what we need to do and, to me, there is no question that they do care about sustainability. That’s good. The world has to get better. People want to know what they’re wearing and they want transparency. I’ve seen how denim used to be produced in the past and the amount of water and resources used was crazy.
What challenges do you face when it comes to working sustainably? It is still a challenge to find the right vendors and right new technology. The machines we’re using are advanced and we didn’t find them overnight. You have to look all over the world to find the right answers. You also have to find partners who can look outside of the box – some of them will still say: “Why do we have to change?”