Denim brands are focusing on new finishes and techniques to satisfy customer demand for environmental sustainability.
The move to clean up denim’s environmental footprint has been gaining momentum in recent years, through the use of recycled or organic raw materials combined with less intensive processes. At the same time, customers are looking for comfort, fit and performance. To match these demands, brands and suppliers are upping their game.
Italian denim looks set to be more sustainable soon. Candiani Denim has licensed textile group Canepa’s Save The Water Kitotex patent, after rival mill Italdenim became the first to license the technology and began to switch all its production to the process last year. The mills supply UK retailers and brands including Next, MIH and Topshop, and produce around two-thirds of all “Made in Italy” denim.
Kitotex uses the exoskeletons of crustaceans, a waste by-product of the food industry, to obtain chitosan, a biodegradable substance that can replace PVA and acrylic resin for both water dispersion (sizing) and reinforcing yarn in the dyeing and finishing processes. When combined with Candiani’s in-house-developed dyeing technology Indigo Juice, it can treat fabrics with 75% less water than conventional process and 65% less chemical use per treated garment, while offering a variety of different looks.
When blue turns green
Turkey-based denim mill Orta Anadolu, which supplies brands including Marks & Spencer, Topshop, River Island, Burberry, AllSaints and Paul Smith, has developed two new processes, which can be used separately or in combination to lower the impact of denim production on the environment. The Indigo Flow advanced indigo process uses a Global Organic Textile Standard-certified fixing agent that can reduce water use by up to 70%, while the Clean Flow process uses an organic reducing agent that guarantees 60% less biological oxygen demand and chemical oxygen demand, which means the wastewater is cleaner at the end of the process.
Fellow Turkey-based denim mill Isko, the world’s largest producer of denim – it produces more than 250 million metres of fabric per year – has become the first and only denim mill to receive the EU Ecolabel and the 2016 Nordic Swan Ecolabel. The mill will debut the first EU Ecolabel-certified products from May this year. Isko has also most recently worked with denim label Replay on the development of the Hyperflex Double Indigo range, which features a treatment that enhances the brightness and intensity of the indigo blue colour, while maintaining excellent stretch and resistance properties.
The denim undergoes a dual surface dyeing process. The fabric is first dyed a bold electric blue and is then immersed in a vat for surface dyeing in indigo, resulting in a very intense blue that offers bright, vibrant tones. This treatment it also turns the weft of the fabric blue, whereas with classic dyeing it stays white. If turned up, the exposed inside of the trouser leg will be the same colour as the outside but slightly lighter in shade.
Mostafiz Uddin, managing director and chief executive of Bangladesh-based supplier Denim Expert and organiser of the trade show Bangladesh Denim Expo, says his firm’s latest finishes rely heavily on advanced laser treatments combined with some of the latest in water-saving and environmentally efficient chemical and laundry techniques.
“After exhaustive tests, we have identified techniques that combine intensive, skilled-labour manual treatments (scraping, grinding, hand-sanding and spot repair work) with treatments that we engineer with our laser-finishing and the latest in colour-blocking chemical products. These allow us to achieve dramatic light/dark contrasts and patina effects,” he explains.
In terms of brands, LA denim label Tortoise is one of the latest to make waves in the UK market for its environmental credentials, having been included in Selfridges’ Material World showcase that is running from January to March and is also stocked at Matchesfashion.com. The initiative aims to showcase innovative and sustainable processing technologies, which promote a more ethical and responsible approach to fashion.
Tortoise has developed the Wiser Wash method, which uses ozone to bleach the fabric, instead of toxic chemicals or pumice stones, which produce sludge. The technique allows for abrasion and de-colorisation with less than a cup of water per pair of jeans, offering lived-in vintage looks with whiskering and fading that are typically associated with more intensive processes.
Tortoise spring 17
For autumn 17, contemporary denim brand Edwin is introducing a new fabric called Masami-Iro Red Selvage in a 12oz weight. In this, natural denim is overdyed using two colour options – brown and green. The brown is available in the Pulled wash, a wash process carried over from spring 17, featuring heavy rip and repair, patches and paint splatters. The green is available in the Meadow wash, which is new for autumn 17.
The label has also carried over an Acid Wash program from spring 17 and introduced it onto entry price fabrics, using laser technology instead of water to achieve this effect.
Edwin has also expanded on its existing Indigo Line, using the same dyeing process that is used for denim on apparel such as T-shirts, sweats, chinos and jackets.
Going beyond stretch
Other brands are using environmentally sound techniques in the production of performance denim. The continued importance of comfort and fit have ensured that stretch never strays far from the mainstream, but denim mills and brands are keen to showcase some more innovative approaches to the new norm. At this spring 18 edition of textile trade show Munich Fabric Start, Pakistan-based mill Soorty Enterprises scooped the second prize in the Hightex Awards, which recognise future-orientated product innovations, for its newly developed Denim Active.
The fabric has been designed specifically for the gym and can be worn for exercise or leisure. The material incorporates Invista’s CoolMax EcoMade fibre, which is made from 97% recycled materials such as plastic bottles and boasts thermo-regulating properties and 360° stretch for a comfort fit combined with a denim appearance.
For spring 18, ITV Denim, an Italian mill that supplies premium and emerging UK brands, has developed what it calls Stretch-No-Stretch. The fabric’s proprietary weaving technique means it can adapt itself to individual body shapes and movements. The pure cotton fabric contains no elastomers, and boasts reduced energy and water consumption, as well as lower production costs.
Turning to performance alone, US retailer Hollister introduced a new range of performance jeans for men and women for spring 17 that combines Invista’s CoolMax All Season technology with Lycra for all-round comfort and lasting fit. Fabrics made with CoolMax All Season technology wick moisture away on hot days to keep the body cool and dry, while its insulating fibres can add warmth when the weather is cooler.
Meanwhile, Pepe Jeans is launching a new stretch range for women for autumn 17 called In Your Dreams, which promises to push up, reshape and accentuate curves for a flattering silhouette. For men, Dry Cult uses a special finishing process with fixed indigo dye that prevents crocking and colour bleeding. Low shrinkage values in a single pattern ensure long-lasting comfort, while the jeans feature antibacterial properties that mean they need to be washed less often, allowing the natural wear and tear to become more of a design statement.
Maintaining a pipeline of new development in processing and finishing is of increasing importance to some retailers and brands, underlined by a number of in-house innovation schemes. From autumn 17, Japanese retail group Fast Retailing will start to unveil the fruits of its labour from a new denim innovation centre in Los Angeles, which opened at the end of last year.
Fast Retailing previously outsourced the production of samples but, with the new centre, it is developing environmentally friendly processing and production methods, as well as conducting research and development on chemicals and techniques used to fade and distress jeans for both its Uniqlo chain and the J Brand denim label.
Levi’s, meanwhile, has its own innovation lab based in San Francisco, which opened in 2013. It creates advanced prototypes such as the Levi’s Commuter Trucker jacket, which was first revealed in May last year. The jacket is designed with Google ATAP’s (Advanced technology and Projects) Project Jacquard smart fabric, meaning the cloth itself is interactive – music and map apps, for example, can be activated by touching the jacket. The brand opened up the lab to the public for the first time in February, offering an interactive behind-the-scenes look at the centre, which boasts its own laser machine, industrial-sized washing machines and tailoring section.
As consumers demand more from their denim, and more knowledge about how it is made, this type of approach may become more common, alongside more detailed explanations of performance technology and sustainable processes.
The brand interview: Joe Dahan, founder and creative director, Joe’s Jeans
You’ve just unveiled Victoria’s Secret model Taylor Hill as your new face as part of a collaboration on capsule collections. Can you tell us about the autumn 17 Joe’s Jeans collection?
The current collection is very rock ’n’ roll inspired. It’s a lot of authentic denim, but with a lot of edgy details. What we try and do is take authentic and try to make it edgier and not so vintage.
There is a lot of crushed velvet too, which we have used in bottoms.
What styles are performing well at wholesale?
Anything with a hem detail does well at wholesale. And then also the hybrids of taking vintage denim and putting precious materials with them, such as pearls or rhinestones, mixed with denim with a lot of abrasion.
You’re looking to expand the brand in the UK at the moment. Why do you think the product is right for the UK market?
So when you look at the distribution it is 90% US orientated. The company was sold a year and a half ago and there has been a lot of new investment into the brand in terms of marketing and collaborations. So we feel it is the right time to re-enter and invest in this market [the brand is now represented by agency Zone Two, having been absent from the UK market for about six years].
In your view, where is the denim market headed?
I think it is probably going a little more sophisticated and more fashion-focused, with couture silhouettes. I think high-wasted pleated jeans might even come back.
Drapers Denim Report: Greener, cleaner, higher-performance denim