15 sustainability efforts of the denim industry in 2019
By Simone Preuss
Dec 30, 2019
When it comes to garment manufacturing, the denim industry is the one putting the most strain on the environment due to the washes, dyes and chemicals used and the overall water consumption needed to make just one pair of jeans (currently around 2,000 gallons or 7,600 liters of water). All the more heartening to see that the industry is taking serious efforts to reduce its footprint through sustainable lines and products, more efficient manufacturing processes and techniques that reduce water consumption. FashionUnited has put together 13 such efforts for 2019.
In November, Dutch jeanmaker Denham announced a partnership with Candiani, leaders in responsible denim production, to launch the world’s first biodegradable, stretch denim created using plant-based yarns as consumers demand blue jeans to be greener. The new stretch fabric denim is made from organic cotton wrapped around a natural rubber core and is free from plastics and microplastics. By replacing the common synthetic and petrol-based elastomers with a new, custom-engineered component, Candiani has created an innovative biodegradable stretch denim fabric, “without compromising elasticity and recovery properties”.
In May, American clothing company Levi’s announced a new feature on its website that allows shoppers to customise their own pair of "greener" jeans using laser finishing technology. The feature enables online shoppers to design their own products from a pair of plain blue jeans - or a “blank canvas” - as a starting point. Shoppers can then choose the colour, overdye and levels of wear and tear on the jeans. The new feature was made available online for US customers in autumn of 2019. The company announced in July that it has partnered with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on a 2.3 million US dollar cooperation agreement to meet corporate objectives regarding reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, specifically a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 100 percent use of renewable energy throughout its facilities and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent throughout its global supply chain by 2025.
Sustainable denim lines
American jeans brand Wrangler has launched The Rooted Collection in July 2019, a premium menswear line using 100 percent sustainable cotton. The line uses “farm to fabric” cotton, meaning that each state’s design was grown, milled, cut, and sewn in the U.S. and feature a unique wash, cut, and embellishment. The family farms used in the collection provide best practices for soil health, reduced water and energy inputs, as well as lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Italian denim label Liu Jo has taken its first step on the sustainability road with the brand’s Better Denim collection, which was introduced in January 2019. Like many other fashion brands, Liu Jo is exploring the best ways to make its operations more sustainable in the years to come. FashionUnited has spoken to CEO Marco Marchi about the new collection and the next steps.
American clothing brand and retailer Guess’s Guess Eco collection is a part of the brand’s goal to develop its denim from a more environmentally friendly production output. The collection, which includes clothing for both men and women, is made up of sustainably-sourced materials. The Guess Eco collection has been available online at Guess’s website as well as the company’s retail locations from September 2019.
American online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos has joined the recycled denim bandwagon. The retailer's community outreach program, Zappos for Good, has partnered with Cotton Inc. on the latter's Blue Jeans Go Green program to help consumers recycle denim. The program offers a free shipping label downloaded from the Zappos website, to send a box of denim weighing no more than 50 pounds to the company.
American heritage brand Tommy Hilfiger announced its plans for a new line of 100 percent sustainable denim in January 2019. The Tommy Hilfiger denim centre where the brand is pushing its sustainable denim initiative is located at the PVH HQ in Houthavens, Amsterdam. The centre is split into four sections: The denim fabric library, the in-house denim atelier, the denim lab and the denim academy.
Fast Retailing, the company behind fashion brands such as Uniqlo, J Brand, Theory and more, hosted a global media event to unveil its Jeans Innovation Center (JIC) in July 2019. The JIC includes four stations that will reduce water waste, time and manual labour: the Laser Engraving System, the Nano-Bubble, the Ozone Washing and the Water Recycling System. The JIC is slated to create over 18 million pairs of jeans for the Fall/Winter 2019 season, thus reducing water consumption by at least 90 percent compared to traditional methods.
Saitex, the Vietnam-based sustainable denim manufacturer responsible for the production of denim lines for 18 brands including Everlane, G-Star Raw, Polo Ralph Lauren and Target, has been described as the “world’s cleanest denim factory”. Saitex aims to resolve costs of US-produced denim through creating an automated process in its upcoming American plants. The company is also the only apparel manufacturer in Asia to join the list of 2,500 B Corp-certified companies around the world, of which only 95 operate in the fashion sector.
American heritage denim brand Levi Strauss & Co. launched a new water action strategy in August 2019. The company hopes to focus its reduction efforts where they are most needed and increase access to clean drinking water for communities in its sourcing locations. The company has set a goal to reduce its cumulative water use for manufacturing by 50 percent in water-stressed areas by 2025.
American denim company Wrangler has launched the first denim collection using its new Indigood foam-dyeing technology in June 2019, which eliminates almost 100 percent of the water typically used in the process. The technology uses foam to transfer dye onto yarns, therefore entirely replacing the water vats and chemical baths that are needed in the conventional indigo-dyeing process.
Spanish fashion company Mango has introduced new techniques in the production of its SS19 season jeans that have cut down water consumption by up to 10 litres per garment. The consumption of water, energy and chemicals has been reduced through the introduction of the ECOWASH technology. Mango also announced the launch of its Committed 2019 collection in May.
American premium clothing and accessories company Banana Republic has partnered with Spanish denim mill Tejidos Royo to bring to market a line of denim through an innovative indigo foam-dyeing technique that allows the Gap Inc.-owned brand to use a drastically decreased amount of water. Tejidos Royo calls its process Dry Indigo.
Brazilian denim specialist Vicunha together with Ecoera, H2O-Company and Initiativa Verde, has introduced a pioneering project to measure water consumption – from cotton cultivation to the end consumer. In July 2019, Vicunha announced that it wants to define new targets for reducing water consumption and compensation through socio-ecological projects such as soil recovery, water protection, carbon stocks and the formation of habitat corridors for biodiversity throughout the entire jeanswear production chain.