The future of denim is here

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Jeans are ubiquitous but their production process is far from sustainable. A host of tech-style innovations promise to make denim lower-impact and toxin-free.

By: The Mills Fabrica

More than ever, consumers are demanding to know more about where and by whom their clothes are made and the environmental impact associated with their production, both in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, chemicals and water used.

The fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of global GHG emissions, of which upstream production is responsible for 71% of total GHG emissions from fashion, with 23% from use, and operations of end-of-use and branded represent only 6%. This represents a space of significance for collective change.

As the industry navigates and plans for the next normal after COVID-19, innovation will be the key driving force in making the entire fashion supply chain more environmentally friendly. This is especially true for the denim industry, which has come under increasing public scrutiny for its role in resource use, release of chemical contaminants and worker welfare.

Denim Futures, a conference organized by The Mills Fabrica earlier this month, invited key players in the denim industry to come together to exchange and discuss how denim should and needs to evolve with the changing needs of our time. Several innovations were also highlighted that show the potential to significantly reduce energy, water and chemical consumption and GHG emissions throughout the denim supply chain.

Lycra COOLMAX® EcoMade Technology – Courtesy of The Mills Fabrica

Denim innovation is on the rise

An example of this is that of Lenzing. Tencel™ fiber model with Indigo technology. An innovative fiber that directly inserts indigo pigment during the fiber production process. By doing this, they eliminate nearly 100% of water and electricity use, and over 80% of chemicals, and release minimal amounts of wastewater, compared to the conventional powder indigo dyeing technique.

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Lycra’s COOLMAX® EcoMade technology is another innovative fiber that is made from 100% textile waste or recycled PET bottles while providing improved functionality leading to increased cool and dry comfort. Lycra also has other innovative and sustainable fibers that are made from blends of recycled and plant-based materials.

Innovation in finishing processes is equally important to make the production process more sustainable. Jeanologia’s G2 Dynamic uses ozone technology for continuous fabric finishing, converting the air in the atmosphere into ozone and using it to create color fading effects. It has been reported that it can save up to 95% water, 100% chemicals, 80% energy and 40% carbon footprint. His latest innovation, H2 Zero, which recycles and reuses water from the washing process for the finishing process, makes it an even more sustainable practice.

Archroma has developed a range of liquid stains such as its Denisol® Indigo 30 Li, a cradle-to-cradle (C2C) certified stain that generates approximately 50% less wastewater, is aniline-free and uses fewer operational resources.

Unspun, who was speaking at the event, highlighted how they use 3D scanning technologies to create custom, on-demand production that not only reduces manufacturing fabric waste, but also inventory and returns. In the manufacturing process, they also use Resortecs’ Smart Stitch™, a soluble thread, which makes their jeans more efficient to recycle; reducing fabric loss associated with garment disassembly during the textile recycling process. The Resortecs Smart Disassembly™ system, combined with its Smart Stitch™, has the potential to reduce water usage by 3,500L, up to 50% CO2 equivalent compared to other closed-loop recycling systems.

A critical component to making fashion circular is increasing the availability of fiber-to-fiber recycling. Currently, 92 million tons of textile waste are generated annually, of which less than 1% is recycled back into fiber. The good news is that innovations are already happening within the industry from the likes of Renewcell with its Circulose®, Circ with its patented recycling technology, Evrnu’s NuCycl, HKRITA’s Garment-to-Garment (G2G) recycling system and The Billie System: which ranges from mechanical recycling to chemical recycling aimed at both natural and synthetic fibers. As these and other technologies mature, the recycling rate is likely to increase and is projected to reach between 18% and 26% in Europe by 2030.

Lenzing at Denim Futures – Courtesy of The Mills Fabrica

‘Reinventing the future of jeans’

A recurring theme at the conference is that the future of denim lies in greater adoption of existing innovative technologies throughout the denim supply chain. At the same time, it is equally important that consumers understand how and where to find truly sustainable and innovative technologies. Only then can consumers truly appreciate and understand the problem and be more willing to buy denim at a higher price.

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What is evident is the fact that all of these existing innovative elements must be incorporated at the design stage of a denim garment. The Mills Fabrica, being the innovation platform for Nan Fung Group, in combination with our industry partners, is taking this mantra and creating a proof-of-concept denim project called Reinventing the future of jeans. The purpose of this project is to design a pair of jeans that incorporate innovations throughout their entire life cycle. Showing the public that denim can evolve, as it always has, with the changing needs of our time and giving the public much-needed awareness that denim can have a sustainable future.

All photos and diagrams of The Mills Fabrica. Main photo courtesy of unspun.

This is a publication from Green Queen partners.

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