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There is perhaps no fashion material more iconic than denim. Whether it be your rugged, dependable pair of jeans, or your uniquely wearable denim trucker jacket, this material has transcended seasonality and stood the test of time.
But as consumers begin to showcase a sustainable-first taste palette, the denim industry has been evolving, determined to become more sustainable and further reduce its burden on the environment, while continuing to find ways to provide greater comfort and freedom of movements.
To find out more about how denim is transforming into one of the pioneering segments of fashion, we are joined by Tricia Carey, Director of Global Business Development for Denim at Lenzing, for the next instalment of our “TENCEL™ Insights” Series.
Q: What makes denim such a large contributor to environmental pollution?
Tricia: Relative to other types of garments in the industry, denim production is a complex craft. Many of the traditional finishing processes to weave, dye, and finish garments rely heavily on water and other chemicals to create denim’s unique look.
All of this can contribute up to approximately 3,800 gallons of waterused to create a typical pair of jeans, and it is easy to see why denim has become a significant contributor to pollution. According to industry statistics, on average, women own seven pairs of jeans and men own on six, however consumers only wear four pairs of the jeans they own, making others excessive for one’s wardrobe thereby creating further strain on the environment.
However, Denim has long been a staple of fashion which has lasted for hundreds of years, while other garments segments have flourished and disappeared. This is because denim as a material is heavily resilient, designed to last and can be blended with a range of materials for even better comfort and flexibility – key elements for any sustainable garment. By introducing more environmentally responsible production practices into the creation of denim products, waste and pollution can be minimized or even eradicated. Currently, there are a range of emerging technologies that have been specifically developed for denim which can accomplish this.
Q: How is the TENCEL™ brand helping denim producers become more sustainable?
Tricia: We understand that some types of waste are unavoidable. Because denim brands and mills are seeking ways to recycle, we introduced TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ technology. We apply cellulose chemistry expertise to upcycle post-consumer and pre-consumer cotton waste into pulp which is blended with wood pulp to make new TENCEL™ branded fibers, with the same breathability, comfort and durability the TENCEL™ brand is renowned for.
The TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ technology also uses the same closed-loop solvent spinning process as other TENCEL™ branded lyocell fibers, meaning almost all of the water and solvents used during production can be captured for reuse, thus minimizing waste. Through giving textile waste and scraps a second life, we aim to take charge to drive circular economy in the textile industry.
Q: You mentioned emerging technologies earlier. Can you explain how new technologies are making a positive impact on denim’s drive for sustainability?
Tricia: Two major technologies have been developed in recent years which have substantially helped to reduce denim’s impact on the environment. Ozone technology is a major breakthrough that leverages the natural bleaching capabilities of ozone gasfor a range of bleached effects without the use of heavy chemicals.
Some producers are also implementing lasers to engrave finishes and distress garments. Traditionally, to distress denim, fabrics are subjected to heavy washes using harmful chemicals that could wreak havoc on people, as well as marine environments. Lasers, on the other hand, use no chemicals and are automated to the exact specifications required by producers or consumers which allows for personalization of garments.
By using emerging and innovating technologies, producers can optimize denim lines and introduce end-user customization rather than offering a vast range of pre-finished garments, which require large runs to break even. Many consumers are looking for the needle in the haystack that works for them, and emerging technologies like automated laser distressing and ozone can ensure each consumer finds the perfect garment, as producers minimize waste.