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New Denim-Washing Technique Cuts Water Use by 90 Percent

Fast Retailing, the Japanese retail group that owns J Brand, Theory and Uniqlo, has developed a new washing technique for jeans that cuts water use by an average of 90 percent and up to 99 percent compared with conventional methods, the company announced last week.

The technology, which hails from Fast Retailing’s Jeans Innovation Center in Los Angeles, has already moved past proof of concept, making an appearance in both the current season of Uniqlo Men’s Regular Fit jeans and J Brand’s newly launched 10-piece sustainable capsule collection.

In 2019, a total of 10 million pairs of jeans from the two brands—the equivalent of nearly a third of Fast Retailing’s annual denim production—will be manufactured using this water-saving process, the firm said. Better yet, by 2020, all jeans made and sold by Fast Retailing will adopt the technology, saving roughly 3.2 billion liters of water, or enough to fill nearly 1,300 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The innovation employs high-tech washing equipment that use nanobubbles—that is, extremely small bubbles of gas in liquid—and ozone to rein in water use during washing while “still ensuring high quality and design,” Fast Retailing explained.

Plus, to curtail water pollution, the firm has replaced the pumice typically used in the washing process with a “semi-permanent” artificial stone. Fast Retailing has also “lightened the burden” of its workers by substituting lasers for the labor-intensive scraping process, which is traditionally done by hand, it said.

“We believe that jeans manufactured not only with a focus on design and comfort, but under conditions that are environmentally friendly and protect the rights of the workers involved in the production process, are truly good products, and that pursuing such jeans production will lead to a brighter future,” Masaaki Matsubara, director of the Jeans Innovation Center, said in a statement. “We will utilize the technical capabilities and economies of scale of Fast Retailing to contribute to the realization of a sustainable society.”

Fast Retailing says it will reveal further details of the new technology sometime in early 2019.