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Recycled Denim and Wearable Technology Intersect at Denim Première Vision

Denim Première Vision celebrated a decade of denim last week in Paris with a roster of exhibitors that reflected the show’s fashion roots and transformative future. In addition to presenting the key fashion stories for Spring/Summer ’19, the show served as a platform for the denim supply chain to share new concepts concerning sustainability, technology and performance fabrics.

Here’s a look at some of the ideas and innovations buzzed about on the show floor.

The future is circular

The influence of the Alliance for Responsible Denim (ARD) was evident at Denim Première Vision. Kilim Denim, Orta Anadolu and Tavex were among the ARD members offering post consumer recycled denim fabrics for Spring/Summer ’19 at the trade show.

ARD, an Amsterdam-based two-year initiative from House of Denim, Made-By, Circle Economy and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, addresses two sustainable topics in the denim industry: improving the environmental impact of denim finishing and developing a preferred industry buying standard, business model and roadmap for the introduction and scaling up of post consumer recycled denim production.

ARD describes post consumer recycled denim as a fabric or product with a minimum content of 5 percent post consumer fibers, meaning at least 5 percent of fiber comes from pre-used jeans. The ARD urges brands and mills to use post consumer recycled denim in order to reduce their dependency on virgin materials and drive impact savings across all areas from electricity to water.

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“Every year we make about 2 billion pairs of jeans and every pair uses 3,500 to 7,000 liters of water to produce—that’s a lot of water considering there’s an increased scarcity of water,” said Helene Smits of ARD. According to Levi’s lifecycle assessment for jeans, about 68 percent of water is used to cultivate cotton alone. The Alliance for Responsible Denim believes that by eliminating the cultivation process and including 20 percent recycled content into jeans, brands can save about 500 liters of water per jeans.

The alliance consists of key stakeholders and experts from the denim industry including brands like Mud Jeans, Nudie Jeans, G-Star, Chasin, American Toyda Kuyichi and Imps & Elfs. Mill partners include Kilim Denim, Orta Anadolu, Tejidos Royo, Bossa and Tavex.

As the project enters its second year, ARD has successfully opened the communication lines between mills and brands. When ARD began in 2016, Smits said recycled denim already existed but no one was using it in a big way. “Brands were saying, ‘We don’t see an offering of it in the market. Mills don’t have it.’ And the mills said brands don’t ask for it. We wanted to bring these two groups together,” she explained.

What ARD found was that brands fell into one of two groups—those that wanted minimal recycled content with maximum versatility for fabrics, and those that wanted to push recycled content as far as possible. In last six months ARD members Kilim Denim, Orta Anadolu, Tejidos Royo, Bossa and Tavex responded by developing over 40 fabrics with 7 to 40 percent recycled content. “One of the goals of project is to increase the scale, first the visibility [of post consumer recycled denim] to brands, but now its time for actual volumes in the collections to increase,” Smits said.

The recipe for post consumer recycled denim fabrics is a work in progress, especially as each customer has their own expectations about quality, hand touch, versatility and price. Mills, however, believe the answer lies in fiber innovation.

In a new collection called Re-Admired, Orta offers fabrics made with 10 to 40 percent post consumer denim, including fibers in the warp. New suppliers of recycled fibers like Lenzing’s Refibra and partners like French spinner Filatures du Parc have allowed Orta to re-boot its recycled collections. However, Ethem Isik, Orta business development manager, said more yarn innovation is required to perfect denim made with post consumer recycled denim and achieve the right color, hand feel and character.

Kilim Denim dabbled in recycled materials for three years. The Turkish mill provided the key ingredient in G-Star’s recycled polyester fiber collection, Raw for the Ocean, in 2015. “Many mills are using less chemicals, water, dyes, but we believe nothing is more believable than giving denim a second life,” said Murat Aydogdu, Kilim Denim sales manager, about the mill’s investment in recycled materials.

Kilim’s latest concept, Re-Create, takes on post consumer recycled denim. The mill has met with Dutch brands and did almost 20 post consumer recycled denim fabrics to meet these brands’ demands, but Aydogdu says the mill needs to explore the technical possibilities of yarns. “We have difficulty achieving the same look because fibers are shorter. If the yarn quality is better, then the fabric is better,” he said. Since the strength of recycled yarns is not as strong as conventional cotton, the mill uses it only in the weft side. “Our goal is to keep the same look and touch effect. Its not easy, we can only use it in the weft side now,” he added.

Chimo Lacomba, Tavex product global manager, said it is difficult to use post consumer recycled denim in the warp and maintain the quality and visual aspects of the collection. “If we used recycled denim in the weft and re-blend with virgin cotton, we can reach maximum of 10 percent post consumer recycled denim, 17 percent with polyester,” he said. But, Tavex has dreams of using more. “What is the next step is to find one fiber more sustainable in order to reach the maximum level of post consumer recycled denim,” Lacomba added.

In order to continue pursuing post consumer recycled denim fabrics, mills agreed that they need more interest from brands. Isik says Orta is waiting for comments on what they’ve showed to brands and will upgrade the fabrics if an upgraded is desired. “If they don’t buy or comment, this project will not go forward. If we don’t present what they want, we can do more, but we need the dialogue,” he said.

Sustainability comes at premium cost. The mills did not disclose the price of their fabrics, but Aydogdu said post consumer recycled denim is not a cheap fabric. “It is more expensive because of the yarn prices,” he said. Lacomba urged spinners need to lower their prices. “We have to adjust to the requirements of the market. We can make a good change. For the brands, if we are able to show them the same or similar aspects and same touch, the brands will be ready,” he said.

Smits pointed out that a price premium comes with most recycled products. However, she said more innovation, experience and scale can reduce prices in the future. “We have to invest more together to make the gap smaller in the future together,” Smits said.

Denim fabrics power up

Kassim introduces a tech-driven concept each Denim Première Vision. The mill followed up its Autumn/Winter ’18 foray into denim that rids the air of pollution with a jean jacket that can charge mobile devices. The prototype is equipped with a series of solar panels on the back, which collects sunlight that charges a USB port located on the front of the jacket. All the wearer needs to top up his or her phone is a USB cord.

US Denim delivers a more permanent glow with the launch of Cosmic Denim. Instead of pigment coating the fabric, the mill achieves the glow by weaving glow-in-the-dark yarn directly into the fabric. The yarn absorbs light during the day in order to glow at night. The collection, which is still in the development stage, offers new surfaces. Instead of traditional twill lines, the weaves in the Cosmic Denim collection need to be different so the weft (where the special yarns are used) appears on the surface.

Compression with comfort

Overall, a rep from elastane supplier Creora says brands are requesting more bi-stretch fabrications.The company developed special yarns that more control in the warp. Creora especially sees this has a demand for the high-end denim market.

Calik increases the comfort level of stretch fabrics with a new Spring/Summer ’19 line called Smart Stretch. High stretch fabrication typically compress the body to create a slimmer, sexier shape. However, the compression causes discomfort, especially around the ankles and knee. Smart Stretch eliminates that tightness by providing compression only where it is needed. The mill also introduces Fly Jean, an ultra-light super stretch fabrication with a soft hand feel. The unisex fabric can be used for yoga-like fits or looser silhouettes, allowing brands to use one fabric for a broad scope of designs.