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In Denim, Commitment to Change Requires More Than Water-Saving Measures

There’s more to going green than saving water. And it requires a holistic approach to sustainable innovation.

That’s according to Marco Lucietti, global marketing director at Turkish denim manufacturer Isko, speaking Thursday at the fifth edition of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. The annual event, organized by the Global Fashion Agenda under the patronage of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, was themed “commitment to change.” But as Lucietti stressed, that commitment has to be woven into a company’s DNA if it’s going to move the needle.

Sustainability is a bit of an old word to describe what the industry is trying to do. It should be called responsible innovation,” he said, during a breakout session that addressed everything from data analysis to recycling challenges.

At Isko, one of the largest denim producers in the world and the only one to receive both the EU Ecolabel and the 2016 Nordic Swan Ecolabel, taking steps toward sustainable production isn’t just lip service.

“Sometimes people say they’re producing sustainable denim just because they’re saving water,” he continued, “But water is maybe less than 10 percent of the waste of resources that our production is causing.”

That’s not to say that water conservation isn’t a worthy cause, particularly in an otherwise water-intensive industry like denim. But Lucietti’s argument is that a brand cannot call itself sustainable unless waste and environmental harm are slashed at every stage of production.

“At Isko we really approach sustainability as being responsible, which means responsibility for production, responsibility in terms of respecting compliance, respecting ethics, respecting the people who are working for us and respecting the communities in which we operate,” he said.

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That being said, Lucietti admitted that the denim industry at large—including Isko—has struggled to convey to consumers the post-purchase benefits of buying sustainably produced denim.

“We’re not able to convey the message that sustainable does not mean just saving something but also means being able to wear nice garments,” he said. “My personal dream, but also a big target for all industry players, is to have consumers choosing sustainable or responsible garments because of the fact they are nice and, on top of that, they are also reducing waste and helping planet Earth.”

To that end, Isko is aiming to influence consumers’ shopping behaviors by continuously coming up with items that make their lives easier, like Reform, a patented fabric technology that offers jeans flexibility and freedom of movement while retaining their original shape.

“Speaking about water as an example, only 7 percent of water waste in the entire life cycle of denim is caused due to industrial production. Ninety-three percent is caused by bad behaviours at home, which are consumers washing and ironing their jeans in order to keep their shape,” Lucietti said. “With our new technology we are able to have jeans that keep their shape longer which means washing less which means saving water.”

Similarly, Austrian fiber giant Lenzing offers Modal Black, for no-fade black denim that claims to never lose its color, even after 50-plus washes. In addition, the fiber uses a fifth of the pigment required in conventional dyeing methods/ Lenzing also reports that using it in fabric reduces the environmental impacts of production by as much as 65 percent.

“But when you tell the customer that you have a denim that’s going to stay black forever and it’s not going to fade to gray after they wash it, that’s why they’ll want to it, because they won’t have to keep buying new black jeans,” said Amit Gautam, Lenzing’s executive vice president. “And we work proactively with the brands to tell that story to the consumers.”

“Educating consumers is key,” Lucietti agreed. “At the end of the day, if they do perceive the value of garments it’s because the garment is nice. So we should deliver a nice, fashionable product to consumers that’s made out of good materials.”