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Bluezone Soundbites: Durability and Stretch Drive Innovation

Bluezone cemented its role as the denim industry’s hub for education and brainstorming. 

The Munich trade show gave denim experts a stage to share new concepts promoting circularity and durability, while looking at what a digital-first world means for jeans. 

Work it

Durability was top of mind for Naveena Denim (NDL). 

The Lahore, Pakistan-based mill introduced its new workwear division called N-Tech, aiming to serve corporate clients like Caterpillar and Cintas in the U.S., Rokker Jeans, Engelbert Strauss Workewear and Edelrid in Europe, and WWG Group and Saint in Australia with high-performance fabrics.

N-Tech’s 20-fabric collection offers abrasion-resistant solutions for the outdoor segment, motorcycle apparel brands, and workwear manufacturers producing fire-retardant garments. NDL showcased some of the fabrics in a six-piece capsule collection designed by British design studio Endrime

Fabrics are enhanced with performance fibers including Xlance, a chemical-resistant Italian elastane that withstands high water temperatures, Tencel for softness and toughness, Coolmax for temperature regulation and Dyneema, a fiber 15-times stronger than steel at the same weight. 

“By using a small percentage of Dyneema, you can enhance the strength of the fabric by 50 to 100 percent, which means you can make an 8 oz. fabric with the strength of a 14 oz. denim,” said Reinhart Oberstein, NDL marketing, Europe. 

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The fabrics also dry quickly, noted Vincent Chua, senior business development manager of DSM, the maker of Dyneema, meaning they require less time in the dryer with a lower risk of being damaged in machines.

Dyneema’s own business is becoming more sustainable. Chua reported that about 75 percent of Dyneema’s production is made using renewable energy. To further reduce its global carbon footprint, the company introduced bio-based Dyneema last year, making it the first producer of high-performance PE sourced renewable, bio-based feedstock.

“The properties and the performance of the bio-based Dyneema is no different from the ordinary Dyneema but you get a lower footprint,” he said. “One metric ton of bio-based Dyneema saves about six metric tons of CO2 emission when you compare with nylon.” 

Consumer awakening

Extending the lifespan of jeans is good for the planet and good for business, but it requires a “regenerative mindset” by both the supply chain and end consumers, said Dr. Sedef Uncu Aki, Orta managing director.

Circularity is at the crux of this mentality, she added. “If you use waste as a raw material, you don’t consume new resources,” she said. “With every product we create, we push new horizons towards creating regenerative products that give back more than [they take].”

The Lycra Company shares this goal. “Our product vision is we want to create resilient fibers that use fewer infinite sources, extend garments’ lifecycle and provide solutions that are either recycled or degradable,” said Ebru Ozaydin, strategic marketing director at The Lycra Company. 

Consumers are joining the chorus. In May, Lycra’s 3,000-consumer survey spanning the U.S., Brazil, China, Italy and Germany found that 56 percent said brands should reduce the amount of harmful chemicals used in the manufacturing process. More than half of the 80 percent female survey group also said brands should reduce the carbon emissions they use to make clothes and produce more durable garments.

The same survey found that 61.5 percent of consumers try to limit the amount of new clothing they buy, 69.7 percent regularly donate clothing to charity and 67.2 percent buy fewer but higher-quality garments that last longer. 

“The conscious consumer is coming,” Ozaydin said, adding that people are grasping the symbiotic relationship between sustainable and durability. 

Science of comfort 

Creating fabrics that require fewer at-home washes is one of Isko’s ambitions. The Turkish denim mill touted Isko Reform 100 at Bluezone, a denim fabric that has 100 percent elasticity with a rigid appearance, meaning it maintains its contoured look between wears. 

Despite Gen Z’s skinny jean takedown, Mirela Slowik, Isko’s category leader for stretch/performance technologies, said market data tells another story. The mill found that 75 percent of women aged 20-55 in key markets like the U.S., U.K. and Germany said skinny jeans are still important. 

However, the silhouette’s main quality—stretch—may hold even greater value with 88 percent of consumers naming stretch an important factor in their purchasing decisions. “We need to educate the market, the brands, our partners, to show how they can approach stretch for other designs and silhouettes. Not just for skinny jeans,” Slowik said. 

Lucia Rosin, founder of the design consultancy Meidea, said the “big evolution” in stretch stems from consumers’ unwillingness to give up the comfort they rediscovered during pandemic lockdowns spent in sweats and loungewear. “In the past, we accepted very binding [garments] that squeezed our bodies,” she said. “Now, it’s not acceptable anymore.” 

Orta’s Thunderbird fabric made with Lycra Adaptiv technology boasts 80 percent elasticity. The fabric, which offers a sleek and compact crosshatch appearance, hugs the wearer without pressure and has the benefit of “size and shape neutrality.” 

Stretch, Ozaydin added, is essential for “fit forgiveness” and allows brands to serve all shapes and sizes.  

But just how much stretch do consumers need? Isko’s research shows that 20 percent elasticity is needed for simple actions like sitting. With 40 percent elasticity, jeans are flexible enough for consumers to contort into yoga poses. 

The difference from 40 to 100 percent elasticity is freedom, Slowik said, adding that a product like Isko Reform 100 doesn’t pressure or push up against the body. 

“This is the quality of performance that we need nowadays because the pandemic taught us to want to feel good,” she said. “But you don’t reach that with rigid [and] you don’t reach that with 20 or 30 percent [elasticity].”  

Progress report

The denim industry is “wicked,” said Kutay Saritosun, Bluesign director of brand services and partnerships, in how it gobbles up chemicals, energy and water to make new fabrics look old or vintage. “But that’s what we like about denim, that’s the reality,” he said. 

Denim Then and Now

At Bluezone, Italian chemical manufacturer Officina+39 and Chinese denim mill Prosperity presented “Denim Then and Now,” a project inspired by the Bluesign System’s holistic approach focusing on the implementation of clean production processes and clean chemistry. The presentation showcased jeans made with two of Officina+39’s Bluesign approved products: Aqualess Aged, which replaces pumice stone treatments, and Remover IND/J-N, a process ditching potassium permanganate (PP spray) to obtain a worn and distressed vintage look. 

The resulting range of jeans had the desirable worn-in look that’s trending at retail with less impact on the environment compared to traditional wash techniques.  

“The denim industry has come a long way in terms of clean chemistry,” Saritosun said, adding that it can go even further with stronger support from brands.

“What I see in the market is that big brands—most of the time—are not as open to [change] as the smaller brands which are more agile… they are more courageous,” he said. “With the bigger brands, it’s about retrofitting.”

Dissecting the metaverse

To highlight its first NFT called the Blueskyer, Orta teamed with Bluezone to host an “NFT hackathon” at the trade show. The NFT is part of the marketing efforts for its fabric made with 100 percent regenerative cotton. There, with the help of a professional team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM), attendees had the opportunity to create their own denim-themed NFT. 

The one-on-one time with metaverse experts proved to be invaluable for attendees trying to wrap their head around digital products. While planning the event, Tilmann Wröbel, Monsieur-T creative director and Bluezone collaborator, said it became clear to organizers how “little knowledge” the textile industry has about the metaverse, NFTs and how to upload a token to a blockchain. 

The virtual world, however, is becoming increasingly important to how consumers experience products. 

“Right now, what we’re experiencing is the real world and the virtual world is blending our physical and digital appearances,” said Orta’s Uncu Aki.

“We see this as a new playing field,” she added. “You will be experiencing new ways of socializing, new ways of creating, new ways of even trading goods like selling denim.”