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Denim Industry Sets Sights on Circularity, Carbon Emissions in 2021

The future of denim is greener than ever, according to experts.

Denim Première Vision kicked off its first “Digital Denim Week” last week with a future-focused discussion featuring experts from Nudie Jeans and Hich Solutions who pointed to sustainability as the main focus for denim in 2021.

The prediction likely comes as no surprise to those in the global denim industry, a space that has been hyper-vigilant about sustainability throughout the past decade. After years of industry-wide advancements and educational efforts, the pandemic helped further expose a need for sustainability, and caused denim stalwarts like Levi’s and Guess to rethink fashion’s entire framework, beginning with the end of the traditional fashion calendar to promote more conscious production, consumption and reuse.

Sandya Lang, sustainability manager at Nudie Jeans, predicts that sustainability efforts will only continue to progress as time goes on—specifically in the upcycling space.

“This is a turning point within the industry,” she said. “We have so many garments already, and we need to prolong their life as long as possible before going into recycling. And we need to have efficient systems and solutions for that.”

Nudie Jeans is a pioneer in prolonging the life of denim. Its business was created on a foundation of repairing and reusing jeans before it became a popular concept. It recently doubled down on these efforts by introducing aggressive sustainability targets and planning to open 50 new repair shops in the coming years. It also recently partnered with ethical denim brand Outland Denim and IT company Precision Solutions Group on an anti-slavery program that works to resolve instances of deliberate exploitation and unsafe working conditions.

Hamit Yenici, a denim industry veteran who has worked at Calik and Isko and now leads his own textile solutions company Hich Solutions, also expects to see a future rife with recycling initiatives. But while many throughout the industry are focusing on ways to recycle materials, Yenici is looking at opportunities that extend beyond the fiber level.

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“We need to find a way to reuse chemicals, dyestuffs and colors,” he said. “We need to teach everybody in textile industry the importance [of reuse]. We have to make everybody who’s working in this industry feel responsible, because it’s not just the responsibility of one person or department.”

In addition to circularity, Lang predicts the industry will focus heavily on reducing emissions at the supplier level—a goal Nudie is also aggressively working toward in the coming years. The brand is currently setting science-based targets to reduce GHG by 2023, which it will achieve by investing in a biogas production project and a wind power project that creates renewable energy. It will also decrease emissions from business travel by 20 percent by the end of the year.

“The climate issue is escalating more and more. There’s an urgency there,” she said. “It will become more important for our suppliers as well.”

As business shifts online, travel-related emissions should theoretically drop in general. Denim Première Vision is a prime example of the industry looking to digital methods to adapt to the new normal.

According to Guglielmo Olearo, Denim Première Vision director, the digital elements adopted during the pandemic will continue long after 2020, with opportunities to meet in-person as well.

“Our strategy in the future will be the combination of physical and digital events,” Olearo said. “I really would like to again embrace the denim community physically and meet one another in Milan in May and Berlin in November.”