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Denim Industry Links Collaborations to Scaling Innovation, Conscious Consumption

Though the pandemic opened new opportunities for companies to come together as forces of good, many of the denim industry’s breakthrough innovations have been built on shared visions and ideas.

“Collaboration is in our DNA as an industry,” said Ebru Özaydın, The Lycra Company’s strategic marketing director in denim.

Last week in New York City, Ebru Debbağ, Soorty executive director of sales and marketing, hosted a roundtable discussion addressing the effectiveness of collaborations with representatives from some of its key partnerships including Lycra, Tonello and Lenzing. There, they discussed the benefits that come with having an open dialogue with vendors and how collaboration can help build respect for each other’s work.

“We need to work together so that we can [tell] our stories [and] our collaborative efforts around innovation and sustainability to brands and retailers, and through the brands and retailers reach the consumers,” Debbağ said.

Without a governing body or a single set of sustainable standards that the industry can work towards, collaborations are one way companies can at least be on the same page as their partners.

“We need specific rules that everybody can follow and can follow in the correct way,” said Alice Tonello, marketing and R&D director at Tonello.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has become an instrument for change, providing the denim supply chain a framework, Özaydın said. “The SDGs are our checklist where we connect, where we measure our impact, where we also build strategy to try to grow ourselves to overcome the challenges,” she said.

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Sharing the same values with partners is key to a collaboration’s success. “In order to drive the market forward is to bring new ideas together, and the best way to do that is collaborations,” said Tricia Carey, director of global business development denim and Americas at Lenzing Group.

Tonello’s partnership with Soorty began more than 20 years ago and is strengthened by synergies in innovation, transparency, and responsibility. The Italian technology firm’s most recent collaboration with the mill focused on their shared vision for a simplified and more digital and automated future for denim achieved through Tonello’s measurable finishing technologies like laser and ozone.

It’s their way, Debbağ added, to prepare for a future that will see more consumers asking about the environmental and social impact of the garments they purchase.

Transparency and traceability are two side of the same coin, Carey said. Lenzing uses fiber identification and works on a blockchain system, providing its vendors digital transparency into its supply chain.

This information, however, needs to continue with brands to reach the end consumer more consistently.

Lenzing has brand partnership programs to help foster consumer education about sustainability. It also has an Instagram and influencer strategy to help disseminate information, but Carey said it’s not enough—consumers are still confused about what makes one jean sustainable over another. The commitment to collaboration trails off at the brand level.

“We have to come together and have a common ground in order to be able to communicate,” Carey said, adding that information needs to be digestible for consumers. “I think these are some of the challenges that we’re all facing. And it’s only through collaboration that we’ll be able to get over it.”