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Denim Execs Want to Steer the Conversation About Antiviral Fashion Back to Sustainability

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the denim industry to shift its focus to new consumer demands—and for some mills, this means releasing new collections with antimicrobial and antiviral properties.

But according to experts, this may not be effective in stopping the spread of coronavirus. In a Fashinnovation panel discussion Monday led by Rivet president and founder Edward Hertzman, David Breslauer, PhD and chief scientific officer and co-founder of Bolt Threads, said he believes those innovations may be better suited for other industries.

“[An antiviral garment] might stop you from transmitting a virus when you take it off and put it in your washing machine,” Breslauer said. “I just don’t know how much of an impact that’s actually going to have on the spread of germs versus, say, the seat covers in an Uber, for example.”

The true benefit of antiviral technology would be for things like airplane seat coverings, gym equipment and other areas within the industrial sector, he added.

However, panelists agreed that the fashion industry will see a post-COVID-19 consumer who is more focused on sustainable clothing.

“As we face uncertainty in the world, we become more careful and considerate with how we spend our money,” said James Bartle, founder of ethical denim brand Outland Denim. “Opportunities are only growing larger for brands doing the right thing.”

Because of the global attitude shift toward sustainability, the next big problem lies with greenwashing, Bartle said. Experts agreed that acquiring certifications and properly educating consumers on their processes are now more important than ever to combat the issue.

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Jordan Nodarse, founder of Boyish Jeans, pointed to communication as the biggest challenge—and greatest necessity—of sustainable fashion.

“One of the most difficult parts of sustainability is how you communicate it to your consumers,” he said. “Innovation requires costs that need to be put into innovation, and it takes time for it to scale to an appropriate level where it’s profitable. And with that, you have to communicate to your customers to let them understand the reasons why this is more expensive, and the benefits of it.”

Coming from sustainable fashion label Reformation, Nodarse is often asked whether the brand is actually as ethical as it claims, which signals consumers’ innate skepticism and growing awareness of greenwashing. Because of this, he recommends communicating as much as possible—even when it seems excessive.

For Bert van Son, founder and CEO of Mud Jeans, the industry should focus its efforts on circularity. Van Son helped spearhead the movement in the denim industry with his brand’s jeans leasing program. From the start, he created garments all year long as they were needed, rather than by season—a concept many in the industry believe will be the future of fashion.

“We make beautiful jeans that are still nice in six months,” he said, adding that this way of operating is not only good for the environment, but also for the people who work for him. “It’s a way of giving my supplier an even flow of production throughout the year.”

Bartle agreed that the industry should include a heavier focus on the workers throughout the supply chain, adding that one in six people in the world work in some area of the fashion industry.

“We can’t forget the people in our pursuit for sustainability,” he said. “There’s often a neglect on either the environment or the people. We must address both of them together to make a real impact.”