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Can This Foundation Be the Catalyst for the Denim Industry’s Responsible Makeover?

The event Kingpins Transformers has been a part of the Kingpins trade show calendar since 2014. What began as a half-day forum in Amsterdam for denim professionals to discuss ideas for change has evolved into spin-off events in New York City and a program for students in London.

These events, attended by brand representatives and supply-chain executives, often concluded with questions and frustrations about how the industry could turn talk into action.

Last year, Kingpins Transformers co-founder Andrew Olah and his team put motions in place to do just that. As of Jan. 1, Kingpins Transformers became the Transformers Foundation, a non-profit that will actively address and facilitate change in the denim supply chain. Areas of focus include social responsibility, sustainable cotton, responsible chemical management and consumer education.

During Kingpins 24, in a discussion moderated by fashion journalist Alison Nieder, Olah and Miguel Sanchez, the Kingpins Show technology leader, offered a look into their plan for the foundation.

Their mission is to help the denim industry come to specific conclusions based on expert information on standardization, best practices and best behavior. The foundation, Sanchez said, relies on a board of “founders” to guide its messages and content. The founders represent the entire supply chain and are experts in the fields that they are in.

Though 2020 began on a steady foot, the pandemic has thrown a curve ball in the foundation’s plans. The Transformers: Ed event that was due to take place in Amsterdam in April was converted into a digital event. As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc and with economies in recession, Olah said he understands that the new foundation is a “low priority for most people.”

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Education, however, remains on the foundation’s agenda for the year, through reports, articles and a possible event for October. Content will take some time, Olah added, as he is not interested in regurgitating companies’ vague sustainability claims.

“If you’re going to say ‘use less water,’ then you need to actually admit how much you’ve been using in the system that you’ve been using, why it uses that much and the steps you’ve taken to prove it by a third party,” he said. “Otherwise, whatever you just said is nonsense at the highest level.”

The foundation, perhaps, can offer some clarity in this uncertain time, too.

“The industry has different levels of education and information, and they’re not aligned in the claims,” Sanchez said. Mills, chemical companies and brands too often work on projects in silos with “no real connection.” The Transformers Foundation, Sanchez said, can be a platform that helps the denim industry align on rational ways to make jeans. “[We need] to align, educate and train everybody in denim so we can understand each other,” he said.

Ultimately, Olah said he would like to see the leaders of transformative companies, supported by factual data, lead the foundation.

“I divide the world into two groups, adapters and transformative,” he said. “Transformative people [are the] experts on what they do and they lead by either investment, ideas and inventions. And they figure out the best practices and other people will follow them.”