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The Consultants: Knowledge is Power for Denim Guru Salli Deighton

Rivet's 2020 Denim Circularity report takes a deep dive into how the global denim industry is plotting its circular future amidst a worldwide pandemic.

The Consultants is Rivet’s regular check-in with denim industry business and creative consultants to get their take on topics ranging from the status of sustainability to future trends. In this Q&A, U.K.-based denim consultant Salli Deighton discusses the need for industry-led knowledge sharing and more local manufacturing and finishing resources.

Name: Salli Deighton

Location: London

What was your first gig in the denim industry?

My first gig was Wrangler from 1989-1994 as a designer working on jackets, shirts and the tops range based in the U.K.

Describe your design point of view.

Our role as designers and developers is ultimately to improve the quality of life for our customers, making them feel comfortable and confident whilst respecting and caring for our planet. Creating innovative, smart design requires us to understand all the technology which is available to us and apply the right choices throughout the development.

It’s all in the details, especially when creating responsible denim. Every choice—from the fiber origin, the dye stuff and process, to the sizing alternatives—influence the choices we make in laundry. Then fabric must perform technically in laundry to deliver the perfect fit.

All the elements must be calculated and engineered. We need to be scientists as much as we are creators. We must work closely with our suppliers, understanding their equipment, ensuring the denim is production friendly and commercially viable and must be produced in response to the market demand. I believe the most innovative design is fueled by collaborative learning and a solid understanding of your customer.

Denim consultant Salli Deighton discusses the need for industry-led knowledge sharing and more local manufacturing and finishing resources.

Salli Deighton

What is the most common challenge denim brands encounter in their design?

The speed at which we turnaround products and volume of developments is a challenge. To consider every detail and to test, evaluate, measure and communicate to everyone in the team and supply chain takes more time than we usually have. The days of scribbling a sketch, sticking a swatch on a page and hoping for the jean you imagine are long gone and we must be detailed in all we do to avoid waste and over sampling.

From my experience working with many retailers and brands are that their teams are often multi-product so they don’t understand the complexity of what they are buying. I meet designers who are creating beautiful mood boards but they haven’t a clue how a pair of jeans are washed. I have also worked with incredible buyers such as the fantastic Carrie Mathews who had never bought denim and on day one was like, teach me! Within three months she knew every fabric detail, her sulfur top from a sulfur bottom and exactly what she was paying for. Knowledge must be embedded in across all denim teams.

What makes you optimistic about the denim industry?

I’m always optimistic—why wouldn’t you be? We’re an amazing industry full of passionate people who live and breathe denim 24/7. It’s more than a job and we’re all out to work smarter and deliver a better working environment for everyone in the supply chain. Most designers are rising to the challenge of circularity and we know it will take time, but we are on the journey now and there’s no going back.

When faced with the challenge to clean up our industry, mills, equipment producers, chemical suppliers and many suppliers stepped up and provided solutions. We are problem solvers and our amazing community is pulling together more than ever to support each other.

Name a denim trend you hope to never see again.

Super low rise—those Miss Sixty jeans that left nothing to the imagination.

Do you have a favorite industry event to attend?

Are you try to make me take sides? Of course, we all love Kingpins Amsterdam. The environment is wonderful, we learn and get to socialize with denim friends. As I generally work at the volume end of the market, I think Mostafiz Uddin has done a great job with the Bangladesh Denim Expo connecting mills and buyers.

What advice would you give to someone at the beginning of their denim career?

Read everything, get to know the factory and laundry inside out and connect with some ‘oldies’ in the industry for support. Don’t be afraid to contact people; we’re a pretty helpful industry. If I had a problem, I would always call the chemical company, the machine maker or the mill to ask and learn. If you can spend a week or even a month on the lines in factory understanding how everyone—from cutting, sewing, quality [control] and laundry—do their jobs, you will be a better designer. It’s hard for junior designers to get to the overseas factories but this is one of the best lessons I ever learned.

Think differently, love nature as the answers are there and always consider all options. And I apologize for contributing to the mess you have inherited.

What is your favorite jean to wear, and why?

At the moment, it’s a denim boiler suit by Ilana Kohn. It’s so comfortable and great for working at home. I’m missing my usual favorites like a pair of Levi’s 618 Orange Tabs I bought on Ebay for £6. They have the best crackle—love them!

What are you most proud of in your career?

I was fortunate to speak at a denim conference in Dhaka in 2015 with PaCT, Solidaridad and many more groups from the industry. The Dutch government were in negotiations with the Bangladesh government encouraging green change and financial resources so the factories could invest and shift to cleaner and better equipment. I shared the opportunities I saw for sustainable development and how the factories could present and engage the buyers.

I met Jeanologia and Tonello there and they were game changers for my way of working. I’m proud to have worked with some incredible people and suppliers in Bangladesh over the years who have embraced the pressure from the industry to change. It’s important we support the investment and changes all these factories have made through good times and bad.

What’s your vision for denim in 2025?

A less wasteful industry focused on what customers really need.

It’s time to rethink the supply chain and address the issue of waste and excess. We must adapt the supply chain and create local finishing facilities to support retailers and overseas producers. We need local services that have the ability to reprocess unsold stock, support fast response to sales and also clean and create new jeans from discarded waste denim.

[With this] we will be able to provide a much-needed solution to address the problems of fast fashion and waste textiles. I would love to hear from people in our industry who share this vision and would like to join me on a venture to provide such a U.K. facility.

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