As the demand for sustainable denim grows, so too does the need for thorough auditing of supply chains that goes beyond single facets of compliance.
Material provenance in particular is a high priority for the denim industry, as mills and their downstream partners focus on weeding out social and environmental compliance issues in their supply chains. Responding to the growing requirements for item-level information, Pakistan-based manufacturer AGI Denim has introduced its first Cradle to Cradle Certified fabric, HempX. Cradle to Cradle sets stringent environmental and social standards for products, and HempX has achieved gold level certification.
“The market is demanding and requiring transparency,” said Henry Wong, vice president of product development and marketing at AGI Denim. “Transparency is really useful because it holds companies accountable.”
HempX is a mix of cottonized hemp and organic cotton. The material can either be made in rigid fabrications or with stretch, courtesy of eco-friendly elastane.
One of the pillars of Cradle to Cradle is material health. By cutting out some cotton from the blend, HempX saves on resources since cultivating hemp requires less water than cotton. Additionally, hemp’s natural pest resistance removes the need for pesticides.
Further reducing the water impact of HempX, AGI Denim has an on-site effluent treatment plant that processes 300,000 gallons of water per day. The manufacturer is certified to Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) standards, and Oeko-Tex certification proves the lack of toxic materials.
Cradle to Cradle also investigates material reutilization and waste. AGI’s Double Zero process cuts the use of fresh water in wet processing by 85 percent and eliminates wastewater. The mill has also swapped 70 percent of its cotton to Better Cotton Initiative fibers, which are made using farming practices that protect worker welfare and field health while promoting water efficiency and sustainable production.
Satisfying the renewable energy and carbon management pillar of Cradle to Cradle, HempX production is powered by 50 percent renewable energy. By the end of 2021, AGI plans to install solar panels on its factory, further reducing its carbon impact.
Within social responsibility, AGI Denim supports its workers through fair wages. The company improves the quality of life for employees, their families and the local community through access to services such as medical care and schools.
Cradle to Cradle is designed as a consistent journey of improvement, meaning AGI Denim must recertify HempX every two years.
Hemp heats up
AGI Denim recently became the first production partner for Panda Biotech’s industrialized hemp. Based in Texas, Panda’s gin processes and cottonizes U.S.-grown hemp with a proprietary method and full traceability.
Cottonization takes specific parts of hemp plants and turns them into fibers that can be put through cotton machinery. It also softens the fibers, giving hemp-based denim the same hand feel as cotton jeans.
Currently, HempX has been developed in indigo and black washes, but the denim could be produced in any color. HempX is just launching for the Fall 2022 season, and AGI Denim is ready to scale up the material as demand grows. Similar to how recycled cotton began as a niche material and grew to be adopted in the mainstream, hemp is still a novelty rather than a widespread fiber in denim, and there is plenty of room to grow. Wong is hopeful that HempX could push the industry toward hemp.
“We hope to inspire brands to generally use more responsible materials, but specifically to develop the hemp supply chain with us,” said Wong. “The demand part of it needs to be fulfilled so that the supply side can continue to develop and progress. If suppliers just innovate, develop and make things with interesting and responsible materials, but nothing ever goes anywhere, then all that innovation will get stifled.”
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