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Q&A: Alice Tonello on the Creative and Sustainable Benefits of Lasers

Much of the conversation in the denim industry today is about how to create more thoughtful, responsible processes that leave less of an impact on the earth. For Italian garment finishing house Tonello, it’s more than talk. The family-run operation is centered around creating sustainable practices that its brand partners can be proud of.

Tonello’s innovations are designed to reduce the amount of water, chemicals and energy it takes to turn basic denim into fashion pieces. For instance, the company teamed with Levi’s on the NoStone system, which replaces problematic pumice stones with a stainless-steel abrasive drum. It’s just one of the technologies Tonello has brought together into a single machine, dubbed the All-in-One.

Additionally, Tonello has been employing lasers to allow for even greater design flexibility—without compromising the company’s commitment to the planet.

Rivet asked Alice Tonello, head of marketing and R&D and niece of founder Osvaldo Tonello, about the innovations this finishing technique is pushing forward, and what creative applications the company has already found for the technology.

Rivet: Tell us about some of the creative benefits of laser finishing.

Alice Tonello: Laser finishing gives designers endless possibilities for experimenting and being creative. It can be used to create worn out effects like whiskers, abrasions and rips, or to create patterns and customized designs on almost all kind of materials. These benefits, combined with all the other finishing techniques we have at our disposal, give us room for even greater possibilities.

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Rivet: Why is laser more sustainable than other finishing methods?

AT: Laser doesn’t require water or chemicals, as opposed to methods like permanganate application. Laser also requires less time to achieve a worn-out look that traditionally would have required manual scraping and specialized operators. Manual scraping is not convenient for the workers, from both a health and job quality standpoint. Furthermore, as a technology, it can eliminate possible human errors and manipulation, creating new, safer and more design-oriented roles for employees.

Rivet: How do lasers offer brands a chance to update core items, or reinvigorate items that haven’t sold well in retail?

AT: Laser is a tool that can transform completely a garment, giving it a new look and a new style. A flat garment can become new again with a different design. In particular, laser could renew a style with a distressed effect, or be used for a more fashionable one like graphics and patterns on localized areas. In this way, laser represents the best start for a new design that can be perfected with other washing and finishing processes.

Rivet: What type of laser technology does Tonello offer?

AT: We have three different systems. The first two are the table system, for horizontal work onto a fixed or a double sliding table, and the mannequin system, for vertical work onto inflatable mannequins. These two systems can be combined together within the same machine. The third option is the conveyor system, for non-stop work onto a conveyor. Depending on the kind of effect desired, customers and brands can choose among the three different systems.

Laser treatment represents a great base for garments that later can be washed and finished with our All-In-One system, a single machine that includes all finishing technologies: the ECOfree 2 (for ozone treatment, both in water and in air), the NoStone (for stoneless stone-wash effects), the Core (for the nebulization of colors and performance products), and the UP system (to reduce the amount of water required during traditional washing processes). These technologies can work all together and in the same machine. In this way, with just two technologies, brands and customers can achieve maximum flexibility and creative possibilities.