Rivets, zippers and labels add personality to a pair of jeans. The components are among the ways brands distinguish their jeans from others. They are the small yet important details that denim historians and gurus obsess over.
The size of individual trims, however, isn’t representative of their total impact on the environment or business.
“One pair of premium jeans can consume several hundred meters of sewing thread and the zipper industry alone is worth a massive $13 billion in sales per year,” said Tricia Carey, director global business development-denim at Lenzing.
If invisible elements of a jean like thread, interlining or labeling are overlooked, she added, they can significantly add to the environmental footprint of a garment. And now more than ever, with consumer awareness of false sustainable claims at an all-time high, any brand using the word “sustainable” to market its jeans must ensure that every element of that product is indeed environmentally friendly.
The current climate is driving savvy companies to re-evaluate their trim strategies. In a recent Carved In Blue webinar, “Unzipping the Trims,” representatives from top denim trim suppliers shared how the industry’s awareness for the well-being of the environment is influencing how they source materials.
Though it has taken some time for brands to follow, trim suppliers have a lead on introducing classic jeans trims like rivets, buttons, zippers and back patches made with cleaner, upcycled or recycled materials and processes. Responsible manufacturing is the way forward for trim makers—many of which plan to to double down on their sustainable efforts to have a place in the post-pandemic world.
“We always have to find alternatives and try to adapt to [changing times],” said Vitor Teixeira, Crafil sales executive. Approximately 80 percent of the Portuguese trim maker’s production is dedicated to denim. As a garment that requires intense washing and finishing, he said “there is always something to improve.”
Thread that endures laser finishing technology and 100 percent recycled polyester threads are among the products Arzu Turgay, Coats global accounts manager, said the U.K.-based company is creating in response to the industry-wide shift to sustainability.
Likewise, printing techniques and products that can withstand harsh wash tests, like labels that need to retain clarity, have been part of Avery Dennison’s long-time R&D. Some of the focus, however, is pivoting toward concepts that are less chemical and natural-resource intensive, said Amy Lee, Avery Dennison senior manager, trends and insights apparel.
A notable recent addition to the company’s portfolio, she added, has been leather from a manufacturer that sources leather from byproducts of the meat industry so cows are not farmed for fashion. Other non-leather patches are made with jacron or recycled PET, which are woven to have unique textures.
Besides YKK’s well-known core denim products such as metal zippers, buttons and rivets, Suat Odabasi, YKK key account sales and sustainability executive, said the company has developed special sustainable product specifically for the denim industry. Brands, he said, are responding positively to zippers made with organic cotton and Tencel fibers, as well as YKK’s post-consumer recycled polyester zipper program Natulon.
The company’s range of sustainable eco-finish colors and low-impact colors are gaining traction as well as a detachable button, which not only speaks to the possibilities for customization but is also key in recycling garments at the end of their life.
On the broader topic of customization, Lee said Avery Dennison expects to see embellishment used to mend and revive clothing. “On a bigger scale, we’re seeing an opportunity for brands and retailers to revive deadstock and limit overstock by creating base products that can be customized on demand, and even more so now with the challenge of overstock being bought into the spotlight,” she said.
In the future, Lee added, Avery Dennison is counting on seeing custom on-demand manufacturing being embedded into the supply chain at scale, which would massively cut down on waste and allow brands to be faster and more agile in their production.
Trim suppliers are also doing their part to support the new needs brought on by the pandemic. YKK is helping supply components to companies that produce PPE as well as supporting hospitals in the local communities near its factories with PPE. In terms of its own business, YKK is plying clients with videos, mood boards and 3D digital tools to help keep their product development in progress, Odabasi said.
Avery Dennison is producing trims and packaging for masks globally for customers. “We are now working on some more sustainable packaging options fixed on plastic-free and recyclability,” Lee said.
The company also launched Patch Together, a collection of iron-on woven patches for customization that feature “feel good messages and support” for health care workers, Lee said. The company is selling packs of the patches online with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders.