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Kingpins24: Covid-19 Accelerated Technological Developments in Denim

Though centuries old, denim has evolved considerably thanks to technological advancements in stretch, performance and sustainability. Today, garments made with denim can be digitally designed and produced by robots.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, accelerated the demand for technological advancements. During Kingpins24 last week, a panel of  industry experts shared how the global crisis placed a newfound pressure to adapt to digital platforms.

“The pandemic really served as an acceleration, and also as a reality of what it means to be in a digital world,” said Sharon Lim, cofounder and CEO of Browzwear, a 3D fashion design provider.

More than 650 organizations such as PVH, VF Corporation and Columbia Sportswear use Browzwear’s 3D solutions. Pakistan-based denim mill Artistic Milliners recently partnered with the company in the hopes that more customers will join. Already, the mill has experienced more efficiency in fit development and sample approval processes, and is working with Browzwear’s e-learning platform, Browzwear University, to internally scale the technology.

Technology company Jeanologia has also digitally enhanced its services with Handman, a finishing system that is equipped with two robots and eight lasers. The process renders 10,000 finished jeans in 24 hours with zero waste. The technology also improves collaboration, as brands are able to communicate their digital designs directly to Handman.

Though Lim described 3D design as “nothing new,” she said that the pandemic sped up its adoption because it reinforced the need for remote collaboration. Since samples couldn’t be shipped during the peak of the pandemic, teams needed to develop digital workarounds to keep business moving.

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Even with the pandemic seemingly controlled in certain regions of the world, the advancements will likely continue to be in demand. Lim said the future of digital design will not be about eliminating samples entirely, but rather about reducing the unnecessary waste and enhancing collaboration.

Advance Denim, China’s oldest denim mill, has already embraced the concept of digital design. Mark Ix, the mill’s director of North American marketing, called attention to the company’s 3D archive, which allows customers to see products on the website in 3D and download them into their own digital design systems.

Beyond 3D design, Ix said Advance Denim is a strong supporter of enhancing fashion with technology, and for years has incorporated innovative features into its fabrics. Ix described the company’s use of aerogel, a solid that’s comprised of 80 percent air and considered a “frozen fog.” When applied to denim, it provides moisture-wicking, antimicrobial and thermoregulating properties and gives the look of authentic denim without the weight.

“It has a 13-ounce-looking denim actually weighing 10-ounces,” he said. “So, it’s pretty exceptional.”

The same technology has been applied to insoles in footwear to help with cold feet, and is also currently being used provide heat protection for the Mars Rover, a vehicle that travels across the surface of the red planet searching for signs of ancient life.

These advancements help satisfy growing consumer demand for denim that does more, both for the wearer and for the planet. A steeper price tag comes with these advancements, but according to experts, consumers area ready to spend more if necessary.

“I think it’s gotten to the point where there’s so much of an evolution of product that consumers realize there has to be some premium on it,” Ix said.

Data backs up that sentiment. In a poll of 500 consumers from the U.S., U.K., and the rest of Europe by Wovn, a retail analytics platform, 84 percent said they were willing to pay more for clothing from a sustainable brand.

According to Lim, for those reasons and many more, sustainability is not just good for the environment, but good for the denim industry’s future.

“Sustainability is good business,” she said. “Not only do we bring sustainability to the environment, the truth is we bring financial sustainability to our own business.”