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The Rivet 50 Dissect the Future of Innovation in Denim

There are many ways to define innovation.

At Bluezone in Munich this week, individuals nominated and voted into the 2019 Rivet 50, an index of the most influential people in denim, shared their forecast for the next decade of denim. The executives, supply chain leaders, designers and creatives offered a myriad of views that underscored the need for more education, transparency and reflection.

Here, they share their outlook on innovation and what it means for denim in the near future.

Function first

Denim has evolved from being a utility fabric to a fashion fabric, but Monsieur-T founder and creative director Tilmann Wröbel said if denim doesn’t serve a greater purpose, and once again offer the wear functional benefits, it will just remain one of a large variety of fabrics fashion designer choose from. “Denim has to find function once again,” he said.

Communication skills

Innovation doesn’t have to be high-tech. “What is missing is a way to provide the right information to the final consumer,” said Andrea Venier, managing director of Officina+39, an Italian textile chemical company. As sustainability gains importance to brands and consumers, the next wave of denim needs to be communicated in a way that easily digestible to understand, Venier said. They need to understand what it really means to be sustainable in a way that is not just part of a marketing agenda, he added.

Andrea Venier addresses the crowd at Bluezone.
Andrea Venier 

Balancing act

“I think today is very difficult to detach the word innovation from sustainability,” Alberto Candiani, owner of Candiani Denim Mill, said. “As a matter of fact, I believe we all do sustainable innovation nowadays and if I look at the near future, I believe we should be looking for balance.”

The denim industry, he said, is over-producing and should “do less and do it better.” While his idea is contrary to an industry that aims for continuous expansion, Candiani pointed out that there isn’t enough room in the market for everyone to grow. “There’s too much denim and it is having a high impact on the environment,” he said.

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“When I think about innovation, I think about the technology from the laundry side,” said Alice Tonello, marketing and R&D manager for the Italian garment finishing technologies company Tonello. “For me the laundry of the present and the future will be simple, digital and automatic.”

Stop, collaborate and listen

No matter the innovation in denim, collaboration will likely be the driving force behind it, said Tricia Carey, Lenzing’s director of global business development for denim. “Being at the very beginning of the supply chain and manufacturing fiber, we’re really nothing without our mill partners, garment finishers and people who innovatively tell the story, and certainly without the brands,” she said.

For Lenzing, innovation relies on bringing the market together through collaborations. Next, Carey said the consumer will become a supplier as the denim industry looks for recycled fabrics. Collaboration, she added, will have to “exist beyond just [the supply chain] talking to each other, but really engage with the consumer too.”

Tech company

Brands are asking for technology rather than product, said Ebru Ozaydin, senior vice president of sales and marketing of Artistic Milliners. “Now is not the time for a new 3×1 fabric or fantastic shade of blue,” she said. “Customers don’t want to hear that.”

As Gen Z enters the design workforce, the conversation is shifting from fashion to technology. “That’s why when we go to customers we need to do a presentation on our innovations,” Ozaydin said. “We have to talk about technology and the value proposition behind it.”

Ebru Ozaydin addresses the crowd at Bluezone
Ebru Ozaydin Courtesy

Just say no to poly

In the next 10 years, Mohsin Sajid, Endrime designer and educator, said he would like to see governments get involved and help change how the industry is producing garments and educating consumers. “And I’d like to see us try our hardest to not use any polyester at all,” he added.

Proof of concept

The denim industry is innovating processes to reduce its impact on the planet, but Boyish Jeans creative director Jordan Nodarse said there needs to be steps in place for companies to accurately measure their waste, carbon emission and water usage. And more importantly, they need to measure these factors each year to know whether or not they are actually making improvements. “Are you doing better?” he asked. “That’s the real question. Otherwise, we’re just blindly making decisions that we think are better.”

“We need to be transparent to our consumers, let them know what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and not be afraid to share information to each other so we can all succeed, as we all have the same goal here,” Nodarse said. “Half the world’s population is wearing jeans, so there’s plenty of room for all of us to succeed if we’re all doing it right.”

Out of the box

Education leads to innovation, said Ian Berry, the British artist who creates artwork solely from denim. “Being outside denim, the only advantage I have is looking in from the outside,” he said. But outsiders can spark innovation. Berry said there’s an untapped opportunity to educate the engineering students and graduates from other technical industries about the challenges that face the denim industry.

New values

No machine or study can innovate what Bluezone curator Panos Sofianos would like to see in the next decade. Sofianos hopes there will be a paradigm shift in what society values. “I’m optimistic, but on one side I’m pessimistic because I see a society that is selfish, a society that consumes because it wants to be happy,” he said.

Consumption, Sofianos added, is not the answer. “Innovation is sharing, living and appreciating one another,” he said.