The fashion industry is on a steady road to automation, but experts in the jeanswear sector remain bullish about the need for human creativity, especially in the finishing step of denim-making.
In a panel led by Sandeep Agarwal, founder of Denimsandjeans.com, industry professionals stressed the importance of maintaining a human element while embracing sustainable technology throughout the finishing process.
“We should not be completely depending on machinery,” said Luca Braschi, creative developer at Blue Alchemy, a fashion consultancy. “Technology alone isn’t enough to get a nice-looking garment. It still needs creativity and the human brain to work in a proper way.”
Panelists, however, agreed that the environmental benefits of finishing alternatives such as ozone and laser technology are necessary—and stressed that the industry cannot sit back and wait for consumers to start demanding sustainability from denim brands.
“It’s a little bit like the story of the chicken and the egg: is the brand producing what the consumer is searching for, or is the consumer buying what the brand is producing?” asked Daniele Lovato, head of the Elleti Group’s Tunisia laundry. “It’s true that consumers are getting more educated, but they still trust the brand to determine what is cool to wear next season.”
Braschi agreed. If the industry waits for market demand, making sustainably produced garments the norm will “maybe never happen,” he said.
And it’s in everyone’s best interest to make it the norm. Once sustainability becomes the standard, both the industry and consumers can expect sustainable fashion to become more affordable.
“When it’s the operational standard, yes, a sustainable garment will be cheaper,” said Lovato, adding that the cost differential between sustainably produced and traditionally made garments is already leveling out. “But until it reaches a certain level, it will still be a little more expensive.”
Panelists warned of the initial cost of sustainability potentially pricing out lower-performing brands—a consideration that’s even more prominent as a result of COVID-19-prompted bankruptcies and layoffs. While it’s less expensive in the long-term, machinery and process changes are still a massive investment, even in the best economic times.
And there’s more work to do. There are other areas in which the denim life cycle can be more sustainable, the panelists noted, adding that it’s often the finishing process that gets the most attention.
“Many people look more at the environmental impact of the wash,” said Vasco Pizarro, sales and marketing director at Pizarro S.A. “They forget about the impact of the cotton, thread, fabric, packaging, and the ultimate impact of what is done with the garment after it’s used.”
Pizarro added that many of the industry’s certifications are also focused mainly on this one part of the entire denim supply chain, and fail to evaluate the full impact of the garment.
“How can we say a garment is sustainable, and how can we assess it at a global scale?” he asked. “This must come from the industry. Only the industry understands how a job is done across the world.”