While the denim industry, much like the larger apparel industry, once operated enveloped in a cloak of secrecy, times couldn’t be more different. Cognizant of a responsibility to atone for decades of harmful practices against the Earth, more companies are lifting the veil on their operations to reveal the progress they’re making on the sustainability front.
What’s more, this isn’t something that many companies are doing simply for the good PR it generates. Denim mills like ADM-Artistic Denim Mills recognize that the more information they share about their operations, the easier they’re making it for other companies to replicate and thus effect real change.
“The denim industry has made great progress in recent years,” Faisal Ahmed, CEO of ADM, said, “but there is still much work to be done. By investing in the right technology and innovation for both fabric and finishing—as well as building the right partnerships and investing in our workforce—we can continue on the path toward more responsible denim production.”
ADM has committed to having 80 percent sustainability through its entire supply chain—a tough goal, to be sure, but one the company feels certain it can achieve by building trusting relationships throughout the entire industry. A key part of developing these strategic relationships are the various trade shows held throughout the year, including Kingpins and Munich Fabric Start, Ahmed said. At Kingpins Amsterdam, held earlier this year, ADM showed off its collection of denim using recycled materials and alternative organic chemicals, and it’s also using a liquid black without sulfate to decrease its environmental impact by 60 percent.
“Gathering together within an international forum is crucial for collaboration,” Ahmed said. “These shows provide an avenue for the industry to come together to share the progress they’ve made, the challenges they’ve encountered, and the ways they’ve overcome them. This type of communication benefits everyone who works in the industry—and eventually anyone who simply wears denim.”
Indeed, this level of collaboration is crucial for the success of apparel and textile sustainability, Karl-Hendrik Magnus, partner at McKinsey and Company, told Sourcing Journal earlier this year. “Scaling sustainable sourcing is a big challenge and requires real collaboration in the industry. Most bottlenecks cannot be solved by individual companies alone,” he said.
Denim brands have been playing a key role in helping spread awareness of the importance of sustainable production, Ahmed said, aided in no small part by social media. Although consumers are still demonstrating some resistance to paying more for responsibly produced apparel, more brands are amplifying the conversation about why it’s so important to everyone’s environment.
ADM, for its part, has released a video that shares all of the upgrades it has made in greening its factory and the benefits that extend to consumers. For example, the company has invested in new machinery that enables it to decrease its water consumption up to 80 percent. What’s more, 80 percent of this water is treated and recirculated throughout its facility for secondary use. Consumers, meanwhile, reap the rewards by not needing to wash their denim as often because ADM’s fabric has high retention properties.
For companies seeking to forge—or simply improve—their path to sustainability, Ahmed suggests they explore the value of sustainable sourcing, most especially improvements that can be made through reduction of energy and water consumption through recycling and using solar power.
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