After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, anticipation for Kingpins Amsterdam was especially high. The two-day trade show gathered designers and creatives to discover the next generation of innovation and creative collections.
Sina Steidinger, a denim designer and sustainability manager in textiles, said the excitement was evident in the products that mills presented. “You could see that everyone was working towards that [show]and wanted to show especially nice garments,” she said.
Lucia Rosin, the founder and head designer at Meidea, said she was motivated by the number of sustainable and circular concepts presented at the show—a signal that the industry is making good on early-pandemic promises to manufacture responsibly.
“The period we have passed has marked a … change,” she said. “After two and a half years, it is very evident and encouraging.”
Mills’ efforts to develop and use alternative fibers led innovations at the show. “Certainly, there is a great effort, despite the increased costs of raw materials, to seek alternatives both in fabrics and in garment finishes with low water and energy impact,” Rosin said.
Steidinger pointed to a “wide range of sustainable solutions, like increase of recycled fibers in fabrics and interesting eco-friendly chemicals for industrial washing.”
Products with the Rengenagri label—which indicates support for the initiative that focuses on improving land health and the wealth of the people who live on it—caught her attention, as well as Orta’s elastane-free stretch fabrics. The comfort stretch fabrics have a special yarn spinning technique that achieves natural stretch with bio-based material.
Steidinger also called out a collaborative circular project by Tejidos Royo, Mud Jeans and Yousstex. The fabric contains post-consumer recycled denim fibers and recycled elastane and is dyed with Dry Indigo, a nearly waterless process.
Ani Wells, communications and sustainability specialist and founder of Simply Suzette, named circularity the common theme in every booth she visited, whether it be through recycling, compostability or increasing recycled content. She also saw other recycled natural fibers like linen break onto the scene.
“It is not easy to be wowed, but there were two moments when I felt this,” she said.
Crescent Bahuman’s Blue Infinity, an RSL-, ZDHC- and GOTS 6.0-certified indigo-free technology making an infinite number of shades from one base color, was one of those moments.
“Indigo has remained an inherently tricky dye when trying to meet sustainability targets and Blue Infinity is making us unlearn everything we know about the way blue jeans are dyed,” Wells said. “This is a massive moment for the denim industry.”
Desert Studio’s plant-based composite denim button that eschews chemicals for finishing was the second. “Only natural elements are added to create color and visual elements, meaning this is a 100 percent biodegradable and compostable option,” Wells said. “Previously, compostable buttons looked crafty to me, but these look like your standard waistband button.”
Recycled cotton was the most prevalent alternative fiber in collections, either blended with conventional or organic cotton, or as the singular ingredient—an innovation widely believed to be almost impossible just years ago. While the buzz for hemp denim was just budding at the last Kingpins Amsterdam in 2019, the material was key ingredient in collections. Cone Denim brought its new range of fabrics produced with U.S.-grown hemp, while The Flax Company, the only hemp-producing exhibitor, demonstrated its capabilities.
Sustainability also influenced design.
Endrime founder Mohsin Sajid, who presented a zero-waste concept with Cone Denim that includes open-source zero waste patterns, highlighted Crescent Bahuman’s A Lighter Touch collaboration with consultant Miles Johnson.
The collection promotes garments bearing the telltale signs of natural wear instead of relying on water, chemicals and energy to achieve the typical aged aesthetic. The result included “beautiful fabrics with a dry crunch” in “stunning shades of indigo with a ’70s feel,” Sajid said. “They even smelled amazing.”
Meanwhile, Harmony Genovese, a freelance denim designer, found inspiration from Cone and Endrime’s zero-waste patterns. “The final looks were also super inspiring with authentic and sustainable washes,” she said. On the sourcing front, hemp, 100 percent sustainable fiber compositions and biodegradable concepts topped her list of key areas of focus, while ’90s heavy slub effects, crackle effects, modern twists to cross hatches and vintage character fabrics with comfort stretch appealed to her design eye.
“I saw a very creative use of recycled fabrics,” Wells said. “I was especially inspired by [companies’] use of undyed fabrics combined with recycled denim fabrics for workwear-inspired jeans. I think this perfectly captured the juxtaposition of femininity in workwear with pastel colors.”
Despite marking major milestones at the show—Dystar turns 125 in 2022, Rudolf Group 100 and Tonello 40—the chemical and finishing technology categories arrived with the resource-saving solutions answering the industry’s calls .
“I saw clever uses of sustainable finishing from everyone, from Officina +39, Jeanologia and Tonello,” Sajid said. “I always try to see each of their innovations [to see how I can] build … better collections.”
Advances in eco-friendly indigo pigment alternatives were a highlight for Tilmann Wrobel, Monsieur-T creative director and founder. “I also feel that the hues are changing,” he added. “That is not so surprising for the U.S. market, but it’s important to notice that hues are much more red-casted even in Europe.”
Wrobel also noticed a shift in fabric weights. “Even though cotton prices are rising, fabrics—even for women’s jeans—seem to be heavier,” he said, describing this development as a step toward more durable and gender-free denim.
There’s still room for greater variety, however. Wrobel said he’s interested in seeing more variation in yarn-thickness, weave tension, warp and weft yarn combos and hand feels, as well as “more hemp, linen, freshness in indigo dyes and powerful blue finishes.”
Rosin was inspired by the variety of color and washes and seeing how laser finishing is advancing, thanks in part to boosters being applied to the fabrics. “It is interesting to see a great evolution and revolution in such a short time,” she said about laser finishing.
The pandemic’s acceleration of digital technologies continues to have a positive impact. Rosin said most companies “have dynamically entered digitalization,” making it is easier for all links in the supply chain to have access to information and product traceability.
“I saw more advancements with blockchain technology with mills showing more commercially affordable solutions,” Sajid said.
Genovese would like to see more information on traceability and the actionable steps brands and mills need to take to make it a reality. Collaborations between brands and suppliers would help this effort.
“I appreciated the initiative from Neela to collaborate and have on their stand the Interloop team sharing digital 3D products with their fabrics. It is offering an extra service and a reason to choose their fabrics,” she said.
While the pace at which companies are delivering new innovations hasn’t slowed, the denim supply chain is also not decreasing the number of fabrics and products in collections. Conversations about developing seasonless and more versatile fabric collections didn’t result in notably smaller collections.
“In a dream world, we wouldn’t have 40-60 fabrics a season, but we would have 10-20 that are very versatile, as well as combine all sustainability attributes,” Wells said. “With less articles, I would like to see more examples of their uses rather than having one sample for every fabric. This would help buyers recognize the need for less fabrics and encourage more creativity in their designs and fabric uses.”