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Collaboration and Shared Goals Needed for Sustainable Denim Production

As the denim industry continues to push for more sustainable practices, new considerations emerge. The question of who is responsible for these changes—and who will pay for them—has become a top concern.

According to panelists at the Kingpins24 event last week, the glaring issue of finances weighs heavily on an industry looking to make positive changes. But Richard Tobin, vice president of marketing and sales at Kaltex America, doesn’t consider that a legitimate concern.

“This whole concept that price is the only thing that matters has to be shattered,” he said, adding that the initial cost of adoption would merely be “nickels and dimes,” and would eventually fall once it was scaled.

Until then, he said, becoming more sustainable—and paying for more sustainable technology and necessary certifications—needs to be a shared responsibility and not only fall on the most vulnerable.

“Isn’t it ironic that the investment to maintain these standards has been pushed to the weakest part of the supply chain?” he said.

“We need a collaboration between all the entities in the supply chain; not just the mills, but the brands, because the brands really dictate wherever sourcing is headed, how it’s done and with whom it’s done.”

Elisabete Oliveira, head of R&D at the Denim Clothing Company, agreed, and called attention to some brands that seem to just talk about sustainability for the sake of keeping up with a trend. Even those that more actively educate themselves on the behind-the-scenes work still don’t necessarily understand the full scope of what it takes to produce a garment sustainably.

“In the end, they are not properly conscious of all the work that we have to do to make to make a [sustainable product,]” she said. “They want to have the certification but they don’t want to pay more for the product.”

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Another common issue, according to Mark Ix, director of U.S. marketing at Advance Denim, is that customers aren’t typically aligned with what they want in a sustainable product. He noted that many are looking for new water-saving methods, but others might prioritize sustainable dye methods or new fibers. Until the industry can rally around one focused strategy, prices will continue to remain high.

Despite these hurdles, panelists remained hopeful for the future—and it’s all thanks to the younger generations.

“Gen Z will keenly be looking at products and traceability because they’re going to be living in an environment that’s been impacted by global warming,” Tobin said. “And if you think we haven’t already been impacted by global warming, I’d like to ask where you’ve been and what you’ve been watching because we’re here. It’s not a futuristic view, and it’s real so we need to address it.”