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Denim Manufacturers Invest in Future-Focused Innovations

New York City is a hustling town, but the denim industry stood its ground at Kingpins New York last week, where denim manufactures divulged details about their latest investments in technology, performance and plans for new future-facing facilities.

Fueled by brands’ demands for new recycled products, Mexico-based Global Denim is experimenting with recycled denim in the warp and weft. The Ecoloop collection, which will be ready for an official launch in October, uses scraps from the mill’s own floor as well as waste purchased from brand partners.

Global Denim creative director Anatt Finkler said the mill is testing fabrics made with 60 percent to 70 percent recycled denim. While there’s a maximum to the amount of recycled yarns that can be used, Finkler said the mill has found the right composition. “The key is how you recycle the yarn,” she said. “Clients still have expectations about resistance and shrinkage.”

Part of Ecoloop’s development is eliminating any reason a brand may snub the sustainable option. Brands won’t buy if the fabric’s performance and aesthetic doesn’t hold up to their standards—regardless of the positive affect it may have on their supply chain, Finkler said. They also won’t buy if the cost isn’t right, which is why Global Denim has worked to keep the cost of Ecoloop fabric remains comparable to other fabrics in its portfolio.

While, pre- and post-consumer recycled denim won’t replace regular cotton, the right communication to the end-user, Finkler said, can make it another viable option, and that’s what brands are searching for.

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This season, Global Denim began design garments to help spark creativity among brands. The mill printed and washed fabrics and presented some backside printing to demonstrate the variety of results designers can achieve with a single fabric. “Clients sometimes look at fabrics with closed minds,” Finkler said. “The denim industry can do more to drive trends.”

Mills are also doing more to improve on already-proven success stories like stretch and cooling denim.

Advanced Denim introduced FreeTech, a new stretch denim that creates “less muffin top” and lays on the body evenly and comfortably. The mill achieves this fit by adding a proprietary treatment in house to the Lycra in the fabric.

A common gripe among designers and consumers alike is that high stretch denim feels too tight, especially for traveling. FreeTech fabric provides compression, but Advanced Denim marketing director Michael Lam said it’s linear, and so doesn’t press down on the body as hard and uncomfortably as some stretch denim can.

Artistic Denim Mills (ADM) teamed with Brrr, a “triple chill effect” fabric technology, to launch a new breed of cooling denim. The jeans provide an instant cooling effect through a patent-pending design that includes cotton, a cooling nylon and polyester core sheath, and spandex. The result is a fabric that is cool to the touch with advanced wicking and rapid drying properties.

The denim reportedly wicks 2.5-times better than 98 percent cotton and 2 percent spandex denim, and dries up to 47 percent faster than other brands. Plus, it feels 38 percent cooler than other cooling denim technologies, according to the mill.

“Point of sale will be key,” Jack Mathews, ADM director of sales and marketing, said. While most cooling technology works after the wearer sweats, consumers will feel the coolness of Brrr denim immediately—what they see and feel is what they get.

Brrr technology has successfully rolled out in men’s suiting, active wear and home textiles. A lot of trial and error took place in order to implement the technology in denim, but Mathews said that’s part of ADM’s experimental nature. The mill was an early adopter of ProModal and Tencel and was the first mill in Pakistan (and 11th in the world) to run liquid indigo. “We think outside of the box,” he added.

Blue Diamond is reconsidering the modern mill. One of Levi’s main suppliers since the ’90s, the mill is breaking ground this summer on a new mill outside polluted areas of China, Blue Diamond U.S. sales manager Vincenzo Marrocco, said.

The new facility could one day serve as a blueprint for future denim mills. The facility will run entirely on solar power and have its own power grid. The mill will also be fitted with a “high level” water recycling system that will make its in-house indigo process greener. Marrocco said the mill will feature a layout that will better optimize the its efficiency and productivity.

Chinese mill Seazon is seizing new opportunities to grow its business sustainability, too. The mill will expand its capacity by 50 percent this year, growing its number of looms from 420 to 630.

Seazon is also introducing a new intelligent wastewater recycling system to its dyeing and finishing process, which will reuse more than 80 percent of its waste water. The system applies a biological treatment on effluent, and the treated wastewater is reportedly “nearly indistinguishable” from waters of natural origin by the time it’s used in production.

The water system complements Seazon’s clean production process with a solar power system that saves roughly 20 percent industrial power consumption and helps to reduce close to 75,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

Seazon’s efforts are serving to fill a gaping hole in China’s denim industry being left by rampant closures tied to greater government stringency tied to pollution. Manin Yu, Seazon merchandising manager, said the government’s crackdown on pollution has led to the closure of mills and dye houses throughout the Guandgdon province of China. “Where we are, dyeing capacity has decreased by half,” she said.