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2020 in Review: Denim Industry Banded Together to Offer Pandemic Relief

Denim brands and mills were among the year’s many unlikely heroes.

The unprecedented events of 2020 challenged people across the world to devise creative solutions to the damage the pandemic left in its path. Healthcare workers were forced to face a virus with insufficient access to protective gear, unemployment rates surged, hospitals were overrun with sick patients, and even basic items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper were in severely short supply.

Much of the denim industry responded by pausing regularly scheduled production and utilizing facilities for essential items such as face masks, personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitization products. Others donated money and resources to local and global organizations dedicated to Covid-19 relief.

Mask up

If there was one single item that defined the entirety of 2020, it was the face mask. Denim brands of all sizes came together to produce the product, oftentimes tapping into their deadstock fabric from previous collections and charging nothing more than the cost of production.

Many L.A.-based brands were called together under the LA Protects act, an initiative to utilize the city’s garment industry for the manufacturing of protective gear and medical supplies. The program was started in partnership with apparel brand Reformation and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, with goals of producing five million non-medical masks to support the city’s essential workers. The initiative garnered the support of L.A-based denim brands such as Sanctuary Clothing and Paige. Not only did it help provide necessary equipment for essential workers, but it also kept many workers employed.

“Know that it really is a priority for us to save this industry and get it back on its feet quickly,” Garcetti told Sourcing Journal in April.

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Other brands to shift to mask production included Citizens of Humanity, Zace Denim, Mother, Denim Strong and Hudson Jeans, the latter of which used mask-generated revenue to cover employee wages, and donated the rest to a local nonprofit.

But it’s not just brands getting involved. Trims maker Talon International shifted to producing 3-ply face masks, medical-grade face shields, cloth masks, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, gloves and medical gowns. It also donated a portion of its proceeds to the Feeding America organization.

Lenzing partnered with Austrian textile company Palmers Textil AG to launch Hygiene Austria LP GmbH, which began producing and selling protective masks for the domestic and European markets in May. Meanwhile, Isko debuted Isko Vital, a range of reusable and washable masks with antimicrobial protection.

Aside from face coverings, there was additional equipment that was in short supply earlier this year. Kontoor Brands, the parent company of Wrangler and Lee, got to work producing nearly 50,000 Level 1 patient gowns and 10,000 disposable isolation gowns at its owned and operated manufacturing facilities—and its supply-chain partners contributed as well. Copen United Limited and Cotswold Industries donated patient gown fabric, YKK contributed zippers, and Precision Fabrics Group, Inc. provided disposable protective fabric for the isolation gowns.

Greenwood Mill in Greenwood, S.C., also shifted production to hospital gowns and non-medical-grade masks—a significant pivot, as the facility estimated it was able to produce 500,000 masks and 300,000 gowns per week.

Denim brands and mills responded to the pandemic by shifting production to face masks and PPE and donating to relief organizations.
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Sanitization shift

Companies moved swiftly to develop new technologies that would help fight the spread of Covid. Spanish finishing technology company Jeanologia converted its G2 ozone technology into a “sanitization box” for plastic face shields worn by emergency workers on the front lines. In a span of just four days, the company took technology typically used to sustainably wash down jeans and used it to save lives.

“We are living in what we call ‘radical uncertainty,’” Jeanologia president Enrique Silla told Rivet in April. “The situation changes every day, so we are just trying to move fast and react to the situation.”

Garment and finishing machinery company Tonello launched SaniCare, a suite of sanitizing technology that uses ozone to sanitize and disinfect items at various stages, from manufacturing facilities to the shop floor.

Color and specialty chemicals company Archroma also shifted its offerings for the greater good. In May, the company pivoted from aniline-free indigo and natural dyestuff to hand sanitizer developed in accordance with the World Health Organization recommendations. A month prior, Archroma created a new thickener for sanitizing gels and provided antimicrobial and barrier products to face mask and PPE manufacturers.

Community support

In addition to providing their manufacturing services and sanitization technologies, the denim industry also offered community and financial support.

Warp + Weft collected and matched donations for nonprofit organization No Kid Hungry to help provide meals to children in need. Others brands donated profits from their collection to community organizations. Men’s denim brand Trinidad3 Jeans contributed $20 from every pair of jeans sold from its latest collection to a local relief organization. Similarly, New York City-based retailer Knickerbocker designed a special edition T-shirt from which all proceeds were donated to a different local small business each week.

Women’s apparel retailer Maurices donated $250,000 to a number of hospitals in the U.S., including those near its Duluth, Minn., headquarters, to support healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Premium denim brand Diesel donated 10 percent of all online purchases made in April to the OTB Foundation, which helped install air and surface sanitizers at three Italian hospitals. The brand also established a fund to support employees most affected by the pandemic.

Levi’s also supported past and present employees through its Red Tab Foundation. This year alone, the organization provided more than $1.75 million in relief efforts. The brand also donated millions of dollars to local and global organizations supporting healthcare workers and communities most vulnerable to the virus.