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The Denim Supply Chain is Taking Collaboration to the Next Level

The denim supply chain–from fiber and fabric firms to mills and jeans manufacturers–is leveraging the era of collaboration to offer greater product diversity and performance.

Executives at this week’s Kingpins New York trade show said this move has built partnerships that enhance the quality and depth of the denim market. And the joint effort not only brings their companies into new markets, but it helps stir the creative juices.

At the same time, the ongoing commitment to greater sustainability is being taken to the next level in part by the sharing of technologies and methodologies. After many years of discussing, testing and implementing sustainable practices like water and energy savings techniques and pollution reduction plans, denim makers have realized the financial and image-building benefits.

Ebru Ozaydin, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Artistic Milliners, cited the mill’s recent introduction of a new technology called Crystal Clear, created in collaboration with DyStar and G-Star Raw, which reduces the environmental impact of indigo dyeing. The process achieved Cradle-to-Cradle Gold Certification, the first for denim fabric.

“We’re very proud of that the project and achievement,” Ozaydin said. “Sustainability is in our DNA. The entire process of our manufacturing from fabric to finished product is done with the best sustainable practices.”

Ozaydin showed some new jeans made with organic cotton and Crystal Clear with various effects and a construction that’s meant to be “sustainable but also comfortable.” Crystal Clear uses 70 percent less chemicals and a salt-free dyeing process to save a significant amount of water and reduce the load on the effluent treatment plant, she noted.

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Artistic also has a new project with French designer Tillman Wrobel called Frenchie by Monsieur T. that features coated trench coats and jeans with a semi-shiny soft-hand fabric made with 35 percent Tencel. Ozaydin described the looks as having a Japanese nod, noting the collection is handmade and hand-stitched.

The collaboration generation was on full display as partners Artistic Milliner, Invista, Cordura and Lenzing touted their Supercharged Noir collection. As part of their ongoing partnership, Supercharged Noir is a black performance denim portfolio inspired with “5S” performance attributes–softness, strength, stay black, stretchability and sustainability–using Cordura denim, Invista nylon and Lenzing Tencel and modal fiber technologies, and produced by Artistic.

Now the firms are working “on the next chapter” of their collaboration. According to Cindy McNaull, global Cordura brand and marketing director, the styling and performance attributes of the collection wouldn’t be successful if they didn’t come with costs savings and environmental benefits. Lenzing Modal Black, for one, is estimated to have a 50 percent to 60 percent lower environmental impact then conventional dyed fabric. The process also comes with 64 percent water savings, 90 percent less chemical usage and 64 percent wastewater.

The durability of Cordura denim also allows for less laundering and a longer-lasting pair of jeans, McNaull noted. What’s more, abrasion-resistent jeans have been shown to be have less chafing and overall wear and tear.

“The collaborative projects are drawn from mutual respect and the purpose of leveraging the strengths of all our companies,” McNaull said.

Focusing on its strength of bringing eco-friendly performance fibers to the market, Lenzing said its new Tencel with Refibra technology has been adopted by six brands: Country Road, Patagonia, Our of the Woods, Reformation, Marco Polo and Mara Hoffman. According to Tricia Carey, director of global business development at Lenzing, four more brands are expected to adopt Refibra, which takes the place of traditional Tencel in the fabric construction. Refibra is made using the closed-loop Tencel lyocell production process and is the only commercially available fiber made from recycled cotton and wood pulp.

“It’s not always easy to successfully get a new fiber into the market,” Carey said. “Each mill uses the fiber and has had their own way of innovating with it.”

At Invista’s Lycra brand, Jean Hegedus, Apparel & Advanced Textiles’ global segment leader for denim, said the new Lycra T400 EcoMade has been launched with several mills, including Advance Denim, Artistic Milliners, Soorty and Prosperity Textile. The bi-component fiber uses 50 percent recycled polyester and 18 percent fiber made from plant-based materials, making 68 percent of it sustainable.

“Many companies have 2020 sustainable goals they want to achieve, so this helps them along that road, since it’s replacing virgin polyester with recycled polyester” Hegedus said.

Dominic Poon, CEO of Twin Dragon, discussed the company’s “strong commitment” to being a fully sustainable manufacturer. This includes a new liquid indigo dye the company demonstrated in test tubes at the show, which significantly reduces water usage and eliminates chemicals in the dye process.

“We want our manufacturing to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals,” Poon said. “China has had 20 percent of its mils closed down over their pollution, but our plant had had no problems.”

The company’s Eco-Finishing process reduces water consumption by 15 gallons per yard by eliminating the need for the rinse and desize steps in the garment production process. Twin Dragon combines this with the use of Tencel and Repreve and Sorbtek fibers and EcoSure BioBlast fibers and yarns to create the lowest impact fabric possible, Poon noted.