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Indian Denim Mills Sound Off on Denim’s Circular Future

Denim isn’t going anywhere—but it is evolving, according to experts from Indian denim mills.

Executives discussed denim’s optimistic future at a Carved in Blue webinar on Tuesday, highlighting the industry’s move to circularity, its emphasis on transparency and how to embrace changing consumer demand. All of these new priorities are expected to lessen the issue of waste in fashion—and with landfills receiving 11.2 million tons of textile waste annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, improvements are crucial.

Denim mill Arvind Limited has taken steps to lessen its impact by adopting water-saving techniques and implementing mechanical and chemical recycling methods. But while this is a clear step in the right direction, it doesn’t come without its hurdles.

Aditya Goyal, managing director of denim mill Anubha, urged the industry to proceed with caution when implementing recycling solutions, as they can sometimes degrade the quality of the product—and a low-quality product can ultimately just end up creating more waste.

“I am slightly concerned with the amount of effort that is going into the mechanical recycling pits,” he said, adding that there will “always be a challenge as to what happens at the next stage.”

Goyal noted that chemical recycling also has some downsides, including the energy required to facilitate the process, which increases a company’s carbon footprint. Despite this, he considers it to be an overall positive shift in the industry.

“If the products can be brought back to a significantly good condition in terms of strength, and if it can save waste from going to a landfill, then yes, it’s the better of two evils because it will definitely improve the overall lifecycle of the product, it will add a few more years to its life and it may enhance the durability of the reborn products,” he said.

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Like most sustainable initiatives, real change can only be made at scale. As consumers call for more responsible supply chains, the industry may feel more pressure to change for the better.

Part of this requires more transparency, which has become a buzzword throughout industries of all kinds. However, total transparency may not currently be a viable demand. Without a real sense of what goes into all of the denim supply-chain processes, consumers won’t know how to interpret all of the information they’re given.

Delivering the right amount of transparency without overwhelming a consumer requires some trust in the company, said Arvind CEO Aamir Akhtar, who compared achieving the right balance to choosing a restaurant for dinner.

“If you go to a restaurant, you don’t go to the kitchen, but you say ‘I trust this restaurant, and this kitchen has everything that I want,’” he said.

By producing a quality product and working with ethical suppliers who pay a living wage, mills can provide the framework necessary for gaining consumer trust.

“If industries have not been transparent about their practices, we’ve seen that large companies have come to a closure,” he said. “So, the stakes are so high, and I believe brands have become extremely sensitive towards it.”