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Kingpins24: Water Conservation Requires Big-Picture Strategies

With a diverse range of waterless dyeing and finishing processes, the denim industry is slowly becoming less thirsty. But while these advancements have helped reduce the industry’s burden on the environment, there’s still a long way to go—and according to experts, the solution doesn’t necessarily lie in a new technology. During a Kingpins24 panel last week, experts explained that real water savings requires a big-picture approach.

For starters, companies need to be more transparent, said Besim Ozek, director of strategy and business development at Turkish denim mill Bossa.

“We should announce our figures very openly to the market,” he said. “Brands and retailers should be aware of the figures, and they should decide [who they work with accordingly].”

Transparency has become a buzzword in recent years as companies throughout the supply chain struggle to communicate their sustainability efforts. The antidote to greenwashing, transparency serves as a system to prove what’s real and what’s simply marketing.

Hasan Mumtaz, COO at Naveena Denim Mills, shared figures associated with the company’s circular water initiative. According to Mumtaz, Naveena is treating and recycling 70 percent of the water it uses for the surrounding community’s consumption. He reported that almost 800 to 900 families will benefit from the water—and it’s statistics like these that can help substantiate a company’s claims and build trust in the industry.

The right fibers can also make all the difference in water savings, according to Bart van de Woestyne, creative director at Prosperity Textiles, who highlighted recycled cotton as a game-changing fiber in terms of water usage.

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Recycled cotton has been an increasingly popular fiber in recent years as the industry becomes more aware of water-saving and circular-focused solutions. Circularity initiatives such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign Program are also driving a greater adoption of recycled and recyclable fibers.

Elisabete Oliviera, head of research and development at Pakistan-based Denim Clothing Company, says real water savings starts at the design stage. She called on designers to be more involved in the product, noting that plenty of water-saving technology exists—they just need more adopters.

“Everyone on the technology and industrial sides [is] working really hard to make new technology using less water,” she said. “But if the designer doesn’t think about a sustainable product, all these efforts will [be for nothing]. If the designer requests a sustainable product, everyone will have to invest in new technology, because it is where the business is going.”

She also feels more responsibility should be given to marketing teams, noting that brands currently focus too much on selling a silhouette and not enough on selling the sustainability story.

“I know that that’s what fashion sells—glamor—but we should also be more conscious of [the way we communicate sustainability],” she said.