Alberto Candiani, the owner of the Italian mill Candiani Denim, is a little bit like a mad scientist. What the fourth-generation denim guru lacks in a formal science background, he more than makes up for with out-of-the-box ideas and the audacity to put words into actions.
His latest venture, Candiani Vision, adds a visual storytelling element to one of the mill’s most profound innovations, Coreva technology, the first stretch denim that is 100 percent biodegradable and compostable. Located just a short walking distance from the mill’s Milanese denim boutique that houses jeans from its brand partners and customization services, Candiani Vision is a 1,075-square-foot-storefront dedicated to bridging the gap between science and fashion.
Opening a second store in a fractured retail environment is a bold choice for an ingredient brand such as Candiani Denim, but the company is well-versed in the challenges and opportunities that come with selling sustainability to the supply chain.
“I really like when customers come over and they see what we do because I always say that if you don’t see something, you can’t really understand what it is about,” Candiani said. “And if you do not understand, you cannot appreciate it and if you don’t appreciate, you’re probably not going to buy it.”
The same “seeing is believe” solution applies to consumers as well. The store features a custom installation by Matteo Ward, the co-founder of WRÅD, a design company dedicated to sustainable innovation and social change, that outlines the entire process of denim fabric being composted in soil and fertilizing new plant life.
“From day one we worked with the Candiani team to create a creative communication concept and in-store experience capable of representing the circular promise of Coreva in a simple and human way,” Ward said.
Together, Ward and Candiani landed on the “magic” of Coreva as being the focal point of Candiani Vision. Using mint as an example of what Coreva technology can help grow, the store encourages consumers to explore various plant-filled stations and an interactive touch wall that helps “connect the dots” between bio-based elastic and the benefits that come with it, like durability and compostability. The space is enhanced with direct and simplified text like “from stretchie to veggie” and elements from the jean-making process.
Candiani Vision opened last week ahead of Milan Fashion Week. Though there are fewer international visitors compared to pre-pandemic events, Candiani said they sped up the development of the store for it to be part of the “vibrant and positive” vibe uplifting the city as Covid restrictions loosen.
Candiani introduced Coreva in 2019 as an alternative to synthetic yarns. By using an elastomer made from natural rubber, Coreva eliminates plastic-based synthetic elastomers (which are commonly obtained from fossil fuels) from denim fabric without compromising the elasticity, quality and durability of a pair of jeans. This, Candiani states, creates a circular model in which raw materials become fabric, then garment, and finally, return to nature at the end of their useful life thanks to their compostable credentials.
Candiani is adamant that Coreva is “leading the circular model” and ultimately “will prevail.” And it’s for this reason the mill is not interested in servicing the fast-fashion industry. Coreva fabrics are 50-60 percent more expensive than regular Candiani fabrics, which are typically considered too expensive for fast-fashion brands, but that hasn’t stopped some from reaching out to Candiani.
“They came to us, but I don’t want to supply those guys for the simple reason that even if they’re willing to buy Coreva, they would just make a tiny capsule for their windows and editorials,” Candiani said. “It’s a greenwashing-type of operation which we’re not willing to facilitate.”
Now available in 15 fabrics, the mill plans to scale production of Coreva fabrics to one million yards in 2022 and exceed two million yards in 2023. Candiani said he is hopeful that “we can go 100 percent Coreva within the next five or six years.” The mill is also working on adding a “traceability package” to all its fabrics.
Coreva technology, which opened to international markets this year, has already been adopted by eco-conscious brands like Boyish, Closed, Kings of Indigo and Stella McCartney. It is also the focus of a capsule collection created by Dondup denim designer Chicco Barina. Available exclusively at Candiani Vision, the collection includes men’s and women’s 5-pocket jeans and denim shirts made with rigid-looking Coreva fabrics that have 20 percent elasticity.
Candiani likens the collection to the souvenirs found in a museum’s gift shop. “The ‘wow’ factor is very relevant [in the store],” he said. “If you visit the installation and if you love it, then you just want a piece of it.”