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Fast Retailing’s Jeans Innovation Center Ramps Up Efforts to Reduce Water Use

Fashion and sustainability don’t necessarily exist in silos, and Fast Retailing, parent company of Uniqlo, is proof of that.

The company has adopted technologies and sustainable processes that will allow it to reduce the amount of water used in jean production by 90 percent to 99 percent starting in 2020. To achieve this goal, Fast Retailing is putting in place a series of sustainable technologies and alternatives to traditional washing and finishing techniques.

The company is replacing traditional washing machines with “Nano-bubble” technology and pumice stones with more resilient “eco stones.” For lighter washes that typically produce chemical waste from residual indigo dye, it is using ozone washing technology. The water used in this process filters through a recycling system to redistribute it through the process.

Meanwhile, taking a page out of Levi’s playbook, the company is replacing manual finishing with laser technology to achieve distressing and vintage affects. Laser enables the company to produce 60 pairs of jeans in the time it would have taken to make 10. With these methods in place, the company reports that it is able to produce a pair of jeans using almost no water.

These advancements have been in the making since the company opened its Los Angeles-based jeans research and development hub, Jeans Innovation Center (JIC), in 2016. The center was built specifically as a place to ideate sustainable technologies and methods to lessen Fast Retailing’s carbon footprint.

In an interview with Nikkei Asian Review, Masaaki Matsubara, chief operating officer of Fast Retailing JIC, said sustainability is top of mind.

“Our vision is of a near future when denim production is much cleaner and less resource-intensive, and the center is helping to make that a reality for customers everywhere around the world,” he said.

Fast Retailing’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond denim. The company recently announced plans to replace plastic shopping bags with eco-friendly paper bags across all of its 3,500 stores. By the end of 2020, this will reduce the company’s use of plastic by 85 percent. It also aims to become certified by the Responsible Down Standard by 2020 and switch to 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2025.