Investments in high-level talent and technology that will make Los Angeles’ denim sector more sustainable and efficient are no longer an unattainable pipe dream, according to Carlos Arias, DenimFWD CEO.
“The technology, I believe, is at a point where now there is no excuse to produce jeans using traditional methods,” the former Jeanologia executive told Rivet.
That advancement in technology is what brands are looking and what DenimFWD, a new “urban factory” and laundry, aims to offer.
Traditional laundries that require a significant amount of labor and are unable to measure sustainability are not coming back, Arias said. With no stone, no potassium permanganate and no chlorine on the menu—the purpose of DenimFWD is to integrate technology from industry leaders to develop advanced manufacturing and sustainable solutions. Using state-of-the-art digital tools powered by technology partners like Jeanologia, Ortery and Kornit, the facility supports the streamlining of finishing, design and development, minimizing samples and significantly reducing time to market.
“We wanted to implement technology that can help the industry become more sustainable and more digital, and service consumers in a more responsible way,” he said.
Located 20 miles outside of Downtown Los Angeles in California’s City of Industry, the 2,300-square-feet center is currently operating for digital printing to garment, digital printing to fabric and product development for denim finishing and garment dyeing. There, it houses Jeanologia’s latest water-saving laser and ozone finishing technologies, Kornit’s PrestoMax printer, which is built to handle rolls of fabric, and the AtlasMax, a printer capable of printing up to 150 shirts per hour.
In short, DenimFWD is filling the technological gaps in L.A.’s denim sector, which Arias said might ultimately incentivize brands to produce closer to home. By keeping minimums low, small brands and independent designers gain access to the top-tier sustainable technology they’ve previously been priced-out from using, but the technology can also be scaled up for mid-sized production and be replicated elsewhere for larger productions.
For denim, Arias said the facility can produce approximately 5,000 pieces per day.
“We are looking to push the envelope when it comes to integrating technology,” he said. “We think it is going to make our industry faster, more sustainable and more connected with consumers.”
The decision to establish a DenimFWD was based on the Guatemalan-based investor group’s mission to take a holistic approach to sustainable technology, rather than try to replace parts of the laundry process with eco alternatives. Additionally, Arias said the group saw an underserved on-demand model in the U.S.
“We saw brands with [lead times] months to a year away, but consumers want what they want now,” he said. “It is almost impossible—maybe even cruel—to ask merchandisers, buyers and designers to figure out what consumers want so long in advance.”
Designing and finishing denim garments with the latest sustainable technologies is becoming more accessible in L.A.
Saitex opened this year its long-awaited U.S. cutting, sewing and laundry operations in Vernon, Calif., where it can churn out 1,000 pairs of jeans a day. For the facility, Saitex invested in a $2 million H2Zero filtration system to remove chemicals and dyes, cutting the average impact of a single pair of jeans from 80 liters of water to just 1.5 liters.
In January 2020, Artistic Milliners announced its acquisition of an existing L.A. wash and finishing facility, which it rebranded as Star Fades International (SFI). The facility provides turnkey and custom wash and finishing services to a customer roster that ranges from large international retailers to specialty premium labels.
Arias said he sees opportunities with high-end brands in the U.S. as well as developing smaller capsules for mainstream brands that want to market test products before mass producing them. There’s also the appeal of offering “finished in L.A.” products as consumers begin to delve deeper into learning how garments are made.
Though Arias said the plan for DenimFWD is to replicate the setup in other denim production hubs, L.A. is top of mind for now.
“L.A. still has a highly creative tradition, and investments in the right technology could propel more investment,” he said. “What we hope is that this can be a showcase for others to do similar.”