The buzz around sustainable denim has never been louder, but is the supply chain setting consumers up for failure?
“Responsible consumption starts with us as fabric producers,” said Katie Tague, Artistic Milliners VP of marketing and sales. “We need to set consumers up for success with biodegradable fibers and good EIM scoring washes. We need to educate and be responsible on our end.”
At Kingpins New York, experts discussed how greenwashing, inconsistent reporting, and various interpretations of what it means to consume responsibly have formed a gray area in the green market. A recent survey by The Lycra Company found that more than 50 percent of consumers in five different countries said they would like to buy sustainable products, but they don’t know what a truly sustainable product is.
Similar sentiments were expressed in a recent survey by IFM-Première Vision Chair, a research partnership between Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) and the trade show organizer. The report found the 90.5 percent of the 6,000 respondents it surveyed in France, Italy, Germany, the U.K. and U.S. intend to change the way they buy clothes. They just need to be better educated about why and what they should buy instead.
Among those who do not yet buy sustainable fashion, 40.2 percent of respondents in France and 49 percent of respondents in the U.S. say they are “held back by a lack of information.” In the same population, more than one customer out of three claims to not know where to find such products.
“There is a lot of confusion, and the industry needs to step up,” said Jean Hegedus, The Lycra Company sustainability director.
There’s also a level of frustration within the denim community among brands and suppliers that want customers to value and understand their achievements. Companies with sustainable visions are playing the long game, however, standing by innovations for years even before clients warm up to the concepts.
Lycra has experienced this first with recycled polyester products and again with bio-based products, and while the company has been telling a durability story for years with Lycra dualFX and T400, it’s a quality that brands and customers have just begun to focus on. Brands, she added, are having success now with durability messages like Levi’s “Buy Better, Wear Longer” campaign.
“It’s ok to be ahead of the time. Stick with it,” Hegedus said. “In the past few years, brands and retailers have developed goals and publicly committed to them. Now they need to source those fibers.”
Greenwashing and unchecked claims are pain points that companies working toward sustainability must contend with as well.
“Greenwashing is super destructive to the industry. It erodes confidence and it’s confusing,” Tague said. “Traceability is the only way to make sure that greenwashing isn’t effective.”
Artistic Milliners works with Retraced, an all-in-one platform that helps fashion and textile companies digitize their supply chains, manage their compliance data, and gain full transparency. Through the Retraced app, the mill makes it possible to trace the cotton that it uses back to the ginning stage and educate users about its wash formulas with EIM scores. Brands can use this information in their communication to consumers.
The challenge in being fully traceable, Tague added, is the cost of traceability technologies and the stakeholders involved on so many levels. “You have to invest in it knowing that it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
The rewards of being on the same page as stakeholders are invaluable. “Sustainability is a complex area and there’s no way one company can talk about the topic on their own, even on behalf of their own company,” Hegedus said. “Partnerships are critical to the process.”
As a B2B company, Calik Denim is challenged with sharing its sustainable message with the end consumer. But Calik Denim product marketing manager Çiğdem Kaçar said collaborations with brands that share the message open opportunities to start a dialogue.
The brand achieved this when it launched the size-inclusive and inventory-friendly Always Fits with Good American. Each pair of Always Fits jeans covers a range of 3-4 sizes, remaining flexible for women throughout their lifetime. In turn, this contributes to sustainability as it mitigates returns and the need to discard jeans that no longer fit.
“Collaborations [like these] allow you to get your message out in a more effective way,” she said. “They amplify your message.”
“Surround yourself with partners that have your values and level of commitment to make these changes,” Tague added. “You must have people who are willing to do the work. Partnership is important but having the right partners is even more important.”