Discussions about denim often center on silhouettes and washes, from the waning favorability of the skintight, spandex-laden skinny styles of the 2010s to the popularization of looser-fitting wide-leg looks. But a jean’s most unique and compelling characteristics often lie in trims, from labels to buttons and rivets and all the details in between.
In recent seasons, trims manufacturers have been subject to the same pressures as denim-makers themselves when it comes to going green. Using recycled or recyclable materials and designing for disassembly at a garment’s end-of-life stage are some of the considerations on the minds of these makers. Innovative, consciously created products are replacing the deceptively simple elements that have been employed by brands for years.
“Retailers and brands rely on embellishments to help tell their unique story and differentiate themselves in the market, and to connect with consumers,” said Amy Lee, Avery Dennison senior manager of trends and apparel insights. “As we’ve seen across the apparel industry, sustainable solutions are preferred and until recently, there’s been a gap in the market around providing embellishments that are sustainable and don’t compromise bespoke color and graphic stories.”
The company has been developing a suite of products, like labels and embellishments, that its team feels could move the needle in helping brands create fully sustainable offerings. “Our collection of closed-loop woven labels and patches are made from yarns which use post-industrial waste,” Lee said. These elements, which she said maintain similar performance and graphic detail quality to standard recycled polyester, can be dyed to fit a brand’s existing color palette.
Lee has noted a newfound attention to trims in recent years, as brands become more sophisticated in their understanding of their own supply chains, from farm to store shelf. “Brands are looking at every stage of the manufacturing process, from raw materials through to finished goods, and seeing what levers they can pull to lower the environmental impact,” she said. Many have made circular commitments that they hope to achieve within the next decade, if not the next three to five years. “There’s an increasing demand for products which advance the circular economy, with the ultimate goal of reducing waste,” she said. No element—not even a label—is too small to warrant consideration.
Shoppers are also developing a more discerning palette when it comes to consumption habits, prizing quality and longevity, as well as versatility, over going totally trendy. “The denim trend cycle will increasingly reflect this, through seasonless, timeless collections and fewer drops that are created more consciously,” Lee said.
Since they plan on holding onto their purchases longer, many shoppers (84 percent, according to Accenture data) gravitate to personalized products, and they aren’t hesitating to shell out for pieces that feel like they were created just for them. “With our newly launched external embellishment portfolio, Embelex, we can help brands offer differentiated SKUs and customization at scale,” Lee said, like individualized patches and heat transfer applications. As shoppers finally begin to emerge from the cocoon of the Covid crisis, “bold and inventive embellishments” that allow them to make a statement are appealing to their sense of wanting to be seen.
Avery Dennison is also investing in technology that makes it easier for brands and consumers to track the provenance of goods. “As apparel labels become more digital, every item owned will have a unique ID and a means of unlocking vital information about caring for and ultimately recycling the garment,” she projected. “With legislation moving from voluntary to mandatory, the savviest brands will adopt digital IDs and communications platforms early, and design circularity and traceability into their ranges.”
At the heart of French trims supplier Dorlet’s sustainability strategy for the coming seasons is its Wild Project, a line of hardware designed to be removed and recycled. As its name would suggest, the platform represents a radical departure from the traditional trims-building mentality. While the job of a button or a rivet was once to remain attached to its garment forever, CEO Thibault Greuzat believes that easier disassembly is the key to making sure more jeans get recycled.
“We designed this brand-new line of product with screws for buttons and rivets that are easy to remove, reuse and recycle,” he said. The metals are kept “raw” and untreated by chemicals, underscoring the ease with which they can be melted down and recycled. According to Greuzat, the increased functionality also makes them easier to attach, lending speed to the production process. “Through our Wild Project we try to push the brands to use products that are easy to recycle,” he said, “but more than this, we are also promoting items that can survive through several garments’ lives.”
The company is also soldiering forward with its Diabolo removable buttons, which launched in 2020 with a wooden model that was 100-percent biodegradable. Now, the line contains many different versions, from raw brass to Global Recycled Standard-certified (GRS) materials. Consumers can remove the buttons themselves before sending their jeans off to be recycled, or, they can treat the hardware as an opportunity for personalization, switching it out for another version and revitalizing an old pair of jeans in the process.
Greuzat said Dorlet has seen “more and more requests to adapt the trims, considering fabric and fit” amid a change in consumer appetites for looser denim styles. “This is part of our DNA—to design a product that matches with the garment fabric,” he said.
Japan’s foremost fastening products manufacturer YKK is no stranger to circular innovation, having recently released a second-generation removable metal trim selection of shank buttons and rivets, according to sustainability manager Brian La Plante.
“We have taken the learnings from our earlier generation to create a product that can use our standard attachment machinery for application on garments, thereby speeding up production,” he said. “We also designed the product to be much faster and easier to remove at the end of the garment’s life.”
In addition to improving the trims’ functionality, YKK is continuing to develop an expanded portfolio of plating technology. The group’s AcroPlating process, which debuted in a limited capacity in 2019, negates the need for harmful chemicals like cyanide, chromium, and selenium. The low-energy process reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water use, electricity consumption and sludge generation from plating brass. Shiny finishes on zippers, snaps and buttons can be achieved without the same impacts as traditional electroplating.
Moving forward, the company looks to increase “the variety of finishes and the types of products” that can be put through the AcroPlating process, La Plante said. “For example, we can offer our 3Y metal zipper in an AcroPlating silver finish with a recycled polyester tape,” he added, greatly reducing the adverse environmental impacts usually associated with that process.
YKK is also continuing its research into how its trims fit into the circular ecosystem at large. “Over the last year and half, we have run several pilot projects with brands partners to better understand the challenges that trims pose in circular systems,” La Plante said, “and how to design products that are compatible with these systems.” The company is working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to gain a better understanding of the challenges that brands face in creating circular products.
“Interestingly the trend that is impacting our business more than new fits or styling is the requests for our more sustainable products,” he added. “Customers are showing a larger interest in trims made from recycled materials or finished using more environmentally friendly processes than ever before.”
Cadica’s forthcoming range of denim products “are created with a strong sense of responsibility,” commercial director Carlo Parisatto said, aiming for “fewer products, but richer details and ideas.”
According to the Capri, Italy-founded label and hangtag resource, the newest collection was designed to target unisex and gender-neutral styles as a means of reducing waste and sample production. Blending natural materials and organic fibers with recycled elements, “our mission is to give creative but sustainable and workable suggestions for our fashion customers and partners,” Parisatto said.
Cadica services its denim customers with products like woven labels made with Global Organic Textile Standard-certified (GOTS) organic cotton yarn, tags made from recycled paper products from food waste, patches made with fibers from cactus or anana, and buttons made of 100-percent natural corozo—a vegetable ivory derived from palm kernels, hemp, and mother of pearl. The company also offers prints made with bio-based inks, shopping and shipping bags made from pulp derived from renewable wood, and self-assembling boxes that optimize shipping and minimize transport emissions. “We have worked with particular attention on the new ethical-choice items,” Parisatto said, like felt made with recycled plastic, soluble accessories that disappear in water, and bioplastics and biodegradable resins.
Transparency has also become a priority for brands, so detailed information about each of the company’s Ethical Choice products is available, from material makeup to certifications, the group said. “We have created a special selection of accessories starting from key concepts such as quality, duration and re-use,” Parisatto stated. “The Ethical Choice aims at a new sustainable vision which protects society and the environment,” allowing clothes, finishing, packaging, fabrics, materials and fibers to “re-enter the economy after their use, without ever becoming waste.”
Trimco’s latest collection is 80 percent comprised of sustainable or preferred materials, the group’s sustainability coordinator, Lone Mogensen, told Rivet. “Our main goal is to create collections with as high a sustainable material content as possible,” she said—with the aim of reaching 100 percent recycled, recyclable or organic content in the near future.
Recycled polyester yarns have long been a part of the North American and European labeling and trims provider’s repertoire, but it is continuously introducing new materials and natural material blends to reduce plastic usage and waste. One such innovation is SeaCell, a yarn made with seaweed biomass, and the company recently introduced formulations made with eggshells and coffee grounds to complete its roster of unexpected inputs. These elements are blended with flax, cotton, viscose and Repreve’s plastic-waste based polyester fiber and offer their own benefits, like odor control and durability. “We love to explore,” Mogensen said, pointing to another novelty: denim jeans buttons made from abandoned fishnets. “The buttons feature a metal top cap, finished using oxidization rather than electroplating to reduce the usage of chemicals.”
According to Mogensen, these innovations represent but a small selection of the consciously sourced products it aims to integrate, more substantially, into its business moving forward. “We could not remain silent at the changes that drive the world of fashion these days,” she said, including “the increasing number of regulations that brands need to answer to in terms of traceability across their supply chain.”
To service brands better from a transparency standpoint, Trimco’s Product DNA supply chain traceability platform has “becomes the pinnacle of our current work,” Mogensen added, helping brands monitor and report on compliance across their value chains. “As a company with a great focus on sustainability, circularity and traceability have always been priority.”
The need for such a solution is only growing stronger across the company’s client portfolio. “We see a strong tendency to add trims and accessories to denim that comply with the materials used for garments,” Mogensen said. “Look and functionality have to go hand in hand, so we want to secure a long-lasting solution, whether we’re talking organic cotton or pre-loved fibers.”
Today, the company said its customers are looking for “fun and colorful options,” for their trims, and pre-loved fibers are becoming table stakes. Fortunately, going green hasn’t limited their color palettes, and the sustainability coordinator said she was “pleasantly surprised to witness more special requests” like embroidered patches made with recycled polyester or organic cotton.
While reducing reliance on fossil-fuel-based fibers is a slow going process—“we will not get there overnight,” she added—brands should be encouraged to search for sustainable trims. “We believe that sustainability doesn’t bring limitations,” Mogensen said. “On the contrary, it opens to creativity and new ways of thinking.”
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 23-24 In Season Look Book. Click here to read more.