With an eye toward social responsibility and sustainability, Gilles Cousin studied textile engineering in France before embarking on a career that has spanned continents and categories. “I was very much focused on high-tech textiles, realizing that fibers are definitely everywhere, from medicine, to cars, to PPE,” and of course, apparel, he said.
Working at Moliens, France-based manufacturer Kindy during his time at university taught Cousin about production line automation—a subject that would continue to fascinate him throughout his time in the industry. He moved to Vietnam to join a family-owned knitwear manufacturer after graduation, helping the facility to improve efficiency across each step in the production process, while learning about the nascent arts of material traceability and upcycling.
His interest in the next generation of eco-friendly materials ultimately brought Cousin to Saitex. “I was very much interested in the social and sustainable vision of the company,” he said. At the Vietnam-based vertical denim production facility, Cousin found a wealth of industry expertise that exceeded his expectations, fostering an environment for his own personal growth. The company offered “so much opportunity” for continuous improvement, innovation, investment in new technology and participation in compelling new projects like Saitex’s new U.S. factory.
“Working with most of the main denim actors worldwide, I feel that the company has the power to change the actual way of jeans manufacturing, if not garment manufacturing,” he said.
What is the biggest misconception that consumers have about sustainable denim?
I have the chance to consider sustainable denim from a transformation process point of view. From the selection of the raw material, trims, accessories, through the time of development, the utilization of the material, the reduction of waste, and how we recycle the remaining waste. I consider how to reduce the production steps, in what equipment we need to invest, how to reduce further water consumption, chemical consumption and energy consumption—as well as how we measure our social impact, and whether our jeans are traceable or can be upcycled.
Laser is not the miracle solution, and 100 percent cotton does not mean your jean is sustainable. Washing a sustainable jean does not, as a consumer, reduce your impact on the environment.
The topic is so vast. The biggest misconception would be to think that you have find the perfect brand. I can only encourage to discover, search, learn more about the vision and the action of the industry actors. Build your own opinion, understand your own impact on the environment and your role in developing a circular economy.
What can the denim industry do to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound?
Anticipate the rebound of orders. Shorten lead times. Invest in new, innovative equipment. The pandemic was rough for every factory. Somehow, it’s had a positive impact on country like France where new industry relocation projects are ongoing.
Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?
No objective answer from me here—I’m wearing exclusively skinny jeans. Models always go and come back. It will become shorter, hide itself under a tapered nickname, but it will come back when the other fit will be out of breath.
How can denim retail improve?
Less quantity, more personalization. Educating the consumer on the manufacturing process, being fully transparent. Developing an exchange concept—new jeans for old jeans. Upcycling the old ones.
How many pairs of jeans do you own?
Most probably five pairs.
Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?
1083 skinny jeans made in France from 98 percent cotton, two percent elastane for comfort and traceability.