YKK Corp of America, president and CEO
Jim Reed
YKK Corp of America, president and CEO

Deep Dive

YKK Group may not be a denim mill or brand, but Jim Reed, president of YKK Corporation of America sure knows what constitutes a sustainable garment given how many pairs of jeans include the company’s signature product: zippers.

“While innovation is happening every day, many of the materials and processes to create a more sustainable future are available now. It’s just a matter of committing to making the necessary changes,” he said.

YKK has been putting Reed’s thought process into action to encourage more responsible manufacturing across denim. Last October, the company announced YKK Sustainability Vision 2050, a five-pronged strategy that addresses climate change, material resources, water resources, chemical management and human rights as well as 10 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That same month, the company launched the Solutions Group, a consultancy initiative dedicated to providing other manufacturers with product development, manufacturing process improvement, custom machinery and assembly service solutions.

Under Reed’s leadership, YKK signed the Business/Investor Letter in Support of an Ambitious U.S. 2030 Climate Goal, an open letter to President Joe Biden that calls for the U.S. to halve emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

What is the biggest misconception that consumers have about sustainable denim?

One big misconception is that sustainable denim is so much more expensive than conventional denim.  While it’s true that the most sustainable denim using recycled cotton and natural indigo dyes carry a premium price, there are many more affordable options that still use sustainable materials or processes and have lower environmental footprints. But what consumers probably don’t know is that it costs brands more to manufacture jeans using recycled materials so that they have the same look, feel and functionality as those made from virgin materials. Brands are finding innovative ways of driving down the costs of using sustainable materials so that these costs are not passed on to the consumer.

What can the denim industry do to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound?

Embracing sustainability will be key to ensuring a long-term post-pandemic rebound. The industry will need to examine all aspects of business to make them more sustainable. We need to look at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing our use of sustainable materials, reducing our water usage, better managing our wastewater and eliminating the use of harmful chemicals.

We also need to look for suppliers who are socially responsible, as sustainability is not just about environmentalism. We need to address societal needs and maintain ethical standards to provide true stakeholder value rather than just focusing on short-term profits.

I also think we should incorporate more 3-D digitization into the supply chain. This will support the sustainable initiatives of the industry but reduce the number of physical samples produced and shipped around the world for buyer review while at the same time improving the form and fit of the garments.

Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?

Consumers have become accustomed to wearing looser, more comfortable clothing and denim is no exception. They are looking for denim with looser-fitting silhouettes and softer washes. This doesn’t mean that skinny jeans will disappear completely. They will still have a place in consumers’ wardrobes, but they will evolve to become more comfortable with the use of stretch fabrics and softer washes.

How can denim retail improve?

Denim retail needs to make better use of technology to enrich the customer experience and drive greater engagement in both physical locations and online. The use of body scanning technology and personalized service can help to offer an in-store experience to online shoppers. At the same time, services such as on-site repair or customization can drive traffic to physical store locations and create more engaging brand experiences.

How many pairs of jeans do you own?

I own six pairs of jeans.

Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?

I wear the ones with the YKK zippers the most because they are the most comfortable and reliable.