Kontoor Brands senior director of global sustainable business Roian Atwood is somewhat of a wonk for denim sustainability.
Roian Atwood is a perfectionist, which might seem difficult in the fickle world of fashion.
“It comes from a deep critical nature—I am often not satisfied with mediocracy or the status quo,” said Atwood, who leads sustainability strategy, and engages suppliers globally to drive greater social and environmental performance for Wrangler and Lee at Kontoor Brands. “I’m always looking for better.”
He’s also somewhat of a wonk for denim sustainability. While waxing on soil management and sustainable cotton practices, he said Wrangler’s history of starting on the farm and the ranch, led the company to focus on the concept of land stewardship and the idea of soil conservation and protecting the environment “as a universal truth.”
“When I think of the Wrangler brand and what it embodies—its history, its heritage, the connectivity it has in our society—I love the Wrangler brand,” he said. “It started with the rancher and that ruggedness, and today we’re taking those learnings and applying it to a go-forward strategy. It’s not about managing cattle on a ranch anymore, it’s about solving some big global challenges.”
Why are you drawn to denim?
I love denim because it’s universal clothing. It’s the type of thing that equalizes people no matter what your walk of life. You can use denim in workwear all the way up to business attire.
How can the supply chain improve the way it communicates sustainable technology to brands?
The denim supply chain can improve the way it communicates sustainability to brands through a transparent sharing of impact data. By sharing the true impact of processes and an individual suppliers’ net footprint on the planet, it really helps a brand determine the long-term viability of that relationship.
How do you think the denim supply chain will change in the next 10 years?
We are seeing a rapid rate of change today. Ten years from now is really hard to predict, but I think we are going to see an incredible assimilation of new technology that minimizes some of the most impactful and most significant environmental consequences. And I’m excited for that. I think that we’re going to see greater adoption of new finishes, new materials, new innovations in circularity, and I think the world and the consumer is ready for that innovation.
What makes the denim supply chain different from other apparel sectors?
When I think of the denim supply chain and how it differs from other sectors, one is that we have an intense amount of finishing. Of course, there’s finishing in other places, but not the way we have it in denim. Our finishing is probably one of the longest—we have a wash finishing time of over four hours. The other really unique factor is the way we apply indigo, and [it] has its own unique machinery and chemistry. Lastly, is our longstanding commitment to natural fibers. Even though we do have synthetics and stretch today, we also have a longstanding use of plant-based cellulosic fibers.
What’s exciting you about denim in 2019?
What I find exciting about denim in 2019 is the sheer amount of energy that the industry has for innovation, that the industry is demonstrating for collaboration around issues like circularity, around issues like shared platforms. This is a little bit like the dot com explosion—not all technologies will survive and succeed, some of them might have been offered prematurely or haven’t been fully dialed, but those that have thought through the commercialization and the overall adoption of their technology into the marketplace are going to be successful.