The Lycra Company, chief brand and innovation officer
Steve Stewart
The Lycra Company, chief brand and innovation officer

Deep Dive

As chief brand and innovation officer for The Lycra Company, Steve Stewart oversees the company’s integrated technology and strategic marketing teams and is tasked with accelerating the pace and impact of innovative products and platforms for brands and retailers.

Prior to this role, Stewart was based in Shanghai for eight years and led commercial operations as vice president of the Asia region with the formation of The Lycra Company. Before his career with Lycra Co. predecessor Invista, he worked for Boeing, Dupont, and WL Gore & Associates.

In June, The Lycra Company introduced a new campaign aimed at advancing discussions around circularity in textiles. The print and online advertising campaign, “Keep in the loop with Lycra,” is an invitation for customers and industry experts to join Lycra in using resilient, sustainable materials that can be recycled at end of life, reducing textile waste and “closing the loop” in the value chain.

Most recently, The Lycra Company entered a broad-based collaboration across multiple technology and brand platforms with HeiQ aimed at bringing innovative, quality-enhancing, and sustainable textiles to consumers around the world. “By combining the strength of both companies, we will continue to drive meaningful innovation within the textile industry, delivering new solutions at a quicker pace to a broader audience,” Stewart said.

The first of many innovation platforms will roll out through the summer, delivering HeiQ freshness and antiviral benefits with the quality and comfort of stretch fabrics certified to perform with a new Lycra freshFX technology brand standard.

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

That if a pair of jeans has one sustainable component or claim, that means the entire garment is sustainable.

When we think of sustainability holistically, many factors go into making a sustainable pair of jeans.  For example, were they made using low-impact materials? Were they manufactured using sustainable practices?  Were the people making my jeans treated fairly and ethically? Is the garment durable so it can provide long wear life, and can it be recycled at the end of life?  It’s becoming increasingly important to tell the full story of a garment. Luckily, through third-party certifications, tracking and tracing technologies, QR codes, and the like, the tools are available to do just that. It may take some time to secure broad scale adoption but employing these tools can help consumers differentiate between greenwashing and a pair of jeans that are truly sustainable.

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

As we come out of the pandemic, we know that today’s consumers place a greater value on garments that last longer. They also show a strong desire to invest in fewer better-quality garments over more disposable clothing. Garments made with recycled consumer and textile waste are becoming more everyday offerings. The good news is that consumer awareness is heightened, and there is a sense of urgency as consumers demand change.

Therefore, it is the industry’s responsibility to help educate consumers, avoid any form of greenwashing that can add to the confusion, and provide consumer-friendly product claims that can be substantiated with clear proof points but, more importantly, are relevant to today’s conscious consumer.

Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?

Denim has its own cycle, just like any other fashion item, and that will not change. The cycle is closely connected with human psychology, consumer sentiment, and messaging from the fashion industry around new styles and trends. All of this means that consumers are ready for a change. Skinny jeans will undoubtedly stay as a staple in many wardrobes, but the technology and how we produce these garments will change and improve with advancements in sustainable sourcing.

How can denim retail improve?

Retail is fully omnichannel now. We must consider brick-and-mortar, online and social media platforms and continue to adapt to consumers' changing needs. By listening to the consumer, we can continue innovating and evolving to suit their buying preferences and values.

Artificial intelligence and virtual reality will improve the customer buying experience and help us to design and manufacture garments in a more intelligent, efficient way. This, combined with the science of data, will continue to allow us to customize our offerings for the end consumer, considering different needs and offerings.

We all must continue to put sustainability on the forefront, educating our consumers on the different ways that the fashion industry is reducing its impact on the planet.

How many pairs of jeans do you own?

More than 30. I have jeans in my current rotation from American Eagle, Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger and Uniqlo, including some great classic selvedge jeans. When shopping for jeans, I try to focus on those brands that meet my needs for comfort, style, and fit because then I know they’ll be keepers.

Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?

My go-to everyday jeans are American Eagle’s slim or slim straight designs with Lycra fiber, of course, and in a cut that are not Dad jeans!