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The Modern Definition of Denim

Surprisingly until now, there does not seem to be one definitive history of denim. It is widely recognized that the origin of the word denim is from the term ‘serge de Nimes.’ However this fabric is thought to have been made from a blend of silk and wool fibers, and that it dates back to pre-17th century France.

In recent history, denim has been produced primarily from cotton fibers and the primary connection between denim and serge de Nimes seems to be that they are both twill weave constructions. The word “jean” also once referred to a fabric rather than a garment—a durable cotton-linen or cotton-wool blend that came from Genoa, Italy.

Denim reached America in the late 18th century, but the words “jean” and “denim” meant different fabrics into the 19th century. “Denim” was used for work clothes; “jean” did not have the durability of denim and was used for dressier apparel.

The history of denim, as we know it, really starts in the mid-1800s and was commonly regarded as a durable cloth made from cotton fibers colored with indigo dye. In 1838, the Amoskeag Mfg. Co. is founded in New Hampshire and by the mid 1860s is producing a durable cloth made from cotton fibers colored with indigo dye. A decade later, it becomes a key supplier to Levi Strauss, which for decades supplied the fabric used by laborers in coal mines, steel mills, and railroads building the American heritage. Denim became a democracy and has had a long history through the centuries.

Today, we find ourselves in a technological age where the distribution of ideas happens instantly via the internet and social media sites. Denim still remains very much a part of our culture—as a blank canvas to express style, emotions and mood of the times.

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Over the past several years, we have seen a notable change in denim. Denim no longer has to be made entirely from cotton, as now there are fabrics blended with fibers like spandex, polyester, wool, linen, and Tencel Lyocell. Multi-fiber blended fabrics deliver a greater range of aesthetics and performance. Denim is always about fit, but now denim does not have to be woven; it can be a knit. Denim does not have to be only for jeans, as it can also be in dresses, shirts and jackets. The ingenuity of new laundry finishing techniques provides options that previously were not thought possible.

Sustainable denim

The Lenzing Denim Team established the Sustainable Denim Wardrobe starting back in 2017 in order to promote ecologically conscious consumption. Lenzing is a wood-based cellulosic fiber producer based in Austria with production facilities in America, Europe and Asia. It is a showcase to demonstrate the breadth of possibilities that exist for products made from Lenzing fibers via the garment laundry route. The collection is designed to cover the breadth of the Lenzing fiber portfolio, so as well as Tencel Lyocell, Tencel Modal are joined by Tencel Luxe, Tencel x Refibra Lyocell and Tencel Modal with Eco Color technologies.

The latest version of the Sustainable Denim Wardrobe goes under the headline of Blues and Hues. The collection contains the expected and unexpected, alongside the perfect and imperfect. The expected in the shape of staple blue indigos which dominate the men’s styles and the unexpected in the textures and colors that make the ladies styles standout. Prepared-for-dye featherweight fabrics are perfectly contrasted against imperfect lasered surfaces.

This Latin influenced collection features different interpretations of softness, souped-up staples and textures that are pile, puckered and patchwork.

Minimization of the use of water, chemistry and energy continues to be the technical theme of this collection. Therefore we are delighted to once again be teaming up with the best-in-class proponents in this area—Jeanologia—whose latest color removal and color addition technologies are widely employed here.

Circularity in denim

The circular economy gives us an opportunity to rethink and redesign the way we make stuff. It is estimated that every year 80 percent of fashion garments end up in landfills and that is why Lenzing has developed an innovative new business model as a practical solution to promote circular economy in the apparel industry with the launch of Refibra technology in lyocell fibers.

The Refibra branded Lyocell fiber is the first commercial-scale cellulose fiber featuring chemically recycled material. Made from a blend of pulps that include post-industrial cotton scraps and wood, this new generation of Tencel Lyocell fiber represents the ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ process. Refibra technology recently achieved the Recycled Claim Standard, which certifies that all production processes in its entire supply chain adhere to the proper steps that ensure the final product’s integrity. A special manufacturing process makes it possible to identify the Refibra fiber in the finished garment.

Take a peek at the denim capsule collection designed by Adriano Goldschmied and featuring fabrics developed with Refibra fibers. Adriano first began working with Tencel lyocell back in the mid-1990s with the launch of his AGoldE label. Because he is a strong advocate for sustainable practices in denim, Lenzing commissioned Adriano to design this 21st century capsule collection featuring fabrics from eight global premium denim mills, with design, production, and laundry processing taking place in his Los Angeles studio.

Future Black

Lenzing Modal BLACK is made using a dope dyeing technique that introduces the pigment during the production process. Unlike other materials where the color will begin to fade as pigment is worn away or washed out, Lenzing Modal Black has lasting color within the fiber. The fabric shows no sign of color loss even after 50-plus washes.

Due to the large and growing consumer demand for black jeans which retain their color, we’ve worked with the global supply chain to develop fabrics using Lenzing Modal Black. Not only will Lenzing Modal Black give manufacturers a fiber that never loses its color, but it also demonstrates Lenzing’s commitment to sustainable production.

Compared to other dyeing techniques, Lenzing Modal Black only uses 20 percent of the pigment required with spun-dye fiber. Additionally, research has shown that fabric made with Lenzing Modal Black fiber uses 50 percent less energy, has a reduced carbon footprint by 60 percent, and requires only 50 percent of the water typically used in production compared to conventionally dyed fabrics.

CHAMBRAY 24/7 with TENCEL Lyocell

At its launch, the apparel business quickly warmed to indigo chambray fabric made from Tencel Lyocell fibers and it soon became a classic product. Today, chambray with Tencel Lyocell has become a core base for many fabric mills and core basic in many women’s wear fashion collections. From discount and mass market to contemporary and designer, every brand has their own take on chambray with Tencel Lyocell.  But wherever it is seen, the distinctive aesthetic means that it is unequivocally Tencel Lyocell.

The collection is designed to broaden the use of chambray fabrics with Tencel Lyocell. The collection brings a new and fresh style to this product area and is intended to stimulate a broader view of the variety of commercial fabrics available and how those Tencel Lyocell bases can be utilized in garment styling. The collection demonstrates the extent of complimentary fiber blends available today in the market. The garment styling is purposely diverse moving from bottoms into tops, casual into formal and day into night. Behind every innovative garment is likely to be an innovative technology.

This collection links a young fiber with emerging laundry technologies—in this case supplied by Jeanologia. Laundry processing is essential to bringing out the potential in casual woven fabrics made from Tencel Lyocell. The modern aesthetics that you observe in this collection are achieved through a combination of both fiber and properties and garment finishing technology.


“Fit” in apparel is a noun, and for the human body, it’s an adjective. The two meanings come together in Den/IM: an innovation in athleisure that brings seamless knitting with body-mapping technology to revolutionary denim jean.

The “I am DENIM” athleisure collection, made with stretch indigo denim on seamless circular knitting machines, debuted last year and has been embraced by consumers. Lenzing, Tonello, Santoni and Unitin partnered to create DEN/IM, a studio-to-street collection designed to show knit denim’s potential as a viable alternative and competitor to traditional activewear bottoms and to classic woven denim.

In response to the ensuing demand within a fashion activewear market that continues to heat up, the companies have readied Den/IM 2.0. The new collection employs body-mapping for superior fit and performance, the efficiency of seamless knitting from Santoni, new sustainable wash treatments from Tonello and the advanced indigo knits from Unitin featuring Lenzing’s Tencel  lyocell branded fibers.

The seamless functional features of Den/IM 2.0 provide superior moisture wicking by incorporating Tencel in a unique two-layer construction. These high performance yarns provide superior temperature regulation and a perfect microclimate for the skin. Engineering seamless fabric thickness provides padding, allowing greater body protection without sacrificing moisture management or temperature regulation. Body-mapping ensures that the engineered ventilation areas and 3D knitted structures are where they’re most needed in every garment.

The future of denim

The denim supply chain is one of the most innovate in all of fashion apparel, so there is a good chance that the modern definition of denim will continue to evolve. Both technological and environmental advances will be at the forefront of meeting the consumer demand for value. As these factors converge it seems odds-on that denim democracy will serve the next generation in society.

By the Lenzing Global Denim Team: Tricia Carey from the U.S., Michael Kininmonth from UK, and Hale Ozturk from Austria. Together they develop concepts for the denim market using Lenzing Fibers. To learn more, visit their denim blog,