Mariette Hoitink of Amsterdam based House of Denim; Andrew Olah, founder of the renowned Kingpins tradeshow and Vincent Qin of the Chinese denim fabric supplier Prosperity showed among them a large array of innovations that are aimed at reducing the environmental impact of denim products.
'Recycled' water for jeans wet processing; laser and ozone in laundry; numerous alternative raw materials and alternative sources of energy- which are more sustainable- are all already available to reduce the impact on the environment of a pair of jeans.
And this is highly necessary because, especially in jeans, measures to improve sustainability are crucial. Andrew Olah showed that denim is very taxing on the environment. If indigo was invented today it would probably have been discarded because it consumes relatively so much water. Added to this, cotton is a very water intensive fibre and 35% of the world’s cotton is used in the manufacture of jeans.
The jeans case showed how buyer – supplier alliances have emerged to create the necessary change. Innovations are often bought from upstream but they commonly require collaborative development. Prosperity has collaborations with Tencel, Clariant, Olah Inc and with Jeanologia and it has set up an innovation forum.
House of Denim is an Amsterdam initiative bringing together brands such as G-Star, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi's, Denham and Scotch and Soda. Its ‘brighter blue’ initiative will center around a research lab in Amsterdam aimed at sustainability. Its Jeans School is the first dedicated jeans school which also has sustainability featuring big in its curriculum.
But Andrew Olah made quite clear that the effect of all of this innovation and cooperation is still too little. The sustainable innovations are simply put used in too small a percentage of jeans. Connecting the efforts taking place in the centers of the jeans industry in the US, Europe and China would certainly help. But for the jeans industry as a whole to make big steps towards more sustainability the best way is setting common goals and an ambitious time path to get there.
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