Adriana Galijasevic explains us the future of the denim industry
We interviewed one of the most important experts in the denim industry to understand what it means to produce in a sustainable and transparent way.
“2020 – THE YEAR OF SUSTAINABILITY” IS APPROACHING FAST, WHAT IS GOING TO CHANGE IN YOUR OPINION?
The fashion industry is becoming more transparent at a fast pace and will have to give full transparency across the value chain. Next to that a majority of fashion brands have set bold 2020 goals on DETOX or 100% sustainable materials. This will hopefully set a new minimum standard by 2020 to move towards next level of sustainability in our industry. We already see the shift towards circularity and along with it comes innovation and an emergence of new business models.
HOW DOES IT WORK WHEN A COMPANY ASKS YOU TO DEVELOP A SUSTAINABLE PROGRAM?
For G-Star RAW, sustainability is a condition for doing business. When we design, we design for the future; not only in how our products look and feel, but also the wider impact they have on people and the planet. We take a holistic approach to how denim is made and used as demonstrated by Our Most Sustainable Jeans Ever, which we launched in February 2018. These styles mark a milestone in sustainable and circular denim design not only for us, but also for the denim industry.
For a better understanding, I will walk you through the process of developing these jeans: Considering that the largest percentage of a pair of jeans is made from denim fabric, as a starting point we focused on designing and making the world’s most sustainable denim fabric. To make this happen we partnered with DyStar and Artistic Milliners in 2016. This fabric features organic cotton grown without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and the world’s cleanest indigo technology which uses 15% less indigo, 70% less chemicals, requires no hydrosulphite and produces no salt by-product during the reduction and dyeing process, consequently saving water and leaving a clean and recyclable water effluent. To validate our assumptions that we indeed had designed the most sustainable denim fabric and that we have formulated the cleanest indigo dyeing process, for us it was essential to go through the most rigorous certification called Cradle to Cradle Certification. This is the only certification in the world designed for circular product economy and the only one which looks at design from 5 different aspects: material health, water stewardship, social fairness, material reutilization and use of renewable energies. After going through this intense process which requires unparalleled levels of transparency throughout our supply chain, the result was the World’s first Cradle to Cradle Certified ™ Gold Denim Fabric whose chemistry presents 0 risk for people and planet. Having sorted out the fabric, in terms of wash and manufacturing of our products, we worked together with our long-standing partner Saitex to make and wash the garments with their utmost care for people and environment. By employing sustainable technologies such as laser and ozone, using no stones and no potassium permanganate, we were able to bring our water consumption to 10 liters of water per garment. 98% of that water is recycled and re-used and the other 2% evaporates, leaving no water to be wasted or discharged into the local environment. In addition, our jeans are partially air dried via ceiling revolving system to save 85% energy. When it comes to design, we made our jeans 98% recyclable by eliminating zippers and rivets. Instead of zippers, we used eco-finished metal buttons which we created in collaboration with YKK without any electroplating, thus involving no toxic chemicals and saving 89% of water. Instead of using poly cotton pocketing base, we used organic cotton. Instead of leather labels we used cellulose based yakron labels which are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. Instead of polyester care labels we used recycled polyester. Our carton packaging and hang tags are also responsibly sourced (FSC based). Going beyond design and manufacturing of the product, when it comes to customer use and customer impact, we added Clevercare® tag to care label in the garments and on our webshop to educate our customers how to care for their garments because vast water and energy impact happens at the user stage. We also added online tips on how to prolong the life of their garment as well how to responsibly part from it. All in all, when it comes to sustainability we are committed to ensure that all raw materials used in our products are grown and manufactured in a responsible way that preserve (natural) resources and respects human and animal rights. We take on a holistic approach to denim design with focus on designing for circularity because we believe it is the only way going forward.
WHAT ARE YOUR THE BIGGEST CONCERNS WHEN IT COMES TO CREATE A NEW GENERATION OF JEANS?
Looking at the market, tri-fiber blends which offer stretch with good recovery and even shaping body properties are dominating. Such fabric constructions, are very complex to recycle because it is very difficult to separate and re-use multiple fiber components. Some chemical recycling technologies are out there, but they are still not optimized to handle the waste we currently have because this waste was never designed to be re-used in the first place. In short term, it is important to focus on scaling and accelerating the existing solutions and for the future we must think according to Cradle to Cradle Certified principles in order to design healthy materials, products and processes that will allow for safe circular flows. Furthermore, to have a positive impact-education, collaboration, adaptation, scaling and acceleration are imperative. We as 1 brand alone cannot change the entire denim industry. This is why, when we developed the world’s 1st Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified Denim Fabric, we made an open access to actual fabric and our findings via Fashion Positive Library. This means other brands can use the actual fabric and that other mills can learn about the revolutionary hydrosulphite free indigo technology, we have introduced so they can adapt the positive denim practices in their own fabric manufacturing.
MANY BRANDS ARE DEVELOPING “SUSTAINABLE CAPSULES”, WHAT IS THE REAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE “CAPSULE” AND THE REMAINING “STANDARD COLLECTION”?
Our goal is to be the to be the leading denim company that creates tomorrow’s classics with respect for people and planet in a transparent manner. We see sustainability as an opportunity to think about denim design in a new way. Innovation has always been at the core of our DNA, so for us- it’s about seeing how sustainability can become an enabler of new design, rather than viewing it as a barrier or a limitation. Since the launch of our RAW Sustainable Capsule in 2010, our strategy has been to introduce new innovations as a capsule, educate the consumer and lead by example in the process for others, followed by a silent integration into the rest of our collection. This alludes to our commitment to ensure that all raw materials used in our products are grown and manufactured in a responsible way that preserves resources and respects human & animal rights.
HOW CAN THE END CONSUMER DIFFERENTIATE GENUINE SUSTAINABLE INNOVATION FROM GREEN-WASHING ACTIONS?
It happens by being educated. It is nice to see that especially last couple of years customer interest and awareness has been on the rise. Current generations are more informed and more sensible regarding their purchases. Knowing where and how something is made has become more and more integrated into everyone’s lifestyle. Since 2014, our customers can find out via our webshop where each product they are interested in was manufactured by clicking on ‘Where is it made?’ icon. Additionally, they can also identify our most experimental and the most innovative sustainable practices by Raw For The Planet markings. For those, who like to dig deeper, Sustainability tab on our website is not tucked away somewhere at the end of the page, it’s easily visible and accessible in the main menu bar.
IS THE END CONSUMER FINALLY READY OR INTERESTED TO PAY A PREMIUM PRICE FOR A BETTER PAIR OF JEANS?
Research shows consumers would do that but our strategy is to keep the price point of our products that feature our latest sustainable innovations in line with the rest of our collection, meaning, it’s cost neutral for our customers. With our sustainable innovation highlights, we want to inform and educate our customers regarding all the design choices we have made in order to remind them that they also have a choice regarding their purchase and how they care for it as the majority of the environmental impact is at the use stage.
TRACEABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY… WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE TRENDING FULL MEDIATIC DISCLOSURE OF THE PRODUCT YOU MAKE?
As mentioned in our answer to the 1st question; this is important to move our industry further. On one hand to show accountability but also for value chain engagement, facilitate pro-active dialogue with stakeholders and industry collaboration. For those reasons full traceability and transparency is a key topic on our sustainability agenda. It is not only about sharing where our products are made, also about what we do in the value chain.
As background info: our transparency roadmap shows the progress we have made. We share our Scorecards since 2012, online manufacturing map since 2014, an improved scorecard: MODE tracker sustainability progress results since 2015, signed the Transparency pledge, are included in the Fashion Transparency Index since 2017 and provided open access to cleanest indigo dye technology with our partners in December 2017. To reach our goals we follow the Higg Index Roadmap to Transparency to provide clear, comparable and verified trusted data. This will further enhance accountability, enable comparison over time, push consumers towards more sustainable (informed) choices and further accelerate impact within the value chain. Especially if we (the industry) use one system for sharing information.