Denim Première Vision 2019: The Innovations Making Denim More Sustainable

The bi-anual Denim Première Vision event brings together over 2,500 denim heads to talk about the latest innovations moving the denim industry towards a lower impact future. Eco-Age’s sustainable fashion and textiles assistant Phillipa Grogan shares her key takeaways.

Once home to one of Europe’s largest printing factories, last week saw Printworks London once again filled with textiles: this time bringing together key players of the denim world. The two-day tradeshow was filled with an array of exciting developments and innovations, interwoven with the focus of a more responsible future for the industry. Alongside all the amazing samples and demonstrations, it was a day full of meeting friendly exhibitors from all over the world and enjoying the best free lunch I’ve ever had at an event (also featuring a noticeable absence of single-use plastic)! 

Key sustainability trends in this year’s line-up were alternative fibre blends, reduced-impact production across supply chains and the importance of striking dialogue between customers, brands and suppliers to drive effective and substantial change in the industry. Here are our top takeaways from the event – we hope you come away feeling as inspired as we did.

Blends of recycled fibres and fibres with a lower environmental impact
As in previous years, there were numerous blends of alternative fibres on show, aimed at reducing the presence of conventional cotton and its associated impacts. Integrating low-impact natural fibres such as hemp, nettle and organic cotton can reduce the water and chemical footprint of the overall fabric. Recycled fibres from pre and post-consumer waste both natural and synthetic also had a significant presence, standing to tackle waste and preserve resources. Whilst fibre blends can reduce the environmental impact during the fabric production phases, end of life phases should also be considered. Some fibre blends, for example, (especially natural and synthetic blends) might affect the fabric’s ability to biodegrade or be recycled. 
Saving water
Varied methods to tackle the industry’s water consumption were presented, from single bath washing processes to cotton grown with rainwater. One company’s 100% post-consumer recycled denim eliminates the need for further dyeing, which is typically a water and chemical intensive phase of denim production. Reducing the presence and impact of chemicals was also a key theme, and there were several examples of simplified washing processes – from one-step stone washing processes to customers doing their own gradual denim washing through domestic laundering to achieve the classic worn-look denim. 

Building on last year’s theme of circularity, seminars and exhibitors continued to explore moving away from the linear economy towards more circular systems. Solutions ranged from brands launching garment take-back schemes to collaborations between denim mills and garment brands to develop their own cycle of recovered and recycled materials. Integrating more circular solutions has the potential to close waste streams, make the most of existing materials and save resources.

Using what we have  
Yes, we need to produce fibres, fabric and fashion more responsibly, but nothing has a lower impact than utilising garments that already exist. Cherishing the clothing we buy and respecting the materials they are made from was another topic that was addressed in a number of ways. Garment repair shops can be used to prolong the life of garments and prevent their premature disposal – a huge burden on the environment. During Smart Talks, we were all encouraged as the customer to connect more with our clothing and mend garments to maximise their useful life and reduce waste.

More and more companies are beginning to address sustainability 
There were a significant number of companies addressing sustainability and many have begun to integrate recycled, organic or alternative fibres into their fabrics. Messaging outlined (sometimes bold) claims relating to this, as well as water reduction, energy efficient production, and chemical management. However, these claims were not presented alongside supporting scientific evidence, so it is important to make sure that all statements are questioned and backed up. 
Collaboration is key
Conversations during Smart Talks and with exhibitors highlighted the importance of working together to bring about a more sustainable future for denim. The education of and collaboration between brands, suppliers and customers is essential to drive effective change. Brands need to have the courage to move beyond special projects and capsule collections and focus on reducing the impact of their entire operations. Suppliers need to share knowledge of materials and processes and better solutions for the future. And last but not least, customers need to continue to call for accountability and change.

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See our takeaways from Denim Première Vision 2018.