Dennis Hui and Michael Kininmonth from TENCEL™ Denim Team of Lenzing Group shared their insights on the environmental impact of the denim manufacturing process, and how some of their latest innovations help to reduce water pollution from indigo dyeing.
Lenzing Group believe that modern environmental management should aim to prevent further pollution and should take the “end of pipe” effluent treatment approach, this means reducing chemicals and water used in the growing of indigo plants can prevent leaks into water streams.
To tackle these inherent limitations faced by the denim industry, Lenzing has responded with its latest innovation, the TENCEL™ Modal fiber with Indigo Color Technology, which saves up to 99% of water and electricity, 80% of chemicals and 100% of heat energy, significantly reducing the ecological footprint of denim products. “By adding the indigo pigment during the fiber production stage, the whole indigo dyeing process is eliminated at the warp stage, thus achieving significant savings of water, energy, chemicals, effluent and process time versus conventional indigo dyed products.”
The team believes it needs to take a holistic approach to implement sustainability, as it is “a collaboration from field to fiber to finished garment and into the phase of consumer-use”. Besides efforts from the industry, governments and consumers both have critical roles to play, e.g. creating legislation in which “companies are accountable and driven to take action against poor labor and environmental practices”, and allowing consumers to be exposed to reliable information to make ethical purchases.
Humans have used cotton to make clothes for thousands of years. Unfortunately, modern industrial cotton farming uses many pesticides and other harmful chemicals, and chemical residue often remains in the textiles used to make clothing and jeans. Triarchy's jeans and denim jackets are produced with responsibly-made fabrics and washed with the most advanced sustainable laundry technology available. The company’s denim line is made with a mix of organic cotton and TENCEL™, a natural fibre derived from breaking down trees into pulp and spinning the pulp fibre into a soft, durable textile.Organic cotton eliminates the use of pesticides and fertilizers, making the fabrics cleaner for the wearer’s skin, while also reducing contamination of groundwater. It has been found that the impact of water pollution in the production of organic cotton is 98% lower than that of conventional cotton.Unfortunately, today’s organic cotton production only comprises 0.7% of the total global cotton cultivation. If there is greater demand from consumers and manufacturers, wider production and use of organic cotton could be encouraged.
Conventional stretch denim is usually made with some percentage of plastic woven into the fabric for elasticity. This makes stretch denim non-biodegradable and a contributor to microplastics flooding our oceans. Triarchy’s new “plastic-free skinny jean” is made from natural rubber instead of plastic. It uses a bio stretch fabric made of 96% organic cotton and 4% natural rubber, created from organic cotton yarns wrapped around a natural rubber core, making the label’s stretch denim entirely free from plastics and microplastics, and completely biodegradable.
Triarchy also has a denim line made from 100% cotton vintage denim. The fabric is sanitized in ozone machines before being made into entirely new pairs of jeans and denim jackets. In this way, thousands of pairs of jeans that would have otherwise gone to landfills are repurposed.
The dirtiest and most wasteful part of denim production, the dyeing process causes about 200,000 tons of mainly petrochemical-based dyes (worth 1 billion USD) to be lost annually due to inefficiencies. San Francisco-based startup Huue hopes to rectify this problem with pioneering biotechnology that has produced dyes that do not rely on fossil fuels. The company has started with indigo, creating a biosynthetic indigo dye that is five times less toxic when compared with chemical dyes, ensuring that its product is easy for denim makers to implement by making it cost-effective, resource-efficient, and sustainable.
Instead of using toxic chemicals as raw materials, Huue has turned to sugar. Leveraging co-founder Dr Tammy Hsu's UC Berkeley bioengineering research background, the company has come up with proprietary bioengineering to program microbes to secrete certain colours, thereby enzymatically producing bio-dye.
Supported by leading investors and institutions such as IndieBio, Fashion for Good, Jennifer Doudna, and Melinda Gates' Pivotal Ventures, as well as HSBC Asset Management’s Climate Tech VC, Huue has secured sufficient financing that will be used to accelerate the commercial scale-up of the company’s sustainable indigo dye for fashion industry partners. In the long run, its bio-dyes can even be applied to the food and cosmetics industries.
Unspun’s mission is to make the design, manufacturing, and consumption of fashion intentional. It aims to scale back the clothing industry’s predilection for overconsumption and overproduction. The industry always tempts consumers to buy more by offering new styles and designs at shorter and shorter intervals.
The clothing industry as it stands today is massively wasteful and unintentional about product life cycles and resource use. It churns out 100 billion pieces of clothing annually and sends 60% of that to landfills within a year. This is a significant waste of resources and energy: the production of 1kg of fabric generates 23kg of greenhouse gasses, and garment manufacturing accounts for 20% of global industrial water pollution.
Rather than pumping out countless copies of poor-quality garments and hoping people will buy them, Unspun waits until the order comes in before starting production. The company makes one pair of jeans at a time, upon receiving a customer’s order. The company uses a mobile app to help each customer capture a 3D body scan of themselves to craft tailor-made jeans for them. Unlike off-the-rack jeans that usually have to be altered for length, every pair of Unspun jeans fits each customer perfectly.
Unspun jeans are manufactured using a fully automated and zero-waste manufacturing process that avoids the use of harmful chemicals as well as treating and recycling 100% of the water used in the production process. The brand also prioritizes sustainability by using 100% vegan fabrics, promising that no animal products are used in their materials sourcing, treatment processes, or production.
The company aims to reduce global carbon emissions by 1% through this on-demand, localized, and automated manufacturing process. At its recently opened Hong Kong store, customers can even bring in old jeans for repurposing, bringing the manufacturing process full circle.
Spanish company Jeanologia specializes in the science of finishing. With a mission to create “an ethical, sustainable, and eco-efficient textile industry through disruptive technology and their know-how”, they are committed to eradicating one of the most polluting practices in the industry, the traditional garment dyeing process.
Jeanologia has developed the ColorBox, a series of garment dyeing machines which serve as an efficient and sustainable alternative. The machinery that covers all types of production, from development centers and small productions to large-scale productions and retail, reduces not only the pollution load of wastewater but also the resources for the dyeing process, which can reduce the water and chemicals required by up to 60%.
The technology behind Colorbox is to combine a low liquor ratio (1:2 – 1:4) process with nanobubbles that use air instead of water for some of the steps to reduce required resources. To avoid reprocessing,
the use of automated digital solutions ensures that the dyeing process is “right at the first time”. This also is a way to tackle the excessive use of resources in traditional garment dyeing.
Jeanologia has been joining forces with brands and suppliers as a technology partner to offer their knowhow, hoping to lead the change in the production model to offer alternatives to facilitate faster and more controlled and sustainable textile production.