Sustainability is a lifeline for denim brands as they begin to recover from the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown fashion retailers into a frenzy, and the denim industry is no different.
Denim companies must then make a decision, experts say: view sustainability as an albatross or a lifeline. While brands in survival mode might be tempted to shed their sustainable investments, especially if they are part of a stand-alone strategy that doesn’t impact other parts of their business, that would be a fatal mistake. according to Laura. Balmond, program director of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular Jeans Redesign initiative, which aims to make denim production less wasteful and less polluting.
“The pandemic has shown the fragility of the fashion industry today and the risks it faces in the long term if it does not change,” she said. “The only way to ensure that businesses can be resilient enough to deal with this type of situation without sacrificing other priorities, such as tackling climate change, waste and pollution, is to… put them at the heart of their business. Mark. “
In short, Covid-19 is just an earthquake that shook supply chains. Bigger and more existential threats are still looming on the horizon. Brands that integrate sustainability as part of their rehabilitation, positioning the protracted global hiatus as an opportunity rather than a disaster, however, may be better placed for future upheavals such as those caused by a warming and growing planet. more overcrowded.
“Coming out of this crisis, we have a choice: to rebuild the fashion industry as it once was – wasteful, polluting and fragile – or to redesign it, and create an industry that helps us thrive in the long run. . said Balmond.
For denim suppliers, whose abundant use of cotton, water, and potentially toxic dyes and chemicals is an open secret, the contagion has accelerated a long-standing social and environmental calculation. Covid highlighted both the glaring economic inequalities that are endemic to the clothing supply chain and the benefits of a world where humans don’t pollute all the time.
“Denim is one of the most universal, beloved and durable subsets in the fashion industry, but it’s also one of the dirtiest,” said James Bartle, CEO of ‘Outland Denim, which sources organic cotton and employs women who have been sexually exploited. “The pandemic has forced every industry to adapt and find new ways to move forward, and I hope denim brands can work together to lead the fashionable path to a more sustainable future. “
The crisis has created an opening for more innovative business models. Outland Denim, which suffered a heavy blow when physical partners like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s closed during mandatory closings, is now moving from two seasonal collections per year to six smaller capsule lines that will generate less risk associated with long-term forecasts , less death and more novelty for consumers with a “thoughtful and sustainable approach”. It is also expanding its focused mission to other areas, funding more than $ 1 million in investments in a new business that will manufacture clothing for outside brands. “It’s a chance to grow our business, our social impact and our impact on the fashion industry,” Bartle said.
On top of that, the pandemic spawns a different kind of consumer who realizes that less could be more. A recent survey commissioned by biotech company Genomatica found that 85% of Americans have thought about sustainability as much or more since the outbreak. In another Brandwatch survey, 57% of those polled expressed a desire for companies to step up their sustainability efforts in 2021. Brands themselves are witnessing this pivot in real time.
“We are finding that consumers are realizing that they can disconnect from the habit of buying with each season or collection arrives in store, and can thus align their decision with factors such as sustainability, sustainability commitments made. by brands and their alignment with a company’s goals. values, ”said a spokesperson for Levi Strauss. Consumers, as Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi’s, said on a July earnings conference call, are now looking for both “value and values.”
Levi’s is moving forward with its 2025 Water Action Strategy and product innovations such as its recent collaboration with recycled cotton producer Re: newcell, which resulted in what the denim giant has dubbed the “Most durable and circular garment” he has ever made. “We know that right now, even as we consolidate the business from a financial and operational standpoint, we need to earn the right to be the brand that consumers turn to, not just because of what we manufacture, but because of the way we make our products and the way we behave as a company, ”the spokesperson said. “As consumers tend to consume more consciously and the pandemic convinces people, especially young people, that it is better to buy less valuable more versatile products, we are well positioned to meet their expectations. “
Gap Inc. agrees that brands, if they plan to hold on, must adapt to this new consumer. “The current situation means consumers are paying more attention to how they spend. We are seeing a shift towards brands you can trust and ones that match their personal values, which we think is a good thing, ”said Kirsty Stevenson, Head of Environmental Sustainability and Products. “Brands whose value proposition includes a deeper purpose, in our opinion, will come out ahead. “
Gap Inc., which has faced its own woes caused by the pandemic, is staying the course, announcing in June a partnership with Spanish denim factory Tejidos Royo to create denim using an indigo-free foam-dyeing technique. water which reduces water consumption by up to 99 percent and produces no water discharge compared to the traditional sheet dyeing process. Gap Inc. is also working with Arvind, its long-time supply partner, to establish a new water treatment facility at a denim factory in India that will eliminate the use of fresh water, saving 3 million liters. by the end of 2020.
“On the contrary, the pandemic has reiterated the importance of being prepared for a disruption in the supply chain and the need to break our dependence on the water supply,” Stevenson said.
Likewise, the concept of circularity, where nothing becomes waste, remains at the top of the list. The retailer continues to work with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel to separate spandex from used clothing and bleach denim for recycling. “We continue to move forward on our commitments, participate in industry-led initiatives and advance the key investments we have made in denim circularity and water quality,” added Stevenson.
Spending already limited funds without expecting immediate financial returns is not easy. Guess CEO Carlos Alberini said Covid not only posed a financial challenge, but also affected the morale and “creative spirit” of the company – more, in fact, than previous recessions over its nearly 40-year history.
He expects the denim industry to contract again following numerous bankruptcy filings from G-Star Raw, Lucky Brand and True Religion. The silver lining, however, is that a more consolidated industry allows for greater leverage on the environmental demands of the denim supply chain, “and therefore of the industry as a whole,” he said. declared.
In summer 21, Guess will launch its first “circular, recyclable, transparent” denim. Prior to that, she expanded her clothing take-back and recycling program and created a quarter of her assortment using more sustainable materials and practices. This fall, the brand will submit science-based goals for climate change that “will lead Guess to a low-carbon future”.
“Sustainability remains the way forward for Guess, even during the pandemic,” he said. “At Guess, we want to inspire our customers to feel confident and passionate about their style and their future, knowing that we are committed to making this world a better place.”
Despite fears that denim is giving way to sport, eco-friendly denim continues to drive growth, according to predictive data platform Trendalytics, whose March 2020 Top Trends report noted that research into line for “sustainable denim” and “sustainable jeans” increased 123 percent and 195 percent year-over-year, respectively.
“Denim remains one of our most sought-after products and we are more determined than ever to implement best practices in the processes and materials we use,” said Martijn Hagman, CEO of Tommy Hilfiger. Global and PVH Europe. “Through our strategic partnerships with suppliers and leaders in the denim industry, we have stayed on track with our goal of creating more sustainable products, and we will continue to push the boundaries of the industry to create the the most durable denim possible. “
This spring, more than half of Tommy Hilfiger styles featured more sustainable elements such as recycled and dead materials. The Tommy Jeans collection, Hagman added, “leads the way,” with over 80% more durable styles. “Covid-19 has and will continue to change consumer behavior for the foreseeable future,” he said. “More than ever, consumers are focusing on what their products are made of, where they were made and who made them. “
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