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A recent survey on circular economy showed that consumers are now ready to go as far as dropping a brand based on their perception of the environmental credentials of the brand. In the denim segment, brands are responding to this, offering an increased selection of sustainable products. From Q1 2018 to 2020, the number of individual denim styles appearing online doubled from just over 1,400 to almost 2,800. As the impact of coronavirus sweeps through different industries, how can denim brands strive forward and pivot towards sustainability?
As part of the “TENCEL™ Insights” series, we spoke with Tricia Carey, Director of Global Business Development for Denim at Lenzing, to discuss changing consumer demands in the denim segment amid COVID-19 and ways that brands adapt to the change.
Q: Why is sustainability important in the denim industry?
Tricia: The environmental impact of denim has been widely discussed over the past few years, supplemented by data on purchasing patterns that prove how consumers care about sustainability. As consumers continue to regard sustainability as an important consideration during purchasing, it is now time for denim brands to develop stronger social standards and lower the industry’s environmental impact. In addition, as COVID-19 hits the global economy, consumers have become increasingly careful and selective with their decisions, resulting in greater prioritization towards companies which adopt a more responsible production process.
On an industry supply network level, we have seen greater interest and commitment among fabric mills to promote sustainable raw materials. For instance, more fabric mills are seeking to increase usage of biodegradable materials or recycled materials in their fabric, like TENCEL™ fibers produced with REFIBRA™ technology, which not only ensure comfort, but also enhance the sustainability of denim.
Denim has stood the test of time and will continue to evolve using the best available technology and innovation. Today’s denim has reinvented preconceptions around fiber, construction, weight, and design. Modern denim now represents the temperament and lifestyle of global citizens, as well as our love for our Planet.
Q: What are the challenges that lie ahead for the denim industry amid COVID-19? How should the segment plan to move forward?
Tricia: As discussions on sustainability become more complex across the industry in light of COVID-19, so too has the vocabulary surrounding environmental responsibility given the benefits observed from significantly reduced emissions and pollution during worldwide quarantines. With the industry’s multiple indexes and benchmarks, plus numerous technological advances and organizations enlisted to monitor this, it can be a challenge to stay up to speed. On the operational side, we are also facing a series of challenges such as continual social change, enhancing inclusivity, and COVID-19 recovery.
In general, many brands are still struggling with responsible consumption and production, as is the case across all apparel segments. We can no longer continue to measure success and growth through a brand’s production levels or number of sales. The entire supply network needs to address ways to reduce the environmental impact and improve social standards. Embracing sustainable raw materials is just the beginning. We would need to drive more in-depth discussions about broader aspects of sustainability, including transparency of production, waste management, upcycling, recycling, traceability, and more.
Q: How is Lenzing addressing the problem?
Tricia: We seek to educate the supply chain network about the latest standards and issues surrounding sustainability. Education is essential for brands to enable them to properly define sustainability and understand their supply chain practices, in order to review them accordingly once operations return to normal. At Lenzing, we consider ways to reduce the environmental impact, bringing greater value through discussing the benefits of our wood-based TENCEL™ Lyocell and Modal fibers, as well as connecting various supply chain stakeholders.
We are using our platform – Carved in Blue, to connect, inspire and collaborate. We have been hosting conversations with participants from the global denim community to ask how they feel about the changes. Most recently, we hosted a series of talks with female leaders in the segment on how they are navigating the pandemic and seeking progress in the denim industry.
We also value working with like-minded companies, such as Banana Republic, Country Road, Guess and Levis, who have goals similar to ours. One of our mill partners, Candiani Denim, was awarded for their achievement in developing an authentic denim fabric using no new cotton materials, illustrating how the adoption of new environmentally responsible materials will soon be the norm in the industry.
Photo credit: Candiani Denim
Photo credit: Candiani Denim