Kingpins HK: A Platform for Sustainable Denim

The denim industry is alive and well, and optimistically tackling a new season. 

 

There is not too much innovation on the design front, and only a handful of developments in the functional area. Instead, mills have been putting their R&D investment into developing sustainable solutions.

 

“Business is okay.  We sell to the big US brands and as long as we can meet their target price, we can get the orders,” said Stanley Li, Vice President at Shandong Maystar Textile and Garment Co. Ltd., speaking with Inside Fashion at Kingpins Hong Kong (May 16-17).

 

“Our business in both the US and Europe is stable because retail is pretty good, so brands are ordering,” said Salman Hanif, Marketing Manager at Kassim.

 

Currently the US and EU markets are stable, and the Chinese and Indian domestic markets are booming, so manufacturers are enjoying what many see has well earned good times. 

 

The energetic atmosphere at the fair clearly reflected the mood in the market.  Mills were “positive” about the outlook for the coming season, and while no one was expecting massive growth, no one was worried either.  Even the complainers weren’t complaining this season. 

 

Kingpins is always a favorite on the trade fair circuit.  It’s also become the primary platform for sustainable denim.    

 

Sustainability was indeed a hot topic for every mill. Each was showing their variation on sustainable denim, from those that used recycled fibers or organic cotton to other who focused on ‘clean chemistry.’ 

 

Although sustainability is a big topic, and everyone agrees that it’s the right direction for the denim industry, actual up take from buyers tells a different story.

 

For most mills, sustainable fabrics remain a small, but highly visible, part of their collections.   Many mills said that sustainable products accounted for less than 30 percent of their sales.

 

“Sustainable denim accounts for only about 10- 20 percent of our sales to the US market.  Customers there are buying bigger volumes and they are still very focused on price,” said Ray Poon, Sales Manager at Prosperity Textiles (HK) Ltd.

 

While consumer demand is not the key driver behind greater sustainability, government regulations for manufacturers in China and for product safety in Europe, are swaying the market.

 

At the consumer level, the demand is coming from Northern Europe.  Ultimately it will filter through to the rest of Europe and the US, so those companies who go green now will be ahead of the curve.  For mills, the investment in more sustainable manufacturing will make them ready for the not-too-distant future when sustainability will be standard, not a option.

 

Mills agreed that EU buyers were step by step converting all of their conventional denim to sustainable products.

“They will pay a little more for the sustainable denim because they must fill a quota for sustainable products, so they have a budget to use this in part of their collections,” explained Mr. Hanif at Kassim. 

 

What’s Selling Now

Basic denim with some degree of stretch is the bestseller, at least in terms of volume.

 

“Power stretch with 35 percent stretch, good recovery and a soft hand is our bestseller,” said Mr. Hanif at Kassim.  Many mills reported continued demand for very stretchy denim saying that skinny jeans were still strong in a lot of markets.  “Going forward, we are starting to see a shift away from the very high levels of stretch and more demand for comfort stretch.”

 

In contrast, other mills said that now it was all about adding stretch for better fit and shape retention.  “There’s less demand for power stretch now.  Customers want comfort stretch with a soft hand and loose constructions,” said Mr. Li at Maystar.

 

All mills agreed that soft hand feel has become a ‘must’.  “Our bestsellers are blends with either rayon or Tencel for a soft hand feel.  Buyers will pay a little more for a softer hand,” said Vivi Chen, Sales Merchandiser at Seborn Textile Industry Ltd.

 

New Developments in Sustainable Denim

Denim is very much a volume business, but as consumers shift to wanting ‘fewer but better’ there are opportunities for boutique mills that can offer something special. 

 

One such mill is DNM Textile, a Turkish company with its production in Egypt.  The company has annual production of 30 million yards, and focuses on supplying premium boutique denim brands.

 

“We use 100% Egyptian cotton.  It’s the world’s best cotton and we can achieve the best, brightest colours,” said Utku Avci, Sales Manager.  “Each color is washable in a clean aspect.”

 

The mill was built as a sustainable facility using closed circular filtration system.  The water used in the dyeing process is returned to a drinkable quality thanks to an advanced filtration system. 

 

“We use indigo dyes that require 80% less water to create our Water Blue, Earth Blue and Leaf Blue shades,” said Mr. Avci.  

 

While DNM’s entire manufacturing process is entirely sustainable, the difference at the product level is the materials.  Most of the collection uses virgin fibers, however some fabrics use recycled materials such as Refibra from Lenzing or organic cotton.

 

Anuba was also focusing on sustainable denim.  “We only produce sustainable products,” said Askhat Chaudhary, Director.  The mill claims to have the world’s lowest carbon footprint.  Fabrics are up to 72 inches wide so there’s less wastage for customers.

 

“We are bringing in more creativity to denim by mixing treatments used on the fabric.  Also we’re playing with color and weave constructions.”

 

Making denim sustainable is getting a little easier thanks to new chemicals from companies such as BluConnection.  The Singapore-based company focuses only on indigo dyes and prides itself on meeting Singapore’s stringent compliance standards.  “Indigo is biodegradable.  It’s a matter of how you use it that makes it more or less sustainable,” explained Alexander Bock, Director.  “People talk about sustainability, but still they chase rock bottom prices,” however for some companies this is starting to change. 

 

Candiani Denim is part of that change.  The 80-year old company boasts fully sustainable production.  “We are the greenest mill in a blue world,” said Fahid Jaaouan, Sales Manager Asia Pacific, explaining that his company uses no PVA in its production.

 

“Denim has to be sustainable but it also has to be fashionable,” he said.  “We can’t sell on sustainability alone.”

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