Industry Collaboration Critical for Sustainable Denim


Content Strategist & PR for The ZDHC Foundation. This blog was originally posted in news outlet Sustainable Brands, and reposted on LinkedIn as a personal piece. 


It’s no secret that “denim is a dirty business.” But does this mean our love affair with denim is over?  

To open the KingPins 2016 Amsterdam Show, on Monday October 24, 10 leaders transforming the denim industry were invited to answer one question: Is the scary part of hazardous chemicals on the way?

The day, dubbed “The Transformers” invited a range of perspectives from the chemical industry, manufacturers, brands, and industry coalitions, and while there was certainly debate, some common themes emerged.

1) We’re in the Land of (regulatory) Confusion

A clear theme which chemical companies worked hard to articulate are the multitude of regulations they face in conforming to green chemistry standards, and the high cost of doing so.

“We’re in the land of confusion,” said Miguel Gavilán from Archroma. Miguel stressed that in his experience, many brands are reluctant to pass the cost onto consumers, however he said, “once these new technologies, methods or products become the standard, the cost will be diluted.”

Miguel also proposed that brands need to work harder to articulate why the cost of a certain product might be higher if more sustainable methods are used, and insisted that if the consumer were better informed, they’d be willing to pay. However he admitted:

“I asked my 10 year old daughter if she’d be willing to spend $5 more on her jeans if it would save the planet. She pleaded with me that $5 could buy a lot of things…I guess I haven’t done a very good job educating her on this yet.”

2) Common Problems call for Common Solutions

Alberto de Conti from Garmon Chemicals echoed Miguel’s frustration with what he termed “regulatory schizophrenia,” but insisted that the textile and footwear industry is not static. He argued that a more collaborative approach could solve the problem.

“If the problem is a common one, why can’t we find a common solution?”

Sara Fessler, RSL and Environmental Specialist from Dutch Denim brand G-Star, acknowledged the multitude of issues facing denim production. However, while she admitted “denim is a dirty business,” she said, “at G-Star, we’re taking up this challenge.”

G-Star was one of the first brands to sign onto the ZDHC Programme, commit to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020, and to become APEO free.

“Are we scared of a toxic future? No, we see a lot of innovation, we see a lot of sustainable solutions, and we’re on a journey forward.”

3) Importance of a Shared Roadmap


Stefano Aldighieri, Head of Denim Design at Arvind Limited, a manufacturing company based in India, and also a contributor to ZDHC, acknowledged the value of sharing a common goal.

“ZDHC has given us a roadmap. It provides guidance and direction to take steps towards the elimination of hazardous chemicals.”

He concluded that, we’re not doing this because we are great.

“We’re doing this because we are a part of nature. We are doing this because we want to survive.”

4) Collaboration is Key

Last but not least, Scott Echols, ZDHC’s Technical Director presented the ZDHC Programme and the unique collaboration of contributors it includes spanning brands, textile mills, chemical companies, industry associations and manufacturers.

In her presentation, Sara highlighted what participation in ZDHC means for G-Star and how they’re working with other industry actors to improve things.

“Participating in ZDHC means we can sit together with other brands to discuss this issue and for this, we don’t act as competitors. We’re able to come together, because we know we can’t change the industry alone.”

As Scott emphasised, our role at ZDHC is to facilitate collaboration between all of these actors, work together to create common standards and tools, and together, focus on collaborative implementation and engagement.

“While the road is not always simple, it’s clear that working together collaboratively on this issue will get us there faster.”