3 April 2017
ISKO I-SKOOL™ – How to produce more Sustainable Denim
Last week I introduced you my experience with ISKO ISKOOL™, I joined different denim seminars that explained me all the steps you need to produce a pair of jeans. And that you can choose to produce (and wear) more sustainable denim. When you get known with fashion production I think your love to garments grows. If all those steps, technologies, innovation and people are needed to get my jeans done then I really don’t want to wear them just three times and then throw them away.
“Denim is a garment that moves, lives and memorizes with you”, explained Baris Ozden from ISKO. At the beginning jeans where made of raw denim fabric that aged with your own wear. People wore a pair of jeans for five to ten years and more, the fabric faded slowly with use, showing discolorations based on your own body, on how you walked and which use you made of the jeans. Jeans used to be “workwear” and raw jeans got that “vintage feel” we all love for denim now through constant wearing. Today we can reproduce the same beautiful vintage touch in a new pair of jeans. The point is how we achieve it.
“Why are you wearing this pair of jeans?”, this question is often answered with “I don’t know” or “just because I like them”, added Baris Ozden. But there’s so much more to love about a good looking and well made jeans. What adds value is that the good vintage style can be achieved by using innovative and more sustainable ways of production. Jeans are not just a casual clothing item any more, we know it, they can be a fashion statement. And also an awareness statement.
I. FROM THE COTTON PLANTATION TO FABRIC
From a cotton plantation to denim cotton fabric, how does it work? Starting from cotton fields the white cotton bolls are harvested to be spun in soft white threads. The fibers go through several processes that will produce a single, pure-white thread.
1 | GINNING: separates and cleans the cotton to take out fibers (all part of the cotton are used in the industry, there’s no waste).
2 | COMBING THE COTTON: the cotton yield is not the same every year, cotton has to be unified because if it feels different in can impact on the quality of the yarn. For denim we are actually looking for an “imperfect” yarn, it gives the best feeling on jeans. Once imperfection was only given by nature but it is possible to reproduce it industrially now.
3 | DYEING: what makes jeans so unique is its indigo colour. Jeans were dyed with natural indigo at the beginning, today we have synthetic indigo. To dye we need oxygen and sulphure. The particularity of denim is that the yarn is only dyed blue on its external part, the internal part of the yarn is always white. That offers lots of ways to play around with colour and finishing the fabric by choosing how you want to dye the yarn with more or less blue versus white.
4 | WEAVING: to get fabric from a yarn you need special weaving machines. Through Itema, a weaving machines company, I got explained that there are different kind of machines, and that this step can have an impact on sustainability and quality of denim as well.
Plus: MAN MADE FIBERS
When we think of sustainability we often only think about organic cotton (which is just a very small part of cotton plantation). But thanks to Lenzing seminar I learned that there are other fibers than cotton to produce denim (and other clothing). Modal and viscose, for example. And LENZING TENCEL. That is made of pure wood-based cellulose fibers from trees. Denim is a perfect match for Tencel. It gives denim more strenght and a silky touch. More comfort and softeness, and sensitive skin can benefit of a greater moisture. Lenzing Tencel is produced using an eco-friendly closed loop manufacturing process and Tencel fabric is compostable after 8 weeks. [For more information you can visit Carved in Blue]
II. DENIM WASHING AND TREATMENTS
Until the Eighties this process was called “washing” today it is more a proper “treatment”. I didn’t know there were so many ways to treat a pair of jeans. Wash Italia explained all of these.
1 | Resin: creates a number of different finishes on garments, like folds for example. It can either be applied in a bath or sprayed on for three-dimensional effects to add a pristine sheen.
2 | Scraping: a process that can only be done by hand since the sensitivity of the human hand and eye is essential for creating authentic-looking whiskers on denim legs.
3 | Stone Washing: the classic finishing technique for jeans. Today, washing with pumice stone has been largely replaced by a chemical process using enzymes, producing a more natural effect look.
4 | Ripping: also a manual process performed by a skilled operator who breaks the weave, to distress the fabric in just the right places.
5 | Repaired: rips and tears are repaired using traditional techniques.
6 | Chemical Spray: enables to create special faded effects using special products
7 | Neutralisazion: completely neutralises the reagents used in the chemical spray.
8 | Old Colour: another manual process in which the jeans are immersed in a dye solution to create a vintage look without altering the original indigo dye.
9 | Screen Printing: two processes: creating the graphic design and printing the design by etching the image into the fabric. More colours, more designs.
10 | Spray On Colour: adds character to the jeans with coloured and leather effects.
11 | Mylair & Foils: coloured or patterned metal foil hot pressed onto the fabric.
12 | Final 3D Effect: gives the jeans a lived-in look.
Paradossal fact: it is more difficult to create an easy looking “washing” on jeans than a heavy one. We are all looking for a true vintage look not for heavy white marks, aren’t we?
All these processes can be polluting. That’s why brands should be looking for more eco-friendly alternatives. I had the chance to visit TONELLO, an Italian laundry and dyeing company that exactly does this: creating technologies that are reliable, safe and respect the environment and that consume less energy, few additives, and indeed little of everything. Imagine your home washing machine, just as big as you can step inside, that’s how Tonello’s machines look like. And that’s what they can do: ECOfree technique uses 50%-80% less water, no hazardous chemicals and it’s safe for workers and for consumers who wear the jeans. NoStone gives the same effect as stonewash but without the stones, through stainless steel with an abrasive drum fastened to the washing machine cylinder. Core Batik creates special effects like fadings, antartic effect, dyeing. and Lazerblaze does rips and damages by using a laser, that means using no chemicals, no water and having a great flexibility in creating.
I am a packaging and graphic design junkie. And labeling is for jeans what packaging is for a product. RECA GROUP, an Italian labeling and consulent company working with some of the most known international fashion brands, explained us the importance of it. “Whitout a label it’s just denim. With a label it becomes a pair of jeans”. One of the most known jeans labeling example is by Levi’s, which also made their jeans so popular: you only need to look at the little red label on the back pocket of the jeans and you know it’s theirs. The stitching on the back pocket is also a distinctive sign. These are the two most important jeans labelling (but are not the only ones) and must be always clearly visible also when the jeans is folded.When choosing their own label brands should pay attention to have a coherent image. Some colours already have an almost fixed connotation in the fashion industry, red in labeling is often use in sportswear, for example. The label on the jeans must be of course washable – so fabric or leather is used – and it also can be chosen to be sustainable, for example if recycled.
The last step of a pair of jeans could be final embellishment and customization. For example by using Swarovski crystals. They can be sewed, glued, or applied with an adesive and they come in hundreds of shapes and colours for endless designing possibilities.
Now enjoy wearing your jeans, they have come a long way into your closet! I hope you can appreciate them and choose a pair of jeans in a different way now than just looking at their “style”.
All photos by me.
Post in collaboration with ISKO.