Beyond Cotton and Chemicals: Denim Première Vision Spotlights Eco-denim for Spring 2023

·6 min read

MILAN — Denim for the planet, denim for all.

This is how the second edition of the Denim Première Vision trade show held here could easily be described, with its focus on sustainability and a wide range of alternatives to raw cotton and chemicals for clothing that leaned toward vintage and workwear-inspired styles.

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Exhibitors were upbeat, and surprised, about the energy that ran through the hallways of the Superstudio Più venue, where the fair took place. It attracted 1,225 in-person attendees, while the fair’s digital counterpart amassed 2,525 online visitors.

Decamped to Milan for the second time as part of a roving format that the fair kicked off in 2018, the show hosted 46 exhibitors between weavers, yarn-makers, chemical companies and technology enablers, with a strong presence of Turkish mills and a few Italians. Notable absentees were companies from India and Bangladesh, unable to attend due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

“Despite logistics difficulties, the outcome was exciting,” said Denim Première Vision show manager Fabio Adami Dalla Val. “Traffic was terrific, and visitors were premium with a great combination of denim brands and luxury labels.”

Business-wise, he believes the denim industry was better equipped to handle store closures and consequent inventory issues.

“Denim is a versatile and malleable product and denim companies adapted swiftly to the pandemic reality, adjusting to the impact on unsold stock,” the show manager said. “I don’t believe that denim garments experienced a rebound because of its casual quality that could fit with the WFH routine, but I’m seeing younger generations embracing it again after years of domination of trackpants.”

Forecasting the adoption of jeans as the post-pandemic uniform, mills embraced a low-key approach, banking on hero products with a retro flair and updating them to reflect today’s quest for sustainability.

The latter was highlighted in an array of forms for spring 2023, from the introduction of cotton-alternatives like hemp, to high-tech washing and finishing techniques.

“I think this sector spearheaded the sustainability wave in fashion, as it was under the scrutiny of industry watchdogs and has been deemed as among the most polluting ones for too long,” Adami Dalla Val explained. “It’s been a leader and a driver of the sustainable revolution in fashion.”

For instance, garment-maker and laundry company Elleti Group is testing green solutions while acknowledging that brands are not always ready to embrace them, especially those in the contemporary and advance contemporary segments that are core to the company’s business.

For spring 2023, the company satisfied the craze for vintage-looking jeans by introducing its most sustainable iteration of the Green Replicants collection based on archive pieces stored in the company’s museum of denim M.O.D.E.

Developed using the patented Wiser Wash technology for which Elleti holds the exclusive rights of use in Europe, the only exception being Portugal, the wash avoids the use of harmful chemicals and pumice stones, replaced by ozone treatments, among others. The reinterpretation of hero products from Levi’s and A Boss of the Road dating as far back as the early 20th century resulted in distressed denim pants that could not be distinguished from the originals, except that they require seven steps instead of the usual 15, saving water and energy consumption by 53 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

Denim pants developed by Elleti Group using the Wiser Wash technique. - Credit: Courtesy of Elleti
Denim pants developed by Elleti Group using the Wiser Wash technique. - Credit: Courtesy of Elleti

Courtesy of Elleti

The innovation was awarded the “green” Environmental Impact Measuring score and could even come out as cheaper than regular denim in that it avoids costs related to chemicals and water disposal. However, Paolo Biondaro, the group’s international sales manager, said they “need to assess the consistency of these products, in terms of market reception and ability to sustain production capacity” before rolling them out more broadly.

Innovation was paramount to Chinese-Vietnamese mill Prosperity Textile, which experimented with a vast array of green blends to manufacture “denim in a better way,” as its sales and marketing director for Europe Constantin Vratsidas put it.

For example, bio-based polyester was core to the company’s Galactic collection, which offers elasticity and recovery features while being compostable in specific environments.

The mill also sealed a partnership with Swedish company Sodra, which provided rayon made of wood pulp and 20 percent recycled textiles, blended by the Chinese denim mill with recycled and raw cotton, for its vintage-looking Once More denim.

The addition of CiClo — an additive technology applied to man-made fibers to achieve a certain level of degradability — to the ingredients mix resulted in the Leave No Trace lineup.

The scene at the Denim Première Vision trade show for spring 2023 in Milan. - Credit: Nicola Cordi/Courtesy of Denim Première Vision
The scene at the Denim Première Vision trade show for spring 2023 in Milan. - Credit: Nicola Cordi/Courtesy of Denim Première Vision

Nicola Cordi/Courtesy of Denim Première Vision

Recycled fibers including pre- and post-consumer cotton were key ingredients of Turkish mill Calik’s new Re-J collection. The company also tapped into the pent-up demand for hemp blends, debuting fabrics that contain up to 20 percent of the natural ingredient. The latter was also used by Prosperity, blended with recycled and raw cotton.

Amid a sea of indigo blues, PG Denim’s booth stood out with its bold and elaborate offering featuring saturated colors, flocking and 3D effects, as well as digital prints and metallic finishes.

“Denim will never go out of fashion, but we have to reinvent it because it looks the same regardless of the brand you buy it from, leaving retailers unable to choose,” founder Paolo Gnutti said.

Acknowledging that brands have shifted their merchandise attention to tops and footwear, he employed denim for sweaters and tops, in addition to jeans, further developing its eco-friendly dyeing technique designed to reduce the amount of chemicals employed in the sulphur-based process by 40 percent, all the while reducing water consumption by 50 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent.

The “Green Denim” line was further enriched with GRS-certified textiles, which contain 60 percent of pre- and post-consumer cotton canvases, as opposed to the average 35 percent recycled components found elsewhere in partially recycled denim.

A pair of jeans crafted from PG Denim’s “Green Denim” range. - Credit: Courtesy of PG Denim
A pair of jeans crafted from PG Denim’s “Green Denim” range. - Credit: Courtesy of PG Denim

Courtesy of PG Denim

Gnutti has carved out a niche of high-end clients — based in France, Italy and the U.S. — interested in premium denim, and he’s sticking to the formula, knowing that he won’t enter the high-volumes mass market.

“If my target was fast fashion, I’d be unable to cope with increasing price competition from the Far East and Turkey, and I’m not committed to tap into that segment,” he said, noting the company is growing at a consistent double-digit pace year-over-year.

His offering has a sustainable bent, with cotton adhering to the GOTs and GRS standards and he sees the education of consumers as the real hindrance, in that brands are far from an honest and transparent communication.

The upcoming edition of Denim Première Vision is slated for May 17 and 18 in Berlin.

Adami Dalla Val didn’t rule out returning to Milan in the future as he sees the city as the hotbed for the “modern denim industry,” and potentially the European capital for the sector.

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