There are many questions surrounding denim, from boosting fit to decreasing impact. These five companies offer up answers.
Question: Can bio-engineering make a better indigo?
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Forget water into wine; HUUE’s “miracle” is turning microbes into dye.
Created by Michelle Zhu, CEO (Inc Female Founder and Forbes 30 Under 30) and Tammy Hsu, CSO (MIT 35 Under 35, Inc Female Founder and Newsweek Disruptor), HUUE’s co-founders took a bioengineering approach to provide a non-toxic alternative to indigo dyeing without losing those natural blues consumers crave.
HUUE’s biological route for developing indigo differs from both petrochemical and plant-based methods in that “it uses nature’s blueprint to make the dye [but] doesn’t require acres of plants to do it,” said Zhu.
“We study the enzymes within the cells of dye plants that convert plant sugars into color, then engineer our microbes to mirror the plant’s process of enzymatically converting sugar into dye,” she said, adding that due to the dye’s “drop-in nature,” denim mills can easily substitute HUUE’s bio-indigo 1:1 for whatever conventional indigo they are currently using.
HUUE’s “bio-identical dye molecule” also creates the same dye effects as conventional denim industry requirements, from application to washdown. “We’ve shown that denim fabric made from our bio-indigo is very comparable to fabric dyed with conventional indigo,” said Zhu.
Ginger + Dandelion
Question: Can jeans let bloat breathe?
Launched in August, Ginger + Dandelion offers the “first-ever bloat-friendly” jeans for the 75 percent of women who experience the disruptive digestive issue for reasons ranging from hormones and long-haul flights to post-surgery and post-pregnancy recovery.
The jeans feature “Tummy Technology,” a trademarked construction that includes a relaxed contoured waistband that lays flat on the stomach and a panel that smooths and reduces the visibility of bloating while expanding to make room for the expansion. In bloating wear tests, bloating can cause stomachs to grow up to 3 inches. Tummy Technology is engineered to accommodate comfort during bloating.
Bloating may not be a fashionable topic, but founder Nicole Berger has found her audience. “These are [for] women who gave up on wearing jeans or don’t like wearing jeans, and we wanted to make sure both fits felt very flattering to them,” she said. “They’re gaining their confidence back and that’s what they lost through this whole process.”
Question: Is it too much to ask to buy jeans online that fit?
AI-powered sizing technology solutions company Bold Metrics says no. “Denim is likely the most returned category in the apparel industry—lack of stretch, so many different fits and inconsistencies between brands all contribute to this,” said Jeff Mergy, Bold Metrics vice president of product and strategy. “We see a big opportunity to leverage our unique brand-centric approach to make an impact on denim fit-related returns.”
From just four to six online survey questions (no imprecise measuring tapes or invasive body scanning required), Bold Metrics’ AI sizing technology gathers millions of data points to determine over 50 body measurements. The system even intakes shoe size and other easily known customer data points to deliver tailor-level accurate body measurements. Once the survey data is input, brands can offer product recommendations, and consumers can add them to their cart with confidence they will fit.
Bold Metrics’ Virtual Tailor application can also power bespoke denim. Before implementing the Virtual Tailor, “Made in USA” brand Blue Delta Jeans only built products for people they measured by hand at their Oxford, Miss. shop or at sponsored events around the country. “The Virtual Tailor has enabled them to reach any consumer that wants a pair of jeans built for their body and their fit preference,” said Mergy.
Question: Can dyeing denim be done with less water?
Dyes are crucial to achieve denim’s various hues, but traditional indigo dyes spell environmental harm. DyStar, a century-old Singapore-based dye and chemical company, has worked out a solution with its recently launched Eco-Advanced Indigo Dyeing. Compared to standard indigo process, DyStar reduces water usage by up to 90 percent, and uses 30 percent less energy consumption, 85 percent less water effluent and up to 10 percent less indigo during the dye production process.
The trick is a pre-treatment with Lava Fix FFA Eco, and an after-fixation with FFA Eco and neutralization process. This reduces the amount of box washes needed to dye the denim, saving water, energy and effluent. DyStar’s Eco-Advanced Indigo Dyeing is applicable in the Indigo traditional dyeing process and can be used with both sulphur dyes and colored denim and is also laser friendly.
“At DyStar, we are constantly innovating through our research and development. The introduction of an advanced sustainable indigo dyeing technology will help the denim industry to save valuable natural resources,” said Naceur Azraq, global technical manager of DyStar Denim.
Still Here Denim and Café
Question: How can you make denim’s end of life more useful?
One forward-thinking company is turning its post-consumer waste into denim-driven compost for a Guatemalan coffee farm. The result? Coffee with a great back story, and a denim brand that flexes its creative muscles on its path toward helping the planet.
Still Here, started in 2018 by husband-and-wife team Sonia and Maurice Mosseri, references both denim’s timeless popularity and its ability to be reused, recycled and repurposed.
“To make use of the waste that emanates when ‘dirty cotton’ is cleaned of its seed and debris, we challenged our mill in Guatemala, The New Denim Project, to upcycle that dirt into fertilizer, which a nearby coffee farm uses on its plants,” said Maurice about the coffee-from-jeans process.
In its new boutique in New York’s downtown Nolita, Still Here displays a big bag of pre-cleaned “dirty cotton” straight from the mill, which serves as a conversation starter for the brand’s increasingly curious and engaged consumer. The store also serves free brewed coffee while customers shop, and sells coffee beans by the bag. The cleaned cotton is made into its off-white Bone Denim collections, as well as the newer Cloud Denim, which the brand calls “the softest denim in the world.”
In addition to new denim collections, what’s Still Here’s next creative sustainability project? “We’re working on mixing blue denim waste with concrete to create vessels for a fragrance brand,” said Mosseri. “It’s not a huge part of our business, but it’s the cool part, and it’s exciting and interesting!”
This article is from Rivet’s Fall issue. Click here to read more.