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DENIM FOR GOOD NO. 12 / JUNE 2021
RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
Angela Velasquez Executive Editor, Rivet Peter Sadera Editor in Chief, Sourcing Journal Jessica Binns Managing Editor Arthur Friedman Senior Editor Vicki M. Young Executive Financial Reporter
As I write, 140 million individuals in the U.S. are fully vaccinated against Covid19 and thousands, perhaps even millions, more will be by press time, including yours truly. But it doesn’t take data to sense that people feel safer, at least not in New York City where subways are filling up, lunch joints are packed with office workers and pandemic politeness has checked out—all signs that nature is restoring itself in the City That Never Sleeps. It’s enough to warm the heart of any New Yorker because the city had indeed descended into a bleak state one year ago. New Yorkers don’t easily accept defeat, but even the most steadfast recognized that the city—as the U.S. pandemic epicenter with sirens wailing every few minutes and temporary morgues lining our streets—was far from its brashly dynamic self. It takes a real New Yorker to admit that. We New Yorkers, after all, famously wear our New York-ness like a crown atop our inflated heads. The last time I was in Las Vegas for Project, a stranger at Starbucks said they could tell I was from New York. It was one of the best compliments I ever received, even after a colleague (and fellow blunt New Yorker) pointed out that it was a polite way of saying, “you look like an [insert expletive].” While people tend to wax poetically about New York’s resilience, what they say is true: The city always bounces back—oftentimes new and improved. Optimism is in the air. The plywood that shrouded the city’s stores last summer is down. People are dressing for destinations other than their couch, and denim, once again, has returned to the urban landscape. The city serves as the backdrop to our fashion editorial “The Big Green Apple” on pg. 44, in which we shine a spotlight on the new denim wardrobe that is more sustainable and stylish than ever before. I would argue that the denim industry is a lot like New York. Both are gritty, classic, cool and tough. Both are always reinventing themselves with unabashed swagger and confidence, and both know how to defy greatly exaggerated claims of its so-called demise. And like New York, it’s the will, passion and talent of the people working in the denim industry that help safeguard its staying power. This issue celebrates the progressive steps denim companies are taking to ensure that they are not only conducting business responsibly, but also having a positive, long-lasting impact on both the planet and the people enmeshed in their supply chains. From programs that help elevate the voices of underrepresented groups, to initiatives put in place to provide healthcare, education and financial assistance to those in need, the denim industry is leaning into the fabric’s democratic allure. The hardships of the past year serve as a reminder that we’re all connected—be it by industry, zip code or experiences—and it’s this sense of community that leads me to believe that the best is yet to come.
Jasmin Malik Chua Sourcing & Labor Editor Kate Nishimura Features Editor Glenn Taylor Business Editor Liz Warren Staff Writer Victor Vaughns Jr. Rivet Market Editor Chuck Dobrosielski Staff Writer Sarah Jones Business Reporter Tonya Blazio-Licorish Contributor, Fairchild Archive Assistant A RT DEPA RTME N T
Celena Tang Associate Art Director Arani Halder Designer SO U RC IN G JO U RN AL A DV E RTI S I N G
Edward Hertzman Founder & President, Sourcing Journal & Rivet Executive Vice President, Fairchild Caletha Crawford Publisher Lauren Parker Branded Content Manager Eric Hertzman Senior Director of Sales & Marketing Deborah B. Baron Advertising Director Allix Cowan Client Services Coordinator Sarah Sloand Executive Sales Assistant P RO D U C T I O N
Kevin Hurley Production Director John Cross Production Manager Therese Hurter PreMedia Specialist
FAIRCHILD PUBLISHING LLC IS A DIVISION OF PENSKE MEDIA CORPORATION
JAY PENSKE CHAIRMAN & CEO GERRY BYRNE VICE CHAIRMAN GEORGE GROBAR CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER SARLINA SEE CHIEF ACCOUNTING OFFICER CRAIG PERREAULT CHIEF DIGITAL OFFICER TODD GREENE EVP, BUSINESS AFFAIRS AND CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER MARK HOWARD CHIEF ADVERTISING AND PARTNERSHIPS OFFICER PAUL RAINEY EVP, OPERATIONS & FINANCE TOM FINN SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, OPERATIONS DEBASHISH GHOSH MANAGING DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL MARKETS JENNY CONNELLY SVP, PRODUCT & TECHNOLOGY JUDITH R. MARGOLIN SVP, DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL KEN DELALCAZAR SVP, FINANCE
Executive Editor, Rivet
LAUREN UTECHT SVP, HUMAN RESOURCES NELSON ANDERSON SVP, CREATIVE RACHEL TERRACE SVP, LICENSING & BRAND DEVELOPMENT
DL1961 COTTON AND LYCRA DRESS; COTTON CITIZEN RIBBED KNIT DRESS; EDITOR’S EARRINGS.
RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
TABL E OF CONT E NTS 05 20 24
28 35 44 54 66 74 82 88 RAG & BONE T-SHIRT; KSENIA SCHNAIDER JEANS; JIMMY CHOO BOOTS; AGMES NECKLACE; MILAMORE NECKLACE; PAMELA LOVE EARRINGS; LADY GREY EARRINGS AND RINGS; KELTY PELECHYTIK RING.
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GREEN MARKET The latest denim collections usher in a new era of sustainable design and manufacturing. IGNITING CHANGE Transformers Foundation is rallying the denim industry to foster meaningful change. EQUAL GROUND The Women In Denim is on a mission to promote gender equality throug the supply chain. IN IT TOGETHER The pandemic underscored the need for employee hardship funds like Levi Strauss & Co.'s Red Tab Foundation. GOOD BUSINESS Leaders in the denim supply chain step up to support their employees and local communities. THE BIG GREEN APPLE The new denim wardobe is as sustainable and stylish as ever. DON'T CALL IT A COME BACK New York City's fashion and retail sectors are ready to navigate life after the coronavirus. WORDS INTO ACTIONS Has the industry kept its promises to last year's Black Lives Matter movement? PUBLIC CRITIQUE To cancel or not to cancel? Consumers feel more empowered than ever to take brands to task. PEOPLE + PLANET Intersectional environmentalism—what does it mean for the denim industry? BE GOOD In an age of conscious consumerism, B Corp certification has become the standard to strive for. GLO-CAL KNOWLEDGE Can global producers usher in L.A.'s denim revival?
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GREEN MARKET The latest denim collections usher in a new era of sustainable design and manufacturing.
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Spring 2021 will go down as the year Gap released its most sustainable collection to date as well as its first circular jeans. The brand launched Generation Good, a sustainable line of women’s, men’s, kids’ and baby apparel that address issues related to water usage, sustainable materials, waste, CO2 emissions and workers’ rights. The collection includes jeans and denim shorts made with recycled polyester and post-consumer recycled cotton. Gap also debuted its first line of denim that follows Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign program. Items in the five-piece women’s collection are 100 percent derived from natural fibers, use chemicals that abide by the ZDHC guidelines and include removable hardware for easier recycling at end-of-life. The Jeans Redesign products are part of Gap Inc.’s Washwell program, a denim washing process that uses 20 percent less water than conventional processes. The company reported that 91 percent of its total denim range is part of the program, beating its original goal of 75 percent. The Washwell program has been essential to Gap Inc.’s water conservation efforts. The company said it has saved 11.2 billion liters of water since 2014. —Liz Warren
The Spring 2021 Levi’s Made & Crafted collection navigates the complexities of pandemic consumers’ wants and needs with the level of ease you might come to expect from a heritage brand with 140-plus years of expertise. With sustainability at the fore, the collection offers modern utility garments made with soft and loose constructions in calming sea-inspired colors. More than half of the collection includes a sustainable component such as Tencel x Refibra, cottonized hemp and organic cotton, which the brand incorporates into denim jeans, jackets and tops. The women’s range offers looser fits such as
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the Column, a high-rise jean with a straight fit and wide leg opening. Loose silhouettes are carried into jackets, including the Oversized Tide Trucker jacket made with a cottonized hemp and the Resort Trucker, a cropped silhouette with billowing sleeves. For men, Levi’s centered its attention on soft, streamlined styles, authentic finishing and “artful sail mending-inspired details.” Key denim items include the 551Z Authentic Straight, a straight-fitting jean with a wide leg opening, and the Loose Straight, a jean with a more relaxed shape that is idea for summer layering. —Angela Velasquez
G R SE EO NU RMCAI NR GK E T
COLOR SCIENCE try. Colorifix, a U.K. biotech company that uses a natural, biological process to produce and fix pigments onto textiles, is launched worldwide with the H&M collection. We aRe SpinDye, a recycled polyester that is pigmented before being extracted into yarn, is also featured in the line in the form of a terra-cotta pant and matching top. The process uses 75 percent less water during the entire coloring process and requires 90 percent less chemical consumption. Defined by draping, delicate silhouettes and prints, the Color Story collection covers a range of skirts, slouchy jeans, ponchos, T-shirts, trousers and more. The collection also includes jewelry made from recycled glass. —LW l_____A SOS DESIGN
Sustainable dyes are the latest focus for H&M’s Innovation Stories, a series of capsules collectively aiming to promote the use of sustainable materials, technology and production processes across the garment industry. The Swedish clothing giant’s Color Story for spring centers on women’s separates dyed using techniques such as biotechnology, plant-based pigments and digital textile printing. The result is a collection rich with color spanning warm shades of yellow and orange, deep indigos and blushing pinks, as well as on-trend tie-dye prints that bring the palette together. The collection includes several sustainable firsts for H&M as well as for the apparel indus-
RESPONSIBLE EDIT To get post-pandemic consumers out of their sweatpants, denim needs to check new boxes according to comfort and sustainability. Asos Design’s latest denim drop presents both. The U.K.-based online retailer debuted its Spring/Summer 2021 denim collection with an edit that uses responsibly sourced cotton and 50 percent less water during washing and finishing compared with conventional jeans. The brand reports that, while conventional methods typically use 60-70 liters of water per jean, its responsible denim collection uses under 33 liters per jean. Asos Design’s denim collection showcases a variety of fits for women, ranging from the tried and true high-rise skinny jeans with contouring properties to more fashion-forward silhouettes such as high-rise slouchy mom jeans and “oversized skater” throwback baggy styles. The line also includes the dad jean, a straight leg that’s the same width from waist to ankle. The collection also spans men’s denim and includes classic rigid options that are slightly cropped and tapered, and straight fits to accommodate the demand for loose denim. The line also includes more directional garments like an ultrabaggy jean that nods to the ’90s, and body-hugging skinny jeans —LW
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MODERN SENSIBILITY Though the designs are minimal, the concept behind Non, a new London-based denim brand, is thoughtful and considered. Founded by Pete Hellyer during London’s first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, the non-gendered, non-branded, consciously made line represents a modern approach to luxury streetwear. The collection is made from an exclusive 12-ounce selvedge fabric that was developed in partnership with Isko. The fabrics are part of Isko’s R-Two line, made with 50 percent certified organic cotton and 50 percent recycled cotton that is reclaimed from the Turkish mill. Four finishes are available for all styles; raw, lightly rinsed, an eco-stonewash and raw poppped with white contrast stitching. Non’s debut collection includes jeans in straight, relaxed and wide-leg silhouettes with sizing from 25-36. As the “uniform of the world,” Hellyer said denim has the potential to alter fashion’s course for the better. “If the whole industry changed their approach we would see a really positive impact on the planet and socially,” he said. —AV
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G R SE EO NU RMCAI NR GK E T
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l_____MU D JEA N S
Reformation upgraded its denim selection with a new collection featuring FibreTrace, a technology that embeds traceable, scannable pigments directly into the fabric of its jeans. Each denim product made using FibreTrace is tagged with a scannable QR code, allowing consumers to access their denim’s pedigree with their fingertips. With a simple swipe on their smartphones, shoppers can track a garment’s entire lifecycle, with each audit—from the cotton farm, to production, to the finishing stages—securely recorded on the virtual blockchain. The project was born of a desire to provide more visibility into its supply chain, and specifically, its rigorously maintained fiber and production standards. The company is the first in the U.S.
NATURAL WONDER Dye is overrated. Mud Jeans unveiled its Undyed denim collection, a range of existing styles made with fabrics consisting of 60 percent organic cotton and 40 percent recycled denim. No new dye is added to the process, meaning the recycled denim and organic cotton fibers come together to produce the collection’s unique gray-blue shade. “The nice thing is that the trends of the past years are reflected in the jeans,” said Dion Vijgeboom, Mud Jeans’ denim innovator. “Most of the old, recycled jeans were blue; the new cotton is white; hence this mixed denim color.” Though Mud typically uses Cradle 2 Cradle-certified indigo dye, by skipping the dyeing process— and, in turn, the wash process—the brand is able to use 92 percent less water per pair compared to industry standard. The omitted process also allows the undyed jeans to only consume 6.12 kg of CO2, reducing CO2 consumption by 74 percent compared to the industry standard. The Undyed denim collection includes women’s relaxed, straight and flare jeans, a denim jacket and a denim skirt. The men’s range offers a straight jean, chino, shorts and denim jacket. —LW
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to adopt FibreTrace, which will be used on fabric made with Good Earth Cotton from the world’s first climate-positive farm in Australia. The farm’s operations absorb more carbon than is released into the atmosphere, therefore facilitating a net reduction in carbon emissions, it said. “This enables customers to view the denim’s entire lifecycle from fiber to production to finished garment, to when they finally take their jeans home,” said Kathleen Talbot, Reformation chief sustainability officer and vice president of operations. The digital ledger “really goes back to the start, right down to the farm where the cotton bale was harvested,” she added. Reformation is already looking to incorporate the technology into other fabrics and future collections. —Kate Nishimura
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CUSTOM JOB How can a jean be made for all but also fit for one unique wearer? Unspun launched Un-labelled, a custom unisex jeans designed by former Levi’s head of design Jonathan Cheung, who joined the company’s advisory board in September. Un-labelled jeans align with Unspun’s zero inventory production model. The company uses AI and 3D modeling—accessible to consumers through its app or at one of its three locations in the U.S. and Hong Kong—to create custom and
on-demand jeans. The loose-fitting jeans are made with organic cotton and dyed using a zero-water process and environmentally friendly finishes. Consumers can choose stretch or non-stretch constructions. The loose fit is also a style that Cheung noted is missing in Unspun’s current collection. Creating the jean was a test for the company’s AI capabilities. “Making skinny fits is theoretically simple,” Cheung said. “You scan the body and wrap the jeans close to the body scan. I wanted to see if the AI could learn a sense of looseness.”
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Cheung, who was an Unspun customer before becoming a collaborator, says the company is “onto something” with the “self-learning, pattern-cutting, body recognition AI” it is developing. The Un-labelled collection cements the company’s ethos by finding a fit solution that’s agnostic to gender, ethnicity and body type. Cheung added that once the traditional paradigm of fits—be it athletic, plus or petite—is eliminated, designing returns its focus on the individual. —AV
A D V E R T O R I A L
WEKO NON-CONTACT SYSTEMS OPTIMIZE FINISHING
INCE 1953, WEKO has been devel-
oping and producing contact-less application systems for product optimization and surface finishing with different types of fluids and powdery substances. The key has always been to use the fewest possible resources to mitigate waste, thus providing a more sustainable and environmentally friendly industrial production. Spraying without contact is a solution. Woven, knit, denim and terry sectors are adapting WEKO’s sustainable technology of spray application for functional finishing such as water repellence, flame retardance, softening, hydrophobic/hydrophilic, resin finish, antimicrobial (including the new technology of anti-viral chemistry) with minimal application and reduced cost. Treatments include denim slasher yarn dyeing, WEKO spray topping, bottoming, chemical oxidation, fixation, single- or dual-side fabric overdyeing and tinting. Here, Jayanta Sanyal, head of technical sales and processes, textile industry at German-based WEKO, explains the benefits for mills who utilize their textile processing machines.
HOW IS YOUR SYSTEM MORE SUSTAINABLE? WEKO’s rotary spray applicator (WEKO-SIGMA, WEKO-ProTec or WEKO-NEO) uses a low add-on application technique. As the running web receives exactly the required amount of the liquid, there’s no excess squeezed off like in the padding process. The low spray volume also means there’s no need to drain the dipping bath at every changeover, saving dye/chemical bath and wastewater treatment.
WHAT ARE THE SUSTAINABILITY ADVANTAGES TO WEKO’S SINGLE-SIDE DYEING PROCESS? A conventional pad-steam overdyeing process dyes both sides of the fabric, but WEKO’s single-side spray-steam overdyeing technique just dyes the side needing coloring, at nearly half the amount of prepared dyebath. For spray-on overdyeing in the stenter drying oven, our single-side process
increases machine speed and decreasing drying energy. WEKO’s adjustable penetration level also reduces chemical cost, increases production speed, lowers drying energy and lessens the load on washing and wastewater treatment.
HOW DO YOU INCORPORATE SOCIAL IMPACT INTO YOUR ESG INITIATIVES? We are a European manufacturer with a multinational work and sales force. Even after strictly following the German and European regulations on social and environmental aspects, our ESG is continuously reviewed by company management and recognized by our global stock exchange-listed partners. For climate action, we utilize numerical goals and benchmarking tools such as science-based targets. On the social side, by reducing the amount of chemicals our clients use and shortening the processing duration, we improve the health of their workers.
HOW ARE YOU UTILIZING TECHNOLOGY TO HELP MANUFACTURERS ACHIEVE BETTER SUSTAINABILITY? Climate change is one of the biggest challenges today, and technology providers must also contribute to achieve the aims of The Paris Agreement. The target is to provide a technical solution to the manufacturers to lower the carbon
footprint through continuous process and development. WEKO’s new generation technology aims toward 70 to 80 percent savings of water, 50 to 80 percent of chemistry and 70 to 80 percent drying energy.
HOW CAN THE DENIM SUPPLY CHAIN WORK TOGETHER TO CREATE AN INDUSTRY THAT VALUES AND PROTECTS ALL WORKERS? During this Covid-19 pandemic with businesses shut and squeezed cash flow, there’s an increasing concern that the denim supply chain’s pace towards developing sustainable alternatives has slowed down. A committee should work with brands, retailers and manufacturers to promote and market the alternate sustainable technologies to reduce the manufacturing cost, maintain worker dignity and achieve the price benchmark.
IN WHAT WAYS SHOULD GOVERNMENTS INTERVENE TO ENACT SOCIAL REGULATIONS THAT PUT ALL COMPANIES ON AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD? Governments should support the manufacturers by sharing the investment to adapt more sustainable techniques and practices through new generation technologies. This will ensure that required funds are distributed to the entire manufacturing sector. At the other end of the spectrum, brand and retailers can present the complete supply chain to the end customer, making them aware of what they`re buying and how it is produced. Only in this way will healthy competition drive adaptation of new sustainable techniques.
UP, UP AND AWAY Demand for upcycled denim has never been hotter.
w ords_____ V I CTO R VAU G H N S J R .
GABRIELLA MEYER, FOUNDER OF DENIMCRATIC RIVET: What inspired you to want to use upcycled denim?
Gabriella Meyer: I wear denim
every day and I wanted to work with a material that I had a personal relationship to. By entering an industry that is one of the world's biggest pollutants, I felt responsible as a designer to reduce my carbon footprint and create a narrative for my customers to understand what they are investing in when they choose to purchase a product. The Denimcratic brand utilizes repurposed denim, sustainable new denim, and digital fabrication to elevate streetwear with an insurgent aesthetic. RIVET: Who is the customer you keep in mind when designing? GM: Our custom-
ers are ones that can appreciate both a good design and quality construction. As we expand past creating custom one-of-a-kind
items for high-profile clients, we are seeking to reach a wider audience and encourage all consumers to shop sustainably. RIVET: Where do you see yourself and your brand in five years? GM: We’re amid a transition.
As of this June we are relocating [from Chicago] to Los Angeles. As we gain more traction, we are trying to upscale our sustainable practices without compromising our brand’s mission. I plan on continuing to expand in both denim and knitwear, as well as exploring new areas that can help bring us a step closer to becoming a lifestyle brand.
NYCE (DERIC CRAWLEY) AND HOMM (MUHAMMAD ABDUL-BASIT), FOUNDERS OF JEANTRIX RIVET: What inspired you to want to use upcycled denim? Nyce and Homm: When we cre-
ated Jeantrix, we were college stu-
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ith its innate durability and timeless appeal, jeans are the perfect garment to deconstruct and upcycle into new pieces, not to mention serve as the backbone of several independent apparel brands. Designers are taking upcycling to a whole new level by giving fabrics that were otherwise destined for the landfill a second, and often more stylish, lease on life. Here, the designers behind upcycled collections dish on the endless creative and environmentally friendly opportunities that come with repurposing denim. l_____DE NI MC RAT I C
dress the astronauts going to Mars, maybe some sort of smock with big pockets for collecting rocks.
dents that didn’t have a lot of money, but we wanted our clothing to make a statement. We would often shop at local thrift stores and on eBay to find cool gems. It was around this time we fell in love with thrifted and upcycled denim garments. In fact, it is because of how we embellished upcycled denim that the name Jeantrix was created. We would often say that our embellished jeans were ‘doing tricks.’ Cheesy, I know.
EVERARD BEST, FOUNDER OF WHO DECIDES WAR RIVET: What inspired you to want to use upcycled denim? Everard Best: We believe that every piece of
RIVET: Where do you hope to see your brand within the next five years? N+H: Our goal is to make Jeantrix
a household name—one that is comparable to the big fashion brands of today that paved the way for people like us. We plan to get our garments in many different retail and department stores while still staying true to our brands’
exclusivity. We also plan to bring our artwork to platforms other than clothing, such as furniture, art and NFTs, for example. It is through our art and our brand’s core message that we also plan to inspire the fearless individuals of the next generation to go after their passions and follow their dreams.
A, FOUNDER OF 69 RIVET: What inspired you to want to use upcycled denim? A: We source deadstock denim, but we
don’t ‘upcycle’ denim in the traditional sense, as in taking vintage garments and augmenting them. Los Angeles has a wealth of deadstock fabric warehouses. RIVET: Who is the customer you keep in mind when designing? A: We try to cast as wide a net as possible
with our customer. Our designs are outthere, so that results in a self-selecting group. If you can pull it off confidently, 69 is for you. RIVET: Where do you hope to see your brand within the next five years? A: In five years, we hope to improve our wash tech-
niques and sourcing methods—secure denim that is less impactful on the environment, and wash techniques that use less water. We would also love to RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
RIVET: Who is the customer you keep in mind when designing? EB: We design with the youth
and energy of New York City in mind. New York, and the creators within it, have birthed so many of the trends and cultures that the world gravitates to, so we’re continuing to design with this strong history in mind. RIVET: Where do you hope to see your brand within the next five years? EB: We hope
to be your new go-to d e n i m brand. l_____W HO DE CI DE S WAR
anyone and everyone, whether they are flashy or modest. Depending on the garment in question, we keep those two types of customers in mind. Our customer base is diverse. They are the quirky individuals who like to go out to art shows and be expressive. They don’t care what people think about what they’re wearing. We also have customers who want to make a statement without being too flashy. Therefore, we have a balance of wearable art pieces that are for the bold individuals and readyto-wear pieces such as T-shirts that are for the everyday customer. Everyone can get a piece of Jeantrix.
RIVET: Who is the customer you keep in mind when designing? N+H: Jeantrix is a brand for
fabric or every pair of denim we utilize should have multiple lives—denim reincarnation. Just because something like a vintage pair of jeans has served its intended purpose by its creator doesn’t mean its usage has to end there. There is always room to create something new. We utilize this approach when it comes to our own products as well. We are always saving pieces to repurpose into new textiles, patches, puffer fill and more.
l_____B L U E JE A NS G O GR E E N HA S DI VE RT E D 1 , 9 5 0 TO NS O F MAT E R IA L FRO M LA N DFILLS
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COL L A BOR AT ION
AHEAD OF THE PACK Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green program has urged consumers to recycle their jeans for 15 years and counting. w o r d s _____ ARTHUR F R I EDM A N
rom DIY TikToks on how to renew old jeans, to the growing number of brands introducing upcycled denim capsule collections, the awareness to reuse, reduce and recycle unwanted denim has never been greater. That is music to the ears of the team behind Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program, which for 15 years has been a call-to-action to recycle denim and transform it into something new. Blue Jeans Go Green collects donated denim through retailers, schools and other organizations, and then transforms the material into UltraTouch Denim Insulation by Bonded Logic Inc., a portion
of which is contributed to Habitat for Humanity affiliates and other building organizations. Since 2006, the program has provided insulation to more than 40 Habitat for Humanity affiliates around the country. By diverting denim waste from landfills, the program helps to close the loop on cotton sustainability and bring the environmental gains that cotton growers have made in the field full circle. “The impact the program has made from an environmental standpoint and the fact that it resonates with organizations and people within our industry and outside, that retailers and brands use it as a way to speak to their customers about their commitment to cotton sustainability, has been very rewarding,” said Amber Sambler, director of consumer marketing at Cotton Incorporated. The program’s mission to inspire more sustainable living by educating people on cotton’s natural life cycle and encouraging denim recycling is taking shape. What began as an initiative on college campuses now has a footprint in major retailers across the U.S. The program just achieved four million pieces of textile waste collected, including one million pieces in 2019 and 500,000 pieces in 2020 during Covid, Sambler noted. As a result, Blue Jeans Go Green has diverted 1,950 tons of material from landfills. While the benefits of recycling are widely known,
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encouraging consumers to engage in the activity remains a challenge. It’s a hurdle, however, that Blue Jeans Go Green is actively working to overcome. “I think the model we put together was ahead of its time and I didn’t envision that one day, in one year we would collect almost one million pieces of denim,” Sambler said. “That’s so amazing to have seen and where it’s come in 15 years, I’m super proud of that.” Blue Jeans Go Green collects any type of denim apparel item made from at least 90 percent cotton year-round through in-store collection points at retailers like Madewell, American Eagle and Levi’s. Retailers often incentivize consumers to donate their denim by providing a discount on their next purchase. In 2019, the program made it even easier to donate denim by partnering with Zappos. The arrangement allows consumers to mail in old denim to Blue Jeans Go Green via a Zappos For Good prepaid shipping label that is available to customers with a Zappos account. Now, all prospective recyclers have to do to discard their old denim is simply pack it up into any size shipping box, print a label and drop the parcel at a UPS location. Though some retailers halted their collection of jeans during the pandemic, denim giants such as Levi’s have begun to accept donations again. And with quarantine becoming a prime time for consumers to organize and purge their closets, there’s no shortage of donations to come. The average American owns six pairs of jeans and 10 pieces of denim, according to Cotton Incorporated’s 2020 Lifestyle Monitor survey. The Monitor survey showed 71 percent of consumers are equally interested in the clothing recycling programs that recycle old clothing to new garments as well as those that reprocess old apparel to new products other than wearable garb. “The biggest accomplishment has been to see the retail community harness the power collectively for the common good of creating a greener world and doing something responsible—the circularity of taking something at the end of its life and making it into something good,” Sambler said.
SOURCING l_____C A P T I O N O N WH I TE
l_____HO WE V E R , WE R E ALI ZED VERY EARLY T HAT W E NEE D E D TO A DA P T AND S HI F T
Eseque et omnienti ut laut autectio corrovid quodit que essitatur, simet et magnis simagni cum rat venis aut liquatiam volorest repedicid qui 16
w ords_____ N A M E TK N A M E TK
RIVET: You launched the brand in 2008 with 14 oz. Japanese selvedge. Today stretch and super stretch styles are among the brand’s most popular styles. What was the turning point? JD: It’s true we started the brand at the
"QUOT E TO GO H ER E QUOT E TO GO H ER E QUOT E TO GO H ER E ”
A NICHE IDEA height of the ‘heritage trend’ which was great because it educated consumers about quality. However, we realized very early that we needed to adapt and shift from heritage quality focus in to performance and sustainability, whilst always maintaining quality materials and a modern aesthetic. The turning point was seeing how well the skinny silhouettes were performing for women which was credit to the technology and development by the denim mills. Then, the same demand came for skinny silhouettes for men and it was a natural move to adapt the same technology in men’s denim. That said, we have always stayed true to our brand values and Japanese selvedge denim has remained in collection since the first season until today. Only the balance and consumer demand has shifted.
— n ametk n ametk , ti tle c om p an y
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Vetements: Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock; Faustine Steinmetz: LAURENT BENHAMOU/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock; Ralph Lauren: Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock; Balmain: Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock; Frankie Morello: Simona Chioccia/IPA/REX/Shutterstock; Dolce and Gabbana: Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock; DSquared: sicki/IPA/REX/Shutterstock; Versace: Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
he success of Denham the Jeanmaker is a lesson in staying true to your core. Founder and Chief Creative Officer Jason Denham launched the Amsterdam-based label in 2008 with the goal to create a premium quality product that pays homage to Japanese denim’s tradition and attention to detail. Ten years later, the brand is sold in more than 20 countries, offering men, women and children full range collections that capture denim’s unique ability to be simultaneously traditional and innovative. Denham shares with RIVET how embracing new fabric technologies and establishing the right partnerships has evolved the brand into the decade-old globally recognized label it is today.
COL L A BOR AT ION
Lenzing’s Carved in Blue celebrates five years of sharing the denim industry’s unique stories. w ords_____ A RTH U R FR I E D M A N
l_____T H E T ENC EL MI NI J EAN
n the five years since Lenzing’s Carved in Blue blog launched, it has become a multimedia darling of the denim scene. Along with amplifying the stories of partners that use Lenzing’s fibers such as Tencel and Tencel x Refibra in their collections, the platform has been a transformative B2C and B2B communication tool that now encompasses news articles, social media, videos, webinars, ecommerce, a YouTube channel and most recently, a podcast series called Blue Cast. In 2020, Carved in Blue was awarded “Best Topic Specific Blog” by the Content Marketing Institute, an annual award by the content marketing education and training organization. The accolade— along with the industry’s positive response—are affirmation of what Carved in Blue creators Tricia Carey, Lenzing director of global business development for denim and Michael Kininmonth, global denim development manager for Lenzing, believed in 2016: the denim sector, rich with stories and personalities waiting to be shared, lacked a central community-building platform that bridged the supply chain with brands and consumers. Despite some naysayers at the beginning who were skeptical that a fiber producer could sustained a media platform, early on, Carved in Blue became part of the denim media landscape to the point that now people and companies pitching their own ideas, Carey said. “We’re never at a loss for stories—at all.” Some of its most read articles are about brands like Boyish, Guess and Kings of Indigo and interviews with industry veteran Adriano Goldschmied. The blog is also home to several popular content series such as “All in the Family,” a collection of 25 profiles on family-owned denim businesses. “Denim is different from other markets because it has a sense of family to it,” Carey said. “It’s also a part of the business that’s different because there RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
17 are so many companies that are multigeneration, either mills or brands.” With sustainability ingrained deeply into Lenzing’s business, it has naturally become a hot topic on the blog as well. “SDG: Decoded,” a content series about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, shines a spotlight on the many ways that companies have incorporated the goals into their sustainable and social responsibility platforms, while a video series called “Modern Definition of Denim” examines the category’s past, present and future through the lens of industry influencers. The blog is certainly strategic to Lenzing’s own marketing initiatives. It allows the company to tell the stories of its latest innovations like Tencel Modal with Indigo Technology and collaborations, including one with the U.K. design consultancy Endrime which birthed the “Tencel Mini Jean”—a bite-sized jean that people in the industry photograph in faraway places à la the roaming gnome. “Along the way we try to weave in the benefits of Tencel, but we try to do it in a way that is natural to the story,” Carey said. Though Lenzing’s involvement in the sector is primarily through Tencel, Carved in Blue is also about community. It’s a quality that became apparent when the global pandemic shutdown the in-person meetings and events that the close-knit global denim industry has grown to rely on. During this period of crisis, Carey said Carved in Blue pivoted to videos and webinar series to help the industry stay connected. “With pandemic, it was wonderful to have this digital platform to keep in touch with the people and companies in the industry when nobody could travel or meet anywhere,” she said. The community responded. The blog’s traffic increased 30 percent during the pandemic. “[Carved in Blue] has continued to evolve to meet the needs, the stories and the conversations and the needs of the market,” Carey said.
C O LSL OA UB RO CR I AN TGI O N
BIG DEAL 18
Denim Deal is making recycling the new industry standard. w ords_____ LI Z WARRE N
l_____FI B E RS O RT
rom homegrown brands like Scotch & Soda and Kings of Indigo, to a roster of international mills opening satellite offices, the city of Amsterdam has emerged as a global hub for the denim industry in recent years. And now, with the introduction of the Denim Deal, it’s a region driving significant change in the industry. Last fall, the City of Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Economic Board, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Municipalities of Haarlem and the Zaanstad, in partnership with denim brands, committed to the Denim Deal, a three-year sustainable denim initiative. Signatories of the plan commit to a standard of using at least five percent recycled fibers in all denim products, and producing at least three million pairs of jeans with a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled (PCR) content. According to James Veenhoff, founder of House of Denim, a foundation that promotes sustainable innovation, and co-initiator of the Denim Deal, the idea is to make making recycling the new industry standard. “For a long time, [House of Denim co-founder Mariette Hoitink] and I have been intrigued why post-consumer recycling, with its high potential for savings in water and emissions, never really caught on,” he said, adding that, after a series of related conversations with individuals throughout the denim supply chain, “an idea emerged. Everybody seemed to want and believe the same thing, but needed the other steps in the chain to make a move.” One of the major steps he was referring to was a textile recycling system that was both efficient and scalable. When Dutch textile experts developed Fibersort, an automated sorting machine, Veenhoff said “the game changed.” The machine’s ability to sift through some 900 kilograms (1,980 pounds) of post-consumer textiles per hour and separate according to color, fiber and construction is exactly what was needed to initiate real change. “This makes collaboration between textile ‘proRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
l_____FROM LEFT: IMOGEN N U LTY, S COTCH & S ODA DENI M DES I G NER; JA MES V EEN H OFF, H OU SE OF DENIM CO-FOU NDER; HANS B ON, DIR ECTOR OF WIELA N D TEXTILE S AND FIBERS ORT
ducing’ countries and textile ‘consuming’ countries possible,” he said. “We can finally close the loop and make our linear industry circular.” The deal became a reality during a meeting with The Netherlands’ Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Innovation. To-date, 30 denim brands, including Scotch & Soda, Mud Jeans and Kings of Indigo, are a part of the deal, with new companies continuously joining. The City of Amsterdam is ensuring goals are met through a “steering committee” led by representatives from each part of the denim making process. Imogen Nulty, Scotch & Soda’s director of denim and committee member, outlined the steps organizers are taking to make sure the initiative stays on track. The first step is to record each brand’s current figures in terms of recycled cotton. The next is to meet regularly to share wins and failures across the supply chain and brainstorm potential new projects. At the end of each year, a third party will calculate the total achievements and determine appropriate next steps. “We are committed to making a positive impact, which is why we’re part of a forward-thinking denim community here in Amsterdam,” she said. “And that community and spirit is at the heart of the Denim Deal.”
In addition to the deal’s requirements, Scotch & Soda is committed to furthering its own aggressive targets. Currently, 41 percent of all of the brand’s styles feature 20 percent recycled material. By 2024, it aims to increase its offering to 70 percent of all styles. Similarly, Mud Jeans already produces denim featuring 20-40 percent PCR cotton. According to Laura Vicaria, Mud Jeans’ corporate social responsibility manager, the goal for 2023 is to have 90 percent of all styles feature between 20-40 percent PCR cotton. It’s also committed to achieving its Road to 100 initiative, in which it aims to produce a denim fabric made from 100 percent PCR cotton. But in the age of greenwashing, how can anyone be sure that the items they’re using are truly made of recycled materials? Turns out, there’s technology for that. Aware, a tracer and blockchain technology from Dutch company The Movement, can distinguish false material from genuinely sustainable fabric with a simple scan. Makers of the technology partnered with the Denim Deal in March to help drive the initiative and verify that companies are making a real impact. “Working together with international leaders within the denim supply chain to accelerate RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
towards a circular fashion system gives us the opportunity to create an even greater impact,” said Koen Warmerdam, Aware’s brand director. “[Our technology can] increase the use of traceable recycled materials, validate environmental impact reduction claims and eliminate greenwashing at the same time.” Scaling the initiative will be largely dependent on other governments. “I believe that [government] involvement is what has motivated so many key players to form part of this initiative,” Vicaria said. “They have been proactive about understanding the bottleneck issues, and very verbal about being there to support us. I believe they will play a key role in driving policy-related change.” The City of Amsterdam is actively promoting the project in media and is helping to identify partners and subsidies. It also plans to support the recycling stage of the process by collecting old textiles from residents and ensuring as many people as possible recycle their denim correctly. “We truly believe that as many companies as possible should join and sign the Denim Deal,” Nulty said. “We hope that our collaboration inspires other entities across the world so we can make a bigger, global impact together.”
C O LSLOAUBROCRI AN TG I O N
IGNITING CHANGE Transformers Foundation is rallying the denim industry to foster meaningful change. w o rd s _____ L IZ WARRE N
ith a history that spans centuries and a presence not seen diminishing, denim is a key fixture in the apparel business. And with business data platform Statista estimating the industry at $105 billion by 2023, denim has an overwhelming responsibility to do its part. As the world scrambles to combat the climate crisis and undo a history of environmental and societal damage, the industry’s actions have an outsized impact on the planet and its people. And that’s exactly the task Andrew Olah, founder of Olah Inc. and global denim trade show Kingpins, took on last January when launching the Transformers Foundation, a nonprofit entity that aims to drive sustainable action throughout the denim industry. Though Olah’s event businesses Kingpins and Kingpins Transformers had been successful in bringing industry leaders together and educating audiences for six years prior, he noted that it
wasn’t enough for an industry of this size. What began as a half-day denim forum in Amsterdam in 2014 and evolved into spin-off events in New York City and London in 2019 ultimately became the Transformers Foundation in 2020. “At the end of each Kingpins Transformers event, we had a roundtable discussing possible solutions, and each event ended on a sad note,” Olah said. “We all knew what could be done, but nothing was happening. We decided to make a foundation that would act—that would do something and not just talk about acting.”
Taking action To turn the concept into a reality, Olah tapped a team of industry leaders to create a action roadmap for 2020 and 2021 and began planning events, annual reports, white papers, consumer testing and industry honors for outstanding achievements in denim. While the Covid-19 pandemic threw a wrench in scheduling and forced its first event to occur digitally, it also inspired one of its first projRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
l_____T R ANS FO R ME RS E V E NT I N A MS T E RDAM
C O LS LOAUBROCRI NA TG I O N
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ects, “Ending Unethical Brand and Retailer Behavior,” a report that “exposed how deep the cracks in the supply chain go.” To compile the report, the team surveyed denim suppliers and jeans factories and outlined their experiences, ending with actionable solutions to enact long-term change. According to Tricia Carey, Lenzing’s director of global business development for denim and a Transformers Foundation founding director, responsible business practices require collaboration from all players throughout the industry, no matter how small. “The specific calls to action from supplier to brand to consumer relate to the fact that everyone can impact solutions,” she said, adding that Lenzing’s role in the foundation was a natural fit. “As a fiber producer and ingredient brand, we collaborate widely with the supply network of our industry, and as such, encounter the ingenuity, expertise and dedication of our fellow collaborators. We recognized that it is about time that the contribution of the supply chain should be given fair representation, as it contributes much of the research and development and intellectual property to the final product.” Supply chain representation was also the driving factor for Alice Tonello’s participation on the Transformers Foundation founding board. As the research and development and marketing director at garment finishing technology company Tonello, she also works closely with professionals throughout the supply chain and is attuned to their challenges. “The foundation aims to re-create a relationship of equity between suppliers and brands in order to avoid power imbalances in the supply chain,” she said, adding that the foundation’s mission aligns with Tonello’s and provides the industry with an opportunity to share experiences that lead to professional growth. Following the report, the foundation created “Eight Ethical Principles for Purchasing,” a code of conduct that enforces ethical business relationships throughout the supply chain, and submitted an EU Policy Submission calling for sustainability to be embedded into corporate governance framework.
giving special notice to what Olah calls “non-action” and negative commentary.
" W E D ECID ED TO M A K E A F OU N DAT ION T H AT WOU L D AC T...” —A ndre w Olah, Tran sfor m ers Found ation
Last year, the foundation also developed The Truth Series, bringing together trusted experts to demystify the heaps of information circulating the denim industry. Topics have included dispelling buzzwords and sifting through the market’s unsupported claims, as well as tackling greenwashing and unpacking the importance of regenerative agriculture. “We will continue to work to bring transparency in the denim industry, to note and comment on sustainable production and be on guard for greenwashing and false claims,” Olah said. The foundation will measure the success of its initiatives by monitoring accomplishments throughout the industry and taking note of the information gathered from its reports and projects,
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More to come Up next, the foundation is planning a global expansion program for Transformers: ED—its studentand consumer-facing denim education series—and just collaborated with education institution Centro Mexico to bring a Spanish-speaking denim event to Mexico May 4-8. The event will be held online, with all panels and presentations free and open to all, underscoring the foundation’s mission to make credible industry information more accessible. Now in its fourth edition, Transformers: ED educates upcoming designers and denim professionals before they enter the workplace. “The response to our past Transformers: ED events has been extremely motivating, with students from 30 universities and fashion programs across Europe and the U.S. attending to receive an in-depth and unvarnished crash course on the state of the denim supply chain,” Olah said. “Our goal is to prepare students all around the world to enter our industry and hit the ground running with a clear understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the jeans industry.” Transformers: ED has plans to expand events, but they are just one small part of the foundation’s agenda for 2021. It will also partner with the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) to produce a cotton report, and will launch an environmental tool which it calls its “star project,” with more details available later this year. Olah also teased the 2022 launch of the Ethical Council, a nonprofit organization that will be a mediation system for factories to use when seeking resolutions to customer problems. “No such tool exists today, and had one been in place, it would have assisted many factories that were harmed during Covid,” he said, adding that the foundation can serve as a community that helps the industry navigate global issues like the ones it experienced in 2020. “The supply chain has an important voice that needs to be expressed, and we have the ability to do this. The challenge is only that there are too few of us and too little time in the day.”
A D V E R T O R I A L
BOOSTING DENIM’S SUSTAINABILITY STARTS WITH EMPLOYEES
HARABATI DENIM SEES sustain-
ability and corporate social responsibility as inexorably linked. “Sustainability and CSR can never be detached from each other,” says marketing specialist Asaad Mamelly. “The initiatives taken to lessen the denim industry’s effect on the ecological world have a direct impact on the human side of the industry, starting with the stakeholders closest to each company: the employees.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR COMPANY’S MOST RECENT EFFORTS ON THE ‘HUMAN SIDE’ OF DENIM? Our most important community-focused project, which will be completed soon, is the building of a school in the immediate vicinity of our employee apartment compound. This will improve the quality of life in the community where we are based in Sadat City, Egypt.
ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL SIDE, WHAT ARE SOME OF SHARABATI DENIM’S ACHIEVEMENTS? We have made great strides in switching to green alternatives in all aspects of our production. We recently introduced post-consumer cotton as well as post-consumer polyester, adding to the pre-consumer cotton we were producing in our state-of-the-art recycling factory. We also switched our entire denim dyeing process from traditional to our ‘Sahara’ dyeing, a 40 percent water-saving project we pioneered ourselves. We are most excited about our upcoming biological water-treatment plant encompassing our entire production that recycles 40 percent of water used back into the process. We had an earlier version of our recycling factory back when we were in Syria in the early 2000s, but to introduce recycled material into our collection at such a pace as we are now, shows how
far we’ve come. We are even considering recycled versions of third-party materials.
WHO IS PUSHING MOST FOR THE DENIM INDUSTRY TO BE MORE RESPONSIBLE TO PEOPLE AND THE PLANET? Most denim sustainability innovation is top-down, but the pressure that consumers and country laws have been applying on the world’s biggest brands to curb their ecological footprint has been at the heart of the industry-wide upheaval towards green production methods. Many countries have begun enshrining into law the rulebook with which brands can utilize. Is it because climate change has become a pressing social-justice issue around the globe? Or because lawmakers have found it in their interest to impose these sanctions? Both? We won’t fully know until later.
HOW ARE YOU HELPING YOUR BRANDS OPEN A WINDOW INTO YOUR SUSTAINABILITY AND CSR EFFORTS? We have been open with all brands, accepting all external audits to our company, with a full view of how their fabric has been made. That is not to mention the many certifications we have completed such as ISO 45001, OEKO-TEX Standard 100, GRS, and GOTS, among others. We are also in the process of applying for the Life Cycle Assessment standard.
HOW CAN EVERYONE ACROSS THE DENIM SUPPLY CHAIN WORK TOGETHER TO CREATE AN INDUSTRY THAT VALUES AND PROTECTS ALL WORKERS? The difficulty of this task is compounded most by the ever-changing, extremely different national laws across the globe, which seek to protect workers rights. The International Labor Organization and other workers unions certainly have a role to play. Western states where brands are based, and
private organizations do not have enough influence to affect actual change within the production lines of the global south. It is imperative to undertake a global decentralized response.
WHAT ASPECTS OF SOCIAL COMPLIANCE MOST CONCERN CONSUMERS? The hottest topic within the international community when it comes to workers rights is the conversation around minimum wage, and more importantly livable wage. Directly after that are working conditions. Most of the supply chain in the global south has been blighted by news of poverty-level wages, and a production infrastructure that could collapse on the heads of line workers at any moment. Consumers have been paying more and more attention to how brands have been handling crises, none more so than the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit the factory workers of Bangladesh severely last year.
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The Women In Denim is on a mission to promote gender equality throughout the global supply chain. w ords_____ A NGE L A VE L ASQ UE Z
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Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
efore the 2020 loungewear trend set in, the NPD Group reported that 364 million pairs of women’s jeans were purchased in the U.S. during the 12 months ending February 2019, or 22 million more units compared to the prior year. Now, one year into the pandemic, the women’s denim category is brimming with opportunity once again as female consumers shift their spending from skinny jeans to trendy loose fits. Despite women buying more jeans than men— not to mention on average paying 10 percent more for a pair of jeans compared to men according to a NYC Consumer Affairs report—women working in the denim industry share common stories about being overlooked, doubted and treated unfairly by colleagues. Enter The Women In Denim (TWID), a grassroots effort to promote gender equality throughout the denim supply chain. The idea for a female-lead industry group was born in 2019 at the biannual Munich-based trade show, Bluezone, when Lucie Germser, a creative consultant for the event, decided to host a panel discussion about the lack of female representation in the industry. Though women in the denim industry often hold roles in the marketing and PR side of business, Germser saw an unbalanced number of females at the event who were in high-paying, decision-making roles. “A crushing majority of denim companies were—and still are—led by men,” she said. Prior to launching her own communication studio, Sphynx, Germser had experienced firsthand how the “patriarchy of the denim industry” keeps women in the shadows. Working as a co-manager of a design consultancy with a man for years, she said people almost always chose to talk business with her male counterpart, despite being an equal partner in the business.
l_____THE WOMEN IN DENIM EVENT IN NYC
After the initial talk at Bluezone, Germser said she realized that she was far from being alone in her experience. “All of our guests had crazy stories to share, from inequality to pure sexism,” she said. “So, we decided to push our community by building a real supportive crew.” Simply put, TWID was created for women to help one another, whether it be a woman at the top of their career or just beginning, said Anne Oudard, a denim designer and developer and TWID community organizer. The group’s mission is based on three goals—to connect, empower and support—by providing a global network of women a safe platform where they can openly share advice and lessons learned, uplift one another and provide mentorship to its youngest members. Today, TWID membership spans 14 countries across various parts of the denim industry and includes CEOs, sustainability experts, R&D managers, garment workers, designers, editors, marketing executives and more. “By putting any forms of hierarchy or rivalry aside, we’ve built a strong bond between each other,” Germser said. “There’s a true will to support one another. Our amazing ambassadors are growing our community in their home countries and these powerful women are generously giving their precious time to help our community growth.” Individuals can participate by subscribing to TWID’s newsletter. From there, they can complete
a questionnaire and submit their headshot, which is shared on TWID’s Instagram page as an “introduction” to the denim community. “Once this is done, members can get involved by attending to our meetings and share their story,” Oudard said. “We also encourage everyone to suggest events and actions to promote and support The Women in Denim.” Maternity leave, workplace childcare, the gender wage gap and harassment are some of the topics TWID addresses, as well as what Oudard described as “a glaring gender disparity between the top and the bottom of denim supply chain.” The higher you climb up a company’s workflow chart, the fewer women you find, she said. “This is not just in the denim industry, it is a systemic issue and the reasons are complex and deeply rooted in our society,” she added. One story that is redundant in TWID discussions is the difficulty women encounter to be heard in factories, especially those located in patriarchal societies. “Many of us lost hours if not days just to get men to take them seriously… and when it comes to technical expertise, we need to fight 10-times harder to prove that we know what we’re talking about,” Oudard said. While these inequalities are not limited to the denim sector, Oudard points out that what is unique is denim’s male dominated roots. Denim was originally intended as a men’s garment made by men for male workers. The first women’s jeans RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
appeared in the 1930s and only became popular in the 1960s. Though there are more jeans produced for women today, she said the authentic jeans image is still well connected to men. “We are evolving in an industry where men tend to feel more entitled—this shouldn’t be relevant,” Oudard said. Companies in the denim supply chain can show their support, Germser said, by understanding TWID’s message, applying it to their own teams and building on those actions. Companies can also assist in organizing and sponsoring events. “We are all volunteers, so we need help with travel expenses, on-site organization for events and marketing,” she said. Support from companies like Munich Fabric Start, Lenzing and Artistic Milliners have been key to TWID’s events held in Munich, New York and Milan. In-person events help foster TWID’s sense of community and spark new ideas—Germser said more are international events are planned as soon as industry events are allowed and boarders reopen—but the group is also adamant about putting words into action by participating in NGOs’ actions that help raise funds and awareness. “While around 80 percent of garment workers are women, only eight percent are CEOs,” Oudard said. “We strongly believe in empowering all women in our industry, making sure their rights are respected.”
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IN IT TOGETHER The pandemic underscored the need for employee hardship funds like Levi Strauss & Co.’s Red Tab Foundation. w o rd s _____ ANG E L A V EL A S QUEZ
he legacy of Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) doesn’t begin and end with creating the original blue jean. The San Fransisco-based company and its executive leadership have famously logged decades’ worth of advocacy. Each year the company invests a portion of its profits into community-oriented efforts that support voting engagement, gun violence prevention, education and equality. It’s work through the Levi Strauss Foundation advances the human rights and well-being of underserved people in places where it has a footprint, and its commitment to environmentalism is executed in its industry-leading climate strategy, water-saving technologies and new fiber and fabric programs. This sense of community and responsibility echoes in its workforce as well. Founded in 1981 to provide financial support for U.S.-based retired manufacturing workers, LS&Co.’s Red Tab Foundation (RTF) has grown into a global effort to pro-
of grants in 2020 were provided to retirees
vide short-term emergency financial assistance to employees past and present from around the world. The foundation is funded by the generosity of employees and retirees, descendants of Levi Strauss and other company shareholders. Since its inception, RTF has given close to $40 million in direct support to the LS&Co. community of employees and retirees when they need it most. Widely considered to be the original employee hardship fund, assistance is need-based and typically provided following a recent, unexpected financial emergency that threatens their ability to provide basic necessities of life, including but not limited to, medical emergencies, evictions, eldercare needs, home repairs and funeral expenses. The foundation’s work has largely evolved as LS&Co. has and maps to the needs of the company employees, said Jenny Calvert Rodriguez, Red Tab Foundation executive director. In addition to the financial hardship program, RTF has a matched savings program that incentivizes hourly workers to create their own short-term emergency savings and provides wrap-around services with its grants that help tackle some of the systemic issues underlying each hardship. In short, RTF is built on the belief that no LS&Co. employee or retiree should be without a financial safety net—a value that has been put to the test since the start of the pandemic that triggered unprecedented demand for assistance. In 2020, a team of five case managers and 20 grant partners, fulfilled 300 percent more grants in RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
Spring 2020 compared to the prior year, averting a total of 1,442 emergencies, according to the foundation’s annual report. More work remains, however. Here, Calvert Rodriguez shares RTF’s goals for 2021, how it is helping other companies establish their own foundations and how a supportive network of colleagues can have a positive effect on a workforce.
average grant given
RIVET: Explain Red Tab Foundation’s model of personalized support.
JENNY CALVERT RODRIGUEZ: We want Red Tab Foundation to be there when the biggest issues of the day meet our people’s every day. Society’s most complex issues don’t exist in the abstract— they are personal, intersectional, and show up in myriad ways in the lives of LS&Co. employees. RTF provides personal, empathetic support to help deal with these issues one person at a time. We help keep food on the table during a global pandemic;
l_____4 1 P ERCEN T OF GR A N TS IN 2020 WE R E PROV IDED TO EMPLOYEES
a roof over one’s head in the face of an eviction notice; a flat tire from becoming the beginning of a predatory debt cycle; or an unexpected medical bill from becoming a bankruptcy. Case managers spend hours working with clients to understand not only their immediate needs, but the underlying causes of the hardship. We then customize financial support, educational resources and referrals that help people get back on their feet. RIVET: What kind of impact did the pandemic have on the level of support that RTF provides employees and former employees?
JCR: Last year was the biggest in the history of the
foundation—we gave more grants to more individuals in more countries than ever before in our 40-year history. We delivered $2.1million in grants, a 59 percent increase over the prior year. When the world shut down in 2020, we saw an
almost immediate wave of need. We adapted our guidelines to better support employees affected by store closures and limited hours or by job loss of other household earners. For instance, we provided support for distance learning tools, pandemic-related childcare costs, and other pandemic-specific needs. We also spun up a no-interest loan program for employees who were facing delays in unemployment benefits. Finally, this year we expanded the group of people we help. We now offer support to former employees who were with the company for 10 years, down from the 20 years it previously took to be a retiree. RIVET: What affect has the pandemic had on donations? JCR: One of the things that’s so special about the
RTF’s model is that our donors and grantees are within the same organization, sometimes even RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
working shoulder to shoulder. In the initial uncertainty around the pandemic, we were predicting that our fundraising would trend down significantly, but have been happily surprised to see our employees, shareholders and retirees step up in a huge way to meet the increased need. And it’s not just the big dollars, but the little ones that have filled the void. We’ve seen a groundswell of grassroots support this year helping us raise close to $1.75 million from our global community with an increase of 400 new donors over the previous year. I believe this crisis has brought us closer to our values. Empathy and kindness not only embody who we are as a company, but as individuals. In the face of uncertainty, employees are stepping up to help other employees, with RTF just acting as the connection point. RIVET: RTF recently created a playbook to help
l_____TH E FOU N DATION MA DE $422,980 IN GR A N TS TO H ELP WITH COV ID-19 HARDS HIPS .
other companies establish their own foundations. What has the feedback been like from companies? JCR: Many companies are stepping up efforts to
take care of employees however they can during this time of crisis. They are seeing what we’ve always known—that hardship funds are a great mechanism to provide immediate relief to current or former employees who experience a disaster-related or personal financial hardship. There's not a lot of good information out there about the nuts and bolts of how to operate a hardship fund, so we wanted to help. Our Employee Hardship Fund Playbook has been downloaded nearly 600 times by organizations large and small from Fortune 500 companies to schools to public institutions, all over the world. RIVET: Why do you believe it is good business for companies to establish foundations? JCR: Many long-tenured employees of LS&Co.
tell us that one of the reasons they stay so long is because they feel supported by the company through resources like RTF. Simply put, when people’s basic needs are met, they can put their best foot forward as employees, and RTF is one of the
“ IN T H E FACE OF U NCER TA IN T Y, EM PLOY EE S A R E S T EPPING U P TO H EL P OT H ER EM PLOY EE S...” —Jenn y C al v er t Rodr iguez, Red Tab Found ation many ways that the company ensures that. When employees know that other employees are looking out for them, it helps build a stronger, more supportive culture within the organization. RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
RIVET: What are the foundation’s goals for 2021? JCR: As we look ahead to the long-lasting impacts
of the pandemic, there’s more that we can—and must—do to alleviate hardship and empower better financial futures for our LS&Co. community. We’re focused on two tracks: both strengthening our program impact to drive the greatest possible outcomes for our grantees, and also to continuing to expand our program access and awareness to employees and retirees in every part of the world LS&Co. operates. RIVET: What is it about the LS&Co. community that makes individuals want to support one another? JCR: I think they understand that the only way
through the year we were facing ahead was together. We’re lucky to work at a company that doesn’t just say that—we look out for our own. At Red Tab Foundation they know that every dollar donated goes directly to helping an employee or retiree facing hardship. We were started by employees, for employees. It’s the way we embody our company value of empathy, and provides a sense of security, solidarity and refuge for the members of the LS&Co. community, current and past.
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A D V E R T O R I A L
FUELING SUSTAINABILITY ACROSS THE INDUSTRY WITH EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS
NOWLEDGE IS POWER and the more the industry is aware of what needs to be done, the closer it is to achieving such goals. Premium denim producer Calik Denim spends considerable resources to educate not just its own employees, but the industry as a whole and the next generation. Here, Tolga Ozkurt, deputy general manager of sales & marketing of Calik, walks us through the company’s push toward sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
agers and brand employees across the industry, examines every stage of denim production, then sends participants to the Calik Denim Malatya Factory to learn about the denim production processes and have the opportunity to receive ITÜ certificates. Other notable projects include the Malatya Education Foundation, where 266 children of Calik employees received scholarships, plus 100% Support to Education, where Calik helped build the Mahmut Calik Education Complex Anatolian High School in 2012.
WHAT ARE SOME CURRENT EDUCATIONAL INITIATIVES AT CALIK DENIM?
WHAT SEEMED THE MOST RADICAL WHEN INTRODUCED BUT IS NOW STANDARD?
Focusing on the next generation, in 2017 we partnered with Parsons School of Design in New York to add a denim department. The two-part curriculum—Building Blocks of Denim and Prototype Development and Realization—covers sustainability and design, and Calik Denim provided technical equipment, fabrics and access to our team. Earlier, Calik launched the Denim Anatomy program with Istanbul Technical University (ITÜ). The two-day training program, for man-
For a long period, traceability and adoption of circular economy models were seen as radical step in the denim industry, but Calik Denim has taken action to transform our manufacturing towards a circular and more sustainable model. Our sustainability strategy “Passion for Denim, Passion for Life” aims to increase sustainable raw material use and raw material traceability. Each year we increased use of recycled raw material such as cotton and polyester, lowering our
environmental impact. As a part of our 2025 Targets—achieving a 60% use of organic, recycled or BCI Cotton in production and boosting traceability—we partnered with AWARE’s blockchain tracer technology. In addition, our new RE/J textile, produced by the open-end spinning method, is a 100% recycled concept consisting of post- and pre-consumer waste, offers vintage, authentic denim looks with desired elasticities. RE/J also uses value-added fibers during production, namely recycled fibers such as ECOLycra and Reprieve PES. The concept also stands out with the applicability of our conscious technologies such as Dyepro and Washpro. These offer superior features and performance regarding water and energy consumption and chemical waste during the indigo dyeing and end-user washing phases. Another notable concept is our E-Denim, specially developed to increase the recycle content rate in denim and to maintain the sustainable structure of the final product until end of life. Calik Denim’s Dyepro stands out for reducing water consumption, chemical waste and energy during the indigo dyeing stage. It also features different elasticity levels such as rigid, super stretch and power stretch. More than a product family, Dyepro is also a conscious technology that can be applied to demanded denim fabrics. Parallel to this, we developed the Transparency Monitoring System (TMS) to harness the power of digitalization. Focusing on measurable targets, we plan to measure the inputs to production and optimize the use of resources throughout the production process. The System will increase our resource use efficiency and lower the demand on precious natural resources. TMS, which was installed in 2019, will also have additional contributions to the textile industry by building a transparent and more sustainable production line.
WHAT ASPECTS OF SOCIAL COMPLIANCE MOST CONCERN YOUR CUSTOMERS? The questions we receive most regard whether we operate under a social compliance certificate such as SEDEX, SA 8000 or Wrap, or if we get a third-party audit. Forced labor, ethical business, child labor, and work environment health and safety issues fall under social compliance certificates. To ensure safe, non-discriminatory work environments that value human rights, we cooperate with business partner and cotton supplier Calik Cotton. Together, we support local development and creating shared value on larger scales through farmer training and contracted agriculture models.
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orporate social responsibility isn’t just a buzzword or a deflection to ward off industry watchdogs. For many companies in the denim industry, engaging in philanthropic activities that provide financial, health and educational support to employees and local communities is at the very heart of their business. Here, six leaders in the denim supply chain share how they are making a positive impact on the lives of others through purpose-driven initiatives.
ARTISTIC MILLINERS’ WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMS FOSTER EQUITY Within the garment industry, it’s still rare to see women in leadership roles, but Artistic Milliners reached 50/50 gender parity in its top management by prioritizing women’s empowerment. At its founding, the manufacturer’s workforce was largely female. After seeing the contributions
of women to its own business and reading research showing the financial impact of diverse leadership, Artistic Milliners made a more purposeful push toward gender equity at the top. “It was part of the company's DNA, but now that we see that it will also directly align with our bottom line, it makes sense to pursue it even more strongly,” said Murtaza Ahmed, director of Artistic Milliners. To support women and empower them to reach leadership roles, Artistic Milliners has established a “gender sensitized” workplace. Services include employer-supported daycare and their own canteens, recreation areas, prayer rooms, commutation and on-site doctors. Recognizing the importance of safety and security, the company established a dedicated department to field any concerns. Women also receive training in production processes and life skills. Given the gender literacy gap in Pakistan, teaching reading, writing and basic math gives women a chance to advance to managerial roles and improves quality of life. Women are also taught about finances and legal rights. Firsttime workers are given paid training in basic manufacturing techniques. Artistic Milliners was the first Pakistan partner for Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. program, which focuses on improving self-esteem. In another brand collaboration, Artistic Milliners worked with Bestseller to introduce BSR’s HerProject. To continue this eduRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
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cation during the pandemic, BSR and Bestseller introduced app-based coursework dubbed HerEssentials, which targets the additional need for digital literacy. “It is very important to partner with expert organizations and also with brands, because we do not have all the answers,” Ahmed said. Education comes with an investment and a financial tradeoff, since women are stepping away from production tasks to learn, but Artistic Milliners feels a commitment to its workers. “If a woman is spending half of her day at our facility, we need to think about her overall well-being,” said Ahmed. Artistic Milliners’ initiatives extend upstream into its supply chain. Through its Milliner Cotton Initiative, it helps women cotton pickers establish businesses and supplementary sources of income for the months between the annual harvesting work. Currently, most of Artistic Milliners’ female workforce is employed at its tier-one manufacturing sites. But the company aims to bring the same culture upstream to its mills by adding women workers at these facilities. While Artistic Milliners was an early mover, it is hopeful after seeing other companies reach out for advice. “We don't want to just be the only company in the world that is breaking in on gender equality initiatives,” said Ahmed. “We want to make all these programs and these systems more mainstream.” —Sarah Jones
AGI DENIM BRINGS FREE HEALTH CARE TO WOMEN WORKERS WITH ‘SMART CLINICS’
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SAITEX GIVES DISABLED COMMUNITY EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY Fashion’s inclusivity efforts often revolve around aspects such as racial, gender or size representation, but Saitex founder and CEO Sanjeev Bahl saw a need to extend this discussion to those with disabilities. “Considering that there are 1.5 billion people on this planet with different abilities, who do not have equal opportunities or even the ability to have self-esteem in society, it makes this conversation of inclusivity very exclusive,” he said. Responding to the employment needs of this significant segment of the population, Saitex created Rekut, a program that mainstreams individuals with disabilities in production roles. Currently, Rekut is operational at Saitex in Vietnam with 100 employees, and the company plans to expand the project to its recently opened Los Angeles facility later this year. Eventually, the Certified B Corp aims to have 20 percent of its total workforce come from this community. It costs about $3,000 to onboard each worker in the program. This includes six months of paid training. To make Rekut possible, Saitex also invested in modernizing facilities with features such as ramps and accessible bathrooms. Within the production floor, sewing machine heights had to be tweaked to cater to individuals’ ergonomic needs.
Home furnishings giant Ikea has placed its first orders with Rekut for a range of home and lifestyle goods. The initiative has also expanded into other categories with a bakery partnership, and Saitex is exploring adding jewelry to mainstream individuals with vision impairment. One focus for Saitex is driving profitability with this venture to prove the potential to other companies. “I’m hoping this will encourage others to follow suit, because this is a huge problem,” said Bahl. “Governments haven't really created the right infrastructure to include people with different abilities, and I’m just hoping this is the start of something which can grow universally.” Bahl said Saitex is on target to reach its goal of creating 1,000 Rekut jobs by 2025. By the end of 2021, the company plans to have 200 employees in the program, with an eye toward scaling up as more classes are trained. Saitex started slow in part to mitigate the behavioral risks that can come with mainstreaming. “The major risk or challenge that we faced in the past and any other organization will face in the future would be acceptability and equal compassion,” said Bahl. After training its existing workforce on the importance of this initiative, Saitex has seen strong support. “It's proving to me every single day that our culture is rock solid and our people are extremely empathetic,” he added. “So, it encourages me in more than one way to go back to work the next day.” —SJ RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
With more than two million female factory workers in Pakistan not having access to affordable health care, AGI Denim has fought to ensure that its own employees have everything necessary to get the treatment they need. In partnership with DoctHERs, AGI launched a SMART Clinic within its Karachi factory to offer employees free health care and to give more opportunity to an underemployed community of nurses who connect employees to female doctors via telemedicine applications. Upon a successful trial in Karachi, AGI Denim decided to expand the SMART Clinic concept across its other facilities in Pakistan. Through the partnership, the denim manufacturer offers annual health checkups and preventative health education sessions for the workers in an effort to boost productivity and overall wellbeing. The SMART Clinics have gotten acclaim from influential outsiders as well, winning first place in the Tommy Hilfiger Social Innovation Challenge, a global initiative supporting entrepreneurial startup and scale-up stage businesses that are developing solutions with a positive social impact on the fashion value chain. Hilfiger himself described the award as “an opportunity to shine a spotlight on incredible ideas that could change the lives of people through a more positive and inclusive fashion landscape.” “Ensuring the wellbeing of our teams and communities has always been at the forefront of AGI Denim’s philosophy,” said Ahmed Javed, AGI Denim executive director. “We have been invested in the health of our teams even before the pandemic began; AGI’s award winning and innovative health programs, ensure that all our employees have quality and accessible health care.” AGI Denim also partnered with JLI (Jubilee Life Insurance) to provide hospitalization needs to employees and subsidize hospital costs for their families. Additionally, the denim manufacturer is dedicated to reaching out to rural areas with subsidized medical services in partnership with health partners such as Patients’ Aid Foundation and the Child Life Foundation. Through these partnerships, more than 90,000 patients have been treated at AGI-funded clinics. AGI also teamed with the Indus Hospital to power the TB Initiative, which provides tuberculosis screening and treatment to patients. Roughly 8,000 AGI employees have been screened within its different units, Javed said. —Glenn Taylor
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Naveena Denim Mills has an annual budget allocated for its employees to empower them in the areas of healthcare and financial support. Education, however, is also a top priority for Naveena, in fact so much that the Pakistani denim manufacturer set goals to step in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal No. 4, Quality Education. While the UN outlines the goal as ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all, Naveena embodies this by targeting its social projects to raise the next generation of well-educated, healthy and productive citizens. “We know that a brighter future starts with education and giving children the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life, but also for our country to develop a qualified workforce,” said Aydan Tüzün, executive director of global sales and marketing at Naveena Denim Mills. As such, Naveena has been among one of the largest supporters of The Citizens Foundation (TCF) Schools system since 2014, running all expenses of more than two schools housing 1,500 total students. The company plans to expand this network “in the near future,” according to Tüzün. Before disbursement of annual payment, the mill thoroughly reviews the annual performance of each school. According to Tüzün, the school buildings are well-equipped with airy and well-lit classrooms, as well as an administrative block, playground, library, computer and science labs to provide students with a stimulating learning environment. Naveena is contributing to education in other ways, internally starting its own program to educate illiterate workers in collaboration with Literate Pakistan Foundation (LPF). Classes for the Adult Literacy Program for Factory Workers are held in the HR training room and usually include 20 students per session. The LPF provides a trained teacher to lead the classes, while TCF is responsible for overall program management, monitoring and program improvements. “Our future depends on the youth of today,” Tüzün said. “The more we can provide them, a better future we will have.” —GT
WHY ‘RESPONSIBLE INNOVATION’ MEANS SUPPORTING EMPLOYEES FOR ISKO While “Responsible Innovation” is an approach that Isko lives by to deliver environmental and social responsibility within its denim manufacturing operation, the mindset only is authentic if it extends to the people working for the company. As a family-owned business, Isko functions under the idea that its employees are part of that family. “Training and development support our people to achieve their professional and personal ambitions, and this is provided throughout individuals’ careers at Isko,” said Kate Osborne, responsible innovation marketing specialist at the firm. “Induction and role-based training ensure employees have the essential skills and knowledge to carry out their roles. We also offer development opportunities and external courses to help our people progress.” In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Isko not only maintained its workflow but ensured that none of its employees were laid off, with no delays in paychecks. Parent company Sanko Group also
provided an additional financial contribution to all 14,000 employees as further support in order to provide some relief from the economic pressure due to the outbreak. “It is this mindset and values system that allows us to create improvements and drive change,” Osborne said. “With many people devoting a large part of their career to Isko, we believe we are succeeding. An example of this is our work with our on-site union to increase starting salaries and to ensure our workers are at the center of our business at all stages.” With the help of the union, additional benefits employees have seen include rest days and pay for overtime and vacations. Isko employees also receive additional benefits such as incremental increases to vacation days, bonuses, family and seniority premiums, compassionate and parental leave and child education support. Additionally, the company has an on-site medical team available and ready to support immediate health and safety needs. —GT
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RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
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RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
SOORTY’S NEW PRISM PROJECT TARGETS AN INCLUSIVE AND DIVERSE WORKPLACE 40
The global denim supply chain is not as democratic as the products it produces, but one major player in the sector has an action plan to change course. Pakistani vertically integrated denim manufacturer Soorty recently launched the Prism Project, a program designed to create an inclusive workplace that embraces disabilities and diversity in the workforce. The project serves to deepen Soorty’s core values of innovation, education and sustainability in the denim and fashion industry, while uplifting the local community. “Denim is not just the most democratic fabric, but [it] also holds the potential for real impact on the values and, consequently, quality of life of both its wearers and its creators,” said Mobeen Chughtai, Soorty corporate communications and corporate social responsibility manager.
While “most of the world’s denim is manufactured in the developing world,” Chughtai said there are “real consequences” in fostering innovation and jobs such as tax money that eventually finds its way towards providing education, health, safety and more to local citizens. Through the Prism Project, Soorty aims to see underserved populations on the receiving end of those benefits. The Prism Project will be rolled out in four stages, beginning with a new denim finishing facility built on the Karachi campus of the Network of Organizations Working with Persons with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP), an initiative that promotes disability inclusion through holistic and sustainable endeavors in the areas of education and economic empowerment. There, NOWPDP is training 35 people with hearing and speech impairments to work in high noise finishing departments such as grinding, distortion and airing that typically pose a risk to people with no hearing problems. The project is intended to “flip the circumstances” and turn a disability into a strength that works in the employees’ favor. “Not everyRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
one from this community is disabled,” Chughtai said. “More often, people suffer from a mismatch between their abilities and their circumstances.” The next step in the Prism Project will be a focus on hiring employees from the transgender community, which Soorty stated is perhaps “one of the single most misunderstood and underappreciated groups in Pakistan.” The company is reaching out to members of the transgender community for various projects including vocational training and organizational hiring as well as health interventions. The final two parts of Soorty’s project include a collaboration with the United Nations Development Program on its Leading Diversity initiative committed to adopting worker-friendly values that enhance organizational inclusivity and diversity. The company is also in the process of redesigning its organizational policy to facilitate more female hiring, family-friendly policy framework and better maternity leave. “Now that we understand the value in diversity, we want to [make it] a business strategy, not [only] an altruistic gesture,” Chughtai said. —AV
A D V E R T O R I A L
BALANCING CIRCULARITY GOALS WITH SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
T ARTISTIC MILLINERS, circularity is a top priority—the company’s ultimate goal is to operate as a completely closed loop, ensuring no waste in the manufacturing process. But knowing social responsibility, both within its own business and across the industry, is just as important, the manufacturer has been developing CSR programs with partners like the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), Fair Trade and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Omer Ahmed, CEO of Artistic Milliners, gives a peek into how Artistic Milliners is further creating circularity initiatives, all while prioritizing the well-being of its employees. WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE TOP INNOVATIONS OR DEVELOPMENTS BREWING AT ARTISTIC MILLINERS LATELY? We recently partnered with Browzwear, a leader of 3D technology in fashion, which lets us design true-to-life digital garment renderings, while leveraging data to boost efficiency, increase speed time to market, and reduce our resource footprints throughout the product development process. Besides that, we’ve announced the creation of Circular Park, a 70,000-square-foot factory designed from the ground up that will be the central collection point for all our soft and hard waste, and will help us phase out waste and pollution. A third major development is our new virtual showroom eMilliners, which lets customers— wherever they are—experience our latest projects and products through hi-res 3D images via our online portal.
HOW CAN EVERYONE ACROSS THE DENIM SUPPLY CHAIN WORK TOGETHER TO CREATE AN INDUSTRY THAT VALUES AND PROTECTS ALL WORKERS?
Our value chain must change to protect the upstream players like factory workers and farmers. Whenever a crisis hits our industry, this is the group that bears the brunt of the situation. As an industry, we should be more cognizant of the impact our decisions make, especially on these marginalized groups. It’s high time that we shift from fast-moving fashion to more sustainable fashion. Consumers are demanding more sustainable jeans and are willing to pay more to ensure fair wages are paid to the factory workers.
HOW DOES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION GO HAND-IN-HAND WITH THE WELL-BEING OF YOUR EMPLOYEES? Adapting more eco-friendly processes throughout our facility leads to a healthier work environment. Case in point, we’re eliminating the use of harsh chemicals from the manufacturing process and preventing workers from breathing in harmful dust by taking stones out of the finishing process. We make these decisions based on research that suggests employees are more loyal when employers demonstrate—through actions—that they care about the social and environmental impact.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BRAND AND RETAILER RELATIONSHIPS IN 2021, AND DID THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC CHANGE YOUR APPROACH TO ANY OF THESE PARTNERSHIPS? Our partner relationships are deeper and stronger than ever before, and are more hands-on despite remote meetings. The pandemic has obviously meant a shift in physical presence, but somehow it has made us more connected to our clients. Our virtual showroom has been a big benefit, as well as our international manufacturing presence in Los Angeles with Star Fades International. The new L.A. facility has been a boon too, letting us reach our clients where they are.
SUSTAINABILITY IS AN OFTEN-DISCUSSED TOPIC WITHIN DENIM NOW, BUT WHERE DO YOU FEEL BOTH YOU AND THE DENIM INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE NEED TO STEP UP IN 2021? Greenwashing is a big problem because a few bad actors can damage the credibility of the entire industry. It’s critical to show quantifiable actions, which can be traced to the source using blockchain because of the complexity of the fashion value chain. Though the industry is making strides toward clean energy, that shift must further accelerate, especially if we’re looking to meet standards such as the U.N.’s Business Ambition for 1.5°C. In that same vein, we need to lessen our overall planetary impact, particularly when it comes to waste generation. That’s why technologies and practices that help us close the loop, putting what we produce back into our production chain, are the need of the hour.
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Photographer: Lexie Moreland; Fashion Director: Alex Badia; Market Editors: Victor Vaughns Jr., Emily Mercer, Luis Campuzano; Fashion Assistant: Kimberly Infante; Editor: Angela Velasquez; Model: Madison Johnston/Wilhelmina; Hair: Rebekah Calo/Julian Watson Agency; Makeup: Amanda Wilson
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D O N ’ T C A L L I T A
COME BACK Strong-willed and unflappable, New York’s fashion and retail sectors are ready to navigate life after the coronavirus. w ords_____ A N G E LA V E LA S Q U E Z
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ples throughout the outbreak’s darkest days, serving clients like Belstaff and DiResta Make Wear by utilizing the Jeanologia technology at New Jersey’s nearby BPD Washhouse. As the owner of Brooklyn Denim Co., the Williamsburg outpost for denim brands like Tellason and First Standard Co. and its own eponymous label, Frank Pizzurro saw firsthand how the Covid crisis, along with growing climate-change concerns and a “general feeling of having to connect more with life,” is changing the way people view fashion. “Consuming has been a sport in the U.S. for the past three decades, but people are waking up to the fact that there is more to it than just owning things,” he said. “They will still consume but I think wiser and with more thought and purpose.” Despite the short-term economic pain that comes with consumers buying less but better, the change will be “a good thing” in the long run, Pizzurro said.
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Fashion, retail, entertainment and hospitality— NYC’s heart and soul—number among the city’s hardest-hit sectors. Despite retail rents cratering to historic lows—as much as 25 percent off from 2019 levels, the Real Estate Board of New York reported in January—the empty storefronts lining Fifth Avenue, Lexington Avenue and Broadway
Credits: Jay Z: Courtesy of Jamil GS/ Rolling Stones; Andy Warhol, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Calvin Klein: Fairchild Archives; Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Lopez: The Mega Agency
l_____ JAY Z AT TH E WOR LD TRADE CENTER
ew York City is high on optimism, buzzing from the more than 7.5-million-and-counting Covid-19 vaccine doses administered across its federal and state-run facilities. As of May 19, the nation’s cultural capital lifted most pandemic-related capacity restrictions that plunged offices, retailers, dining establishments, salons, gyms and more into some version of dormancy over the past 15 months. Broadway stars and their supporting casts have restarted rehearsals with hopes of returning to full houses in mid-September, and the New York City subway is back to chugging along around the clock with 24-hour service. MTA New York City Transit officials recorded 2,009,025 subway trips on April 8, the first time that ridership has breached the two-million mark since the pandemic upended city life. In other words: NYC is open for business. It’s a stirring reversal from where the city was one year ago: the early epicenter of America’s Covid-19 crisis. Approximately 203,000 confirmed cases were reported in NYC during the first three months of the pandemic, during which images of an eerily empty Times Square and Grand Central Station devoid of travelers captivated the world. As of the end of May last year, more than 940,000 residents had contracted the virus, resulting in approximately 33,000 deaths, NYC Health reported. Despite the palpable excitement of regaining some sense of normalcy, the weight of enduring such a trying and uncertain period lingers on New Yorkers’ psyche. The city’s fashion and retail sectors—and the people who power them—are bound to emerge from the pandemic changed. “During the lockdown all my vendors pivoted in a week’s time and made masks, gowns, lasercut shields and even used 3D printers to make air mask nozzles,” said Christine Rucci, president and creative director of Godmother NYC Inc. and a member of Made in NYC, an initiative of the Pratt Center for Community Development that supports thousands of local manufacturers and makers. PPE demand that cropped up virtually overnight ultimately helped save many factories from going under, Rucci said, and underscored the city’s manufacturing capabilities at a time when both local makers and brands desperately needed a lifeline. Marred by factory shutdowns and canceled orders, the pandemic pushed the global denim supply chain into a state of turmoil, but Rucci said the companies that tapped into a local network of NYC makers were the ones that persevered. Rucci developed small runs, prototypes and sales sam-
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speak volumes about the health of the city’s retail sector. Retail accounts for 12 percent of businesses and nearly 9 percent of NYC’s private-sector jobs, but the Office of the New York State Comptroller reports that the pandemic unevenly affected the industry. While online retailers and essential businesses experienced growth, revenue evaporated at other large retail segments, ultimately plunging the weakest into bankruptcy. The city lost retail institutions like Century 21, though plans are reportedly in the works to revive the beloved discount chain after its September bankruptcy. The U.S. arm of Dutch-owned G-Star Raw Retail Inc. filed its own voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August, leaving its corner Fifth Avenue flagship store vacant. Chains like H&M, Old Navy, Express and Gap also all shrank their NYC footprints in 2020. Overall, the number of chain stores in NYC declined by 13.3 percent—with 2 percent closing temporarily and 11.3 percent not indicating whether the closures are permanent or temporary, the Center for Urban Future reports. “We survived by cutting hours and our own salaries by 60 percent, and honestly if it wasn’t for
a great landlord who has worked with us to defer rent, we would not be here,” Pizzurro said. The pandemic’s impact on retail has been most obvious in Manhattan, where the state comptroller said foot traffic in “key corridors” plummeted a steep 90 percent in the wake of tourist-crimping travel bans and the mass rise of remote work—not to mention the privileged elite’s exodus to suburbia and second homes. Though some were temporary relocations, nearly twice as many people bolted from Manhattan than from any other American city, the U.S. Postal Service’s 2020 data shows, though Brooklyn—the second-most-fled locale—didn’t fare much better. By the end of 2020, “migration flow in New York City, which typically experienced net population flow gain of about 85,000 through 2019, saw human migration flow turn net negative in 2020,” said Unacast, a location data service. This population shift, it added, will likely factor into the decision-making about new infrastructure, commercial development and retail site selection this year. The loss of high incomes—the result of finance and technology companies seeking greener pasRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
tures in other states or indefinitely extending workfrom-home policies—will be a factor as well. In January, Forbes described Florida as a “second home for Wall Street” as NYC firms, tempted by low taxes, affordable real estate and a purportedly better quality of life, pulled the relocation trigger during the pandemic or planted satellite offices in the Sunshine State. Avison Young, a commercial real estate firm, reported that Manhattan’s office vacancy rate reached a record high of 15.9 percent at the end of the 2021’s first quarter, up from 10.9 percent a year ago and 14.2 percent in the prior quarter, with Midtown, Midtown South and Downtown suffering the most. But as the city embarks on its reopening, there are wins to be had in the apparel sector. Unacast found that foot traffic is increasing for some family apparel stores, particularly those centered on value. As of April 21, Old Navy’s foot traffic climbed 23.5 percent compared to the end of last year’s fourth quarter. T.J. Maxx, Forever 21, Burlington and Marshalls also saw gains. Denim-focused retailers, however, remain in the red. American Eagle’s NYC foot traffic sagged 12.9 percent and Gap’s slumped
29.9 percent compared to 2020’s final quarter, Unacast reported. As restrictions slowly fade, Brian Trunzo, head of brand at Informa Markets Fashion, said New Yorkers are already beginning to poke in and out of retail establishments again. “New Yorkers are ready to hit the shopping circuit again. We treat retail like a sport—lord knows we put in the miles on our Fitbits as we traipse around the city from one destination to another,” he said. Though Brooklyn Denim Co.’s business has perked up a bit, Pizzurro said sales are 70 percent off versus pre-Covid levels ever since the store partially reopened in June 2020. “In the last month it has picked up some but we’re still at least 50 percent down,” he said, adding that he’s banking on the return of tourism to help recoup lost traffic and sales. “New York is a tourist town,” he said. “Until they are back in full swing, it’s going to be tough.” VISITORS WELCOMED
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Indeed, tourism-related revenue forms the backbone of many industries. Last year, the city welcomed just 22.3 million visitors—a precipitous drop from its 2019 record of 66.6 million. The NYC Hospitality Alliance reported that 92 percent of eateries in the “restaurant capital of the world” could not afford their December rent.
Meanwhile, the city’s hotel sector is not expected to recover until 2025. Hotel occupancy levels were just 30 percent in 2020, and two-thirds of those rooms were attributable to government contracts accommodating homeless residents and healthcare workers at below-market rates, the NYC Department of City Planning said. For comparison, NYC typically has an annual 85-90 percent occupancy rate—one of the highest in the nation. “Tourism is one of the pillars of our economy, there is no recovery without it,” said New York City council member Paul Vallone. In April, NYC & Company announced its largest-ever initiative to lure tourists back to all five boroughs—a $30 million effort kicking off this month called “NYC Reawakens.” The campaign’s goal is to show that NYC is not only ready for tourists, but it’s also “a fairer, better, and more vibrant city than ever before,” New York City’s marketing organization said. Part of this plan includes flexing the city’s wokeness by promoting multicultural guides centered on Black-owned businesses as well as Latinoand AAPI-themed content. And if culture isn’t enough to draw tourists to NYC, maybe protection from Covid-19 is. The city has set up vaccination centers in tourist destinations like Times Square and Central Park where out-of-town walk-ins can get a one-and-done Johnson & Johnson jab. NYC & Company is predicting 36.4 million people will visit the city this year, with 69.3 million expected in 2024. Tourism, in large part, is what’s driving Macy’s Inc., owner of arguably the most famous store in NYC, to plunk down $235 million to not only improve its sprawling flagship anchoring Manhattan’s Herald Square but also to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood. It’s a move that signals “the city is set to come roaring back,” said Melva M. Miller, CEO of the Association for a Better New York. Macy’s two-pronged plan involves building a 900-foot glass office tower above the department store and upgrading the street-level pedestrian area as well as the Herald Square subway station with accessibility-minded features. Describing the flagship as one of the city’s “most iconic institutions,” Macy’s Inc. CEO Jeff Gennette said the company is “doubling down” on its commitment to New York City, which includes notable events like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Flower Show, 4th of July Fireworks and Santaland. RETAIL RENAISSANCE
A revamped Herald Square will serve as a complementary bookend to the newly renovated Penn StaRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
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tion and the businesses located just east of Macy’s at Hudson Yards. Billed as a “new neighborhood” by real estate development giants Related Cos. and Oxford Properties Group, the office, retail and arts complex marked its one-year anniversary just as the coronavirus battered the city. While marquee tenant Neiman Marcus vacated last summer after filing for bankruptcy, and wooing new tenants has been a challenge, the mall remains home to denim retailers like AG Adriano Goldschmied, Aritzia, Levi’s and Madewell. Elsewhere in the city, Frame opened new locations during the pandemic. Along with an Upper East Side pop-up shop, the premium lifestyle brand opened a 3,324-square-foot store in Meatpacking on Gansevoort Row. Designed to embody Frame’s “California-chic aesthetic,” the store features custom furniture designed by Atelier de Troupe, natural fir plywood tables and brass fixtures. The store also includes a handcrafted gridded denim wall that displays Frame’s signature and best-selling styles, while a subtle play on color and textures serves as the backdrop for the brand’s growing accessories range. “We’ve been expanding our retail footprint in recent years, placing Frame stores in the most
ness, he said. Multi-brand stores like his own might have the greatest uphill battle in assimilating to the new world. In the case of Brooklyn Denim Co., Pizzurro said the brands that his store helped build up over the years are now reaping the benefit of his customers shopping on their websites. “Stores will have to be smaller and interactive with a company website going forward to survive,” he said. Given what the apparel and retail industries experienced over the past year in terms of the dura-
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tion, severity and level of uncertainty, Trunzo anticipates a smarter way of conducting business. “The past year was a lesson in diversification, nimbleness, and the importance of a future-forward mindset,” he said. “I think what’s different in this instance, particularly for NYC-based retailers and businesses, is that we do have abundant optimism in the air. While these businesses will be moving forward likely with a shapeshifted strategy, leaned-out budgets, and a bit more conservativeness, consumers
desirable neighborhoods in the country, and Meatpacking is a key part of this strategy,” said Jens Grede, Frame co-founder and creative director. Frame’s New York City-centric growth spurt was in the works prior to the pandemic, before there was even an inkling of how retail would be disrupted. As construction slowed down in 2020, Grede said Frame had to press pause for a few months to take the necessary precautions and ensure that the store “could be a destination for our customers for years to come.” The brand, Grede added, pushed forward with plans because the “store offers an incredible opportunity to deliver a true Frame experience.” Creating immersive retail experiences was all the rage prior to the pandemic, but the verdict is out on how much in-person engagement socially starved consumers will come to expect. Consumers may also be met with a less-is-more approach to merchandising as retailers work to mitigate the risk of overbuying, navigate e-commerce (and the flood of competition that comes with it), and the delays that continue to plague the supply chain. “The biggest challenge at this point has been getting product,” Pizzurro said. “With reduced cash flow it has made it very hard to get goods.” Pizzurro foresees a retail landscape that is permanently changed, particularly by consumers’ dependence on e-commerce during the pandemic. Though there’s a place for brick-and-mortar stores, they’ll have to be built to support an online busiRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
and businesses alike are collectively optimistic and ready to make the bounce back happen.” BACK TO BUSINESS
That new and improved business acumen has yet to be displayed at an apparel trade show in NYC, but organizers are hoping to host in-person events later this year, though they may be smaller and have a more local flavor as guidelines for international travel continue to be in flux. Texworld New York City will host a modified version of its event July 20-22 at the Starrett-Lehigh Building. The children’s apparel trade show Playtime New York will return Aug. 1-3 at the Metropolitan Pavilion, and the women’s apparel event, Coterie, remains on Informa’s schedule for Sept. 19-21 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The next Kingpins New York, the U.S. denim industry’s main supply chain event, will take place Dec. 6-7 at its usual venue, Pier 36. Kingpins founder Andrew Olah said the group had been waiting to hear what the laws for public gatherings would be to understand the changes they would need to make in their shows. While Pier 36, refered to as “Basketball City” by locals, often felt too spacious for the intimate trade show, it is now the ideal space for social distancing. The first trade shows will also serve as a litmus test of whether the apparel sector is addressing the issues that 2020 brought to light, including topics on sustainability, diversity and the questions raised about the industry’s seasonality. Retailers are understandably now more interested in shorter buying cycles that allow for a nimbler approach to style selection and order commitments, according to Courtney Bradarich, vice president of events, contemporary women’s—Coterie and Project. “We will likely see more brands establishing core programming that is trans-seasonal and evergreen, in addition to creating capsule collections with special drops throughout the year,” she said. Similarly, Bradarich said brands are now “more empowered with amazing technology which eases so many planning and logistical woes, such as enhanced data-driven direction, resulting in better margins as well as improved forecasting on collection performance, resulting in less unnecessary overproduction.” With sustainability’s rising in importance, both in terms of ethical production and the environment, she said seasonal pre-bookings will remain very relevant. While there are new considerations in play, such as enhanced safety measures needed in a post-pandemic world, Bradarich said everyone’s real focus is on getting back together with the community.
“Overall, I think there’s a real sense of increased appreciation for many things we only now realize were so fundamental to our lives—both personally and professionally,” she said. “Conducting business and involvement in our live events is no exception: from touching fabrics and spotting new talent, to making connections with new customers and dinners out with longstanding partners.” No matter the occassion, when the denim community finally reunites, a roaring good time can be expected. “From what I hear people can’t wait to re-engage with their denim brethren,” Olah said. “All of us have been cooped up too long. I imagine the best parties we ever had will be the ones post-Covid.” THE NEW NEW YORK
Indeed, New Yorkers’ prowess at throwing parties, and the city’s unique brand of glitz and grit, may be the antidote to staid quarantine hobbies such as gardening and baking. It will likely be that winning combination that silences critics who’ve questioned if New York City was “over.” “Anyone who says New York is over hasn’t a clue,” Rucci said. “We will always be resilient and the center of everything, including fashion and even denim and manufacturing. Name me one other city so good they named it twice.” Olah urges anyone who thinks NYC is over to “get 19 boxes of popcorn” and watch Ken Burns’ “New York, a Documentary Film” to understand how the city grew into what it is today through all types of adversity. “I laugh when people say the city is over—this is New York City,” Olah said. While Pizzurro claims NYC “is never over,” the city’s current state does remind him of the late ’70s, when the wealthy decamped for the safety of the suburbs—giving young creatives space to move in. Though it marked a dark moment in the city’s history, as economic and political instability ravaged the quality of life, it theoretically catalyzed new ideas and talent. “It was scary, exciting and creative,” Pizzurro said. “I think that will be the new cycle.” With the recent slew of announcements heralding the return of in-person events, including New York Fashion Week, which will culminate with the Sept. 13 Met Gala, Trunzo asks how anyone can say NYC is over. “People can move upstate or out of state, but fashion’s not going with them,” he said. “New York City is fashion; it’s taste, culture, hustle, inspiration and all of things that drive our industry. Following a time of total upheaval in tradition, this would be the time to break tradition and start anew, and yet the entire industry is gearing up for a return to New York.” RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
FASHION NOTES: NYC DENIM STYLE NYC denim style is a combination of upcycled denim, vintage and fashion styling. Many New York-based fashion designers have denim in their collections, and they take much of their inspiration from the city streets. It’s one-part punk, rockabilly, hiphop, rock ‘n’ roll—sometimes it’s the full kit and other times [it’s a combination of influences.] —Christine Rucci New Yorkers have the most versatile style in the world: we are used to fighting the elements, trekking from one area of the city to another, and transitioning in and out of disparate situations. We lean on denim to make this possible. It bridges every style— it can be dressed up with a sport coat or worn with a simple T-shirt and sneakers. As we emerge from the era of lockdown, I believe New Yorkers will be eager to swap their sweats for something slightly more polished, and denim is going to anchor the whole look. —Brian Trunzo New York City style—whether it’s denim, music or not—is about doing whatever people want to do. That is what makes New York special: the ability to be yourself and live where there are so many choices. In denim there is trendy, there is vintage and vintage replicas. —Andrew Olah NYC denim style has always been a little cleaner, faster and more styled. With the shutdown, we have seen it get more casual and comfort-driven over the last year. We are seeing a move to looser cuts and more wash interest. Streetwear seems to be driving a lot of retail today and you can even see it in the major design houses. —Frank Pizzurro
UNTAPPED TA Are companies’ efforts to 60 promote diversity, equity and inclusion falling flat? w o rd s _____ KATE NI SH I M UR A
n overdue period of awakening has overtaken the fashion industry. Following calls for social justice across the country, brands have begun to examine their own roles in perpetuating practices that have led to a longstanding lack of diversity and representation across the sector. But these movements are in their infancy. While brands are taking the preliminary steps to promote equality, employees believe there is considerable work to be done.
of employees of color report that a career in the fashion industry is not equally accessible to all qualified candidates.
A McKinsey study commissioned by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and PVH Corp. showed that while the majority (60 percent) of fashion industry employees believes their companies have engaged in efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), employees of color insist they’re falling short. “The fashion industry, both in the U.S. and
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ALENT worldwide, has historically struggled with opportunities and pipelines for Black and Brown talent,” said CaSandra Diggs, CFDA president. “We need to collectively address and change this.” While 77 percent of surveyed white employees said their fashion industry employer was “doing what it takes” to improve DEI, 20 percent fewer Black employees said the same, suggesting that while both groups observed significant action, they were not aligned on how much progress was being made. What’s more, 62 percent of white staff said they believe opportunities go to the most deserving employees, and just 47 percent of Black respondents agreed, underscoring the idea that ensuring inclusion doesn’t end with hiring.
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employees report the lowest rates of having someone frequently advocate for them.
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One-quarter of employees of color said they felt they were judged by different performance standards than their white counterparts, and 16 percent said they felt they were less likely to be promoted to first-level manager roles because of their race.
of Black employees report feeling less prepared for their first job search vs. 19% of white employees.
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employees report greater inaccessibility to the fashion industry. A demographic breakdown of 10 leading American fashion and apparel companies showed that the only three Black C-Suite-level employees were chief diversity officers who were part of human resources departments, not tasked with leading business functions. Amid public proclamations from brands insisting they promote Black leadership, this sparse showing at the top has raised questions about whether their actions are actually leading to more representation in decision-making roles, the report said. Less than 44 percent of employees believe that the actions their companies are taking now to advance DEI will result in permanent change, however, and the current state of affairs at American fashion brands paints an inauspicious picture for incoming candidates. Half of all employees sur-
of Black employees found a job in fashion through friends or family members vs. 26% of total respondents.
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that Black fashion students waiting to enter the market are feeling less than hopeful about their futures in the industry. Many expressed a belief that brands are capitalizing on a potentially fleeting trend toward wokeness because of the current cultural climate, and said they were skeptical about entering the fashion sector when its motivation to include them could potentially fade later on.
Asian employees report the lowest likelihood of receiving advice during a challenging time. Fashion schools play a “critical role” in creating a pipeline into the industry—but analysis of six top U.S. institutions showed missed opportunities for representation, the research showed. Less than 10 percent of the 2020 undergraduate student body at these colleges is Black, and nearly two-fifths of Black respondents also reported feeling “not at all equipped” for their first job search upon completing their studies.
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
veyed in the report said a career in the industry isn’t equally accessible to all candidates, and 68 percent of Black employees said they felt fewer opportunities were available to them. While CFDA and PVH’s research revealed mixed reviews from Black employees on their employers’ efforts to promote DEI, most respondents said they believe that small and medium-size brands offer the best environments for success. The majority (68 percent) of Black employees at small companies reported that they believe hiring at their company is based on fair and objective criteria, while over half (55 percent) said the same about their medium-size employers. That number dropped by more than percent when large companies were assessed by their Black employees. While new scholarship and mentorship programs have been put in place, the report indicated
JUL 10-12, 2021
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A D V E R T O R I A L
HAPPY, HEALTHY WORKERS DRIVE COMPANY SUCCESS
HOW CAN YOUR BRANDS SEE INTO YOUR SUSTAINABILITY AND CSR EFFORTS? Strom offers complete transparency when working with our customers, on all levels. We offer opportunities to work with companies like Fibretrace or Retraced, a CSR software which allows our customers to efficiently manage their sustainability right through the supplier chain from cotton farms to delivery.
CAN THE DENIM SUPPLY CHAIN BETTER WORK TOGETHER FOR AN INDUSTRY THAT VALUES AND PROTECTS ALL WORKERS? The current reality of the pandemic has highlighted the social impact and the fragility of the denim supply network. All brands, suppliers and mills need to extend responsibility to their entire supply network. We also understand the financial restraints the pandemic has caused that will lead brands to concentrate on price, but to pay our workers a fair living wage we need to make sure this wealth gets through the supply chain to our most vulnerable workers that we can all support.
HOW CAN TRANSPARENCY IMPROVE THE HUMAN SIDE OF DENIM?
TROM DENIM DOESN’T separate
the health and welfare of its workers from the health and welfare of the planet. Case in point: not only does the Turkish vertical factory and laundry send employees to programs to further their education, it also plants trees for their birthdays—a present for them and the Earth. “Sustainability isn’t just about our environment, it is also about the amazing people we work with on a daily basis and ensuring they are happy and healthy in what they do,” says Baris Izcimen, managing partner. Here, Izcimen explains why Strom’s sustainability can only be achieved by an environmental, economic and social balance.
HOW DO STROM’S HEALTHY PRODUCTION METHODS CONTRIBUTE TO A HEALTHIER FACTORY WORKER? Under our Blue Drop line, we are trying to cancel all harmful chemicals and processes in our wash
recipes. We’re trying to adapt the latest technology in sustainability for a healthier earth, while at the same time providing a clean and safe area for our workers. For example, we’re not using PP spray anymore. Cancelling this chemical and its process to yield a greener product has been a huge step.
STROM HIGHLIGHTS EMPLOYEE HAPPINESS A LOT ON SOCIAL MEDIA. HOW HAS THIS CONTRIBUTED TO A HAPPIER WORKER, AND MORE LOYAL CUSTOMERS? We strive every day to make sure every individual is enjoying and learning from their job. Our company is very transparent, and our customers are welcome to visit and work with us at our facilities. We recognized that our loyal customers and happy employees enjoy spending time at our company, and we decided to promote this via our social media. We have employees who have been with us since we founded in the ’90s, and some of their children work with us too.
2020 highlighted the social impact and the fragility of the denim supply network, and unfortunately 98 percent of garment workers do not make enough to meet their basic needs. Modern slavery is a prominent issue in the garment-making sector. We need to improve transparency and wages along our supply chain and be very open about this at both a brand and retail level. This is necessary to achieve in order to protect our garment workers. Without them, we do not have an industry.
HOW DID STROM ENSURE EMPLOYMENT STABILITY DURING THE PANDEMIC? Providing a safe place for workers was a top priority. Luckily, our new 15,000-square-meter factory in Istanbul, opened just before the pandemic, offered space to socially distance on the production lines. In our laundry, we worked in three shifts with fewer workers. We didn’t have many Covid cases and didn’t shut down until last April. Even during Covid, we increased business—no one lost their job and and we hired more people. The level of our premium product matches our level of environmental and social sustainability. We pride ourselves at being at the forefrot of social and environmental sustainability within the premium denim sector.
İstanbul born & Sustainable jean - maker
SUSTAINABILITY IS NOT A CHOICE Strom takes the responsibility
sustainable solutions. Are you in?
Strom stands for social, enviromental and economical sustainability which are all reflected throughout both our factories and sustainable laundry. We are constantly innovating new ways to make product more sustainably; using the best technologies and professional know how.
/stromdenim www.strom.com.tr firstname.lastname@example.org
WORDS INTO ACTIONS
Has the industry kept its promises to last year’s Black Lives Matter movement?
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t’s been over a year since the murder of George Floyd, a moment that sparked one of the largest civil rights outcries in history. The movement elevated conversations about the impact of systemic racism across all industries, including fashion, which has benefitted from Black talent for centuries but had fallen short of promoting equality. In the days and weeks following Floyd’s death, fashion companies pledged support to help establish a more inclusive future. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement called on brands to be active in the fight against discrimination, and many throughout the denim industry responded with big promises—some in the form of financial contributions to support Black-owned businesses, others in
the form of internal reorganization and many in the form of a viral black square circulating through social media to show quiet support. Today, it can be difficult to differentiate between the companies that were serious about their efforts and the ones that simply went through the motions for fear of being canceled, as one year is a drop in the bucket when considering the systemic oppression that has plagued American society. What is certain is that the BLM movement, and fashion’s response to it, has had an effect on consumers. “We’ve seen our customers come to Lyst looking for powerful brands with a clear identity and purpose,” said Bridget Mills-Powell, content director at the global fashion shopping platform. Over the past year, Lyst data indicated an RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
increase in demand for Black-owned fashion brands including Pyer Moss (+50 percent), Heron Preston (+29 percent), Wales Bonner (+87 percent) and Mowalola (+139 percent). The label that came out overwhelmingly on top was Telfar, a Black-owned brand that has always stood for inclusivity. Demand for the brand’s signature faux-leather shopping bag spiked 270 percent in Q3 2020 and became one of the world’s 10 most-wanted products, according to the shopping platform. Along with demand, Black-owned brands saw a spike in Instagram followers over the past year. Product intelligence company Trendalytics reported that Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty, Telfar and Fear of God experienced the most growth in Instagram followers.
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CHANGE FROM WITHIN
New York-based Christopher John Rogers experienced an influx of 22,503 followers, a 15.5 percent growth rate year-to-date. The designer appeared in 7,500 average weekly searches, up 209 percent compared to last year, Trendalytics reported. Rogers was a key figure in the beginning of 2021 when he dressed Vice President Kamala Harris in a purple dress and coat on the history-making Inauguration Day. The designer recently unveiled a dress collaboration with Target as well. The big-box retailer announced in April it will invest $2 billion in Blackowned businesses over the next five years. As part of this effort, it will add products from more than 500 Black-owned vendors. To further help entrepreneurs, Target also introduced Forward Founders, a virtual, eight-week program that will help Black entrepreneurs early in their startup journey navigate ideation, product development and scaling for mass retail. However, the move faced backlash from the 15 Percent Pledge, an initiative that calls for multi-brand retailers and corporations to shift 15 percent—which is the size of the Black population within the U.S.— of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. The organization pointed out that, not only did Target mirror its branding, but the retailer also failed to disclose crucial information that would help measure its efforts and hold it accountable. The organization also highlighted that the $2 billion investment represents less than 1 percent of Target’s 2020 revenue, but added in an Instagram post that “any commitment to invest in Black people is a step in the right direction.” Another major retailer, Nordstrom, launched Black Founders, a pop-up shop at its New York City flagship featuring products from eight Blackowned companies from across the fashion, accessories and beauty categories. Sustainable denim brand Oak & Acorn—Only for the Rebelles, founded by Miko Underwood, was included in the initiative. Underwood said the label became the No. 1 selling brand at Nordstrom’s location at the Atlanta Phipps Plaza, thanks in part to its dedicated retail team. “Sales associates and stylists championed Oak & Acorn, which immediately translated into organic ambassadorship via store socials, strategic visual merchandising, styling boards and direct customer transactions,” she said.
But to determine if a company is actually committed to making change, Solomon Russell, owner of vintage store Lefthand Twill, said it’s key to look internally. “We know the importance of being transparent in this industry. We rely hard on information about how clothes are made, down to where the cotton is coming from,” he said. “We need to be just as transparent about how diverse a company might be on a corporate level. Real change starts from within, whether you’re a singular person or a brand.” Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) initially responded to the height of the movement with a $100,000 grant to Live Free, which organizes local communities to curb gun violence and promote racial and economic justice, as well as a $100,000 grant to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for work toward criminal justice reform. The heritage brand, however, published demographic representation data in a diversity and inclusion report last June that found the majority of its management positions were held by men, and an
overwhelming majority were filled by individuals who identify as white. LS&Co.’s leadership team is 73 percent white, 16 percent Asian and 6 percent Latinx. Black/African-American employees represent just 2 percent of the leadership workforce. To make progress within, the company committed to publishing annual updates on employee demographics and diversity statistics as well as wage equity audits every other year and establish a candidate pool of at least 50 percent minorities. In November, the company appointed Elizabeth A. Morrison to chief diversity, inclusion and belonging officer. PVH Corp.-owned Tommy Hilfiger is also following through on its promises, and last summer launched the People’s Place Program, a plan to help increase opportunities for underrepresented communities within the global fashion industry. The program’s first partnerships included the Fashion and Race Database (FRD), an online platform committed to challenging misrepresentation within the fashion system, and Harlem Fashion Row (HFR), a New York-based agency focused on the advancement of people of color in the fashion industry. Since then, the brand has made internal strides, and launched mandatory unconscious bias trainings for all associates globally, with the goal of having all associates trained by the end of 2022. It also offers an internal program to support diversity and inclusion efforts and partnered with the CFDA to co-author the State of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Fashion report, a research piece that suggests next steps for the U.S. fashion industry to be more representative and equitable in its workforce, talent pipeline and consumer base.
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Another firm working closely with Black talent, technology company Resonance last year unveiled its beResonant program, a four-month initiative that provided 11 Black creators with financial, operational, educational and marketing support including $50,000 in cash, products, and services, to operate their sustainable fashion businesses “without having to worry about the crippling effects of inventory.” By using Resonance’s platform create.ONE, designers were able to tap into a made-to-order model that allowed them to get to market in the span of eight weeks. “It is our responsibility to address fashion’s failure to include and support Black creators,” said
Franklin Aririguzoh, beResonant’s general manager. “You can’t reimagine fashion without reimagining who is making fashion. We are not looking for a reactionary quick fix; we are looking to do our part to level the playing field.” The company is continuing its progress with the beResonant Store, in which it digitally showcases the 11 brands in an effort to better drive traffic and exposure. While it’s always welcoming new Black-owned brands to the platform, it plans on opening applications for a second beResonant class in Q3 of this year that will once again support Black talent creators. Trade show organizers are also fulfilling their promises to do better in terms of diversity and inclusion. Last year, Informa Fashion Markets, the organizer of Project and Coterie, and wholesale e-commerce platform NuOrder partnered to launch the Informa Markets Fashion for Change (IMFC) incubator program, an initiative that supports emerging designers within the Black fashion community and provides 10 brands with opportunities for representation and mentorship. The program selected designers to receive two full seasons of complimentary access to Informa Markets Fashion digital events, as well as a digital showroom page on the NuOrder platform and access to its digital wholesale market tools, along with one-on-one mentorship from a member of IMFC’s advisory board throughout the duration of the event. Further, through the IMFC Incubator Grant Program, four of the 10 incubator program designers were selected to receive $10,000 each in grant funding. According to Don Pietranczyk, vice president of education and experiences at Informa Markets Fashion and IMFC advisory board member, these efforts are ongoing and will be continued for years to come. “The IMFC initiative will be woven throughout all of our platforms where we connect and engage with our fashion community, be it live or digital,” he said. “We are also launching an IMFC Shopping Guide which highlights must-see brands within categories such as Minority-owned, LBGTQ+owned, and women-owned to name a few.” While equal representation in fashion still has a long way to go, the progress it was able to achieve in just one year’s time has many hopeful for the long-term. The focus now, according to Russell, is staying the course. “‘Ally fatigue,’ in which non-Black and Brown people feel the weight of supporting this uphill battle against discrimination and racism, also extends
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to brands,” he said. “These social issues aren’t going away, so the key here is continuous support. It’s a marathon; not a sprint.”
SUPPORTING THE YOUTH Beyond fashion, companies are stepping up to support Gen Z, a cohort known for actively pursuing positive change and equality. AEO Inc., the parent company to teen denim specialty brand American Eagle, organized a scholarship fund that it recently awarded to 15 individuals from underrepresented communities who are actively driving anti-racism, equality and social justice initiatives. The AEO Real Change Scholarship for Social Justice recipients each receive a $10,000 scholarship for the 2021/2022 academic year and are assigned an AEO Inc. mentor to help them advance their career development and social justice efforts. In addition to the scholarship, the company made a $500,000 pledge to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to support their education equity work and scholarships for Black students and matched up to $100,000 in donations made by AEO associates to organizations fighting against racism and for social justice. It also implemented a program with the National Retail Federation to provide retail career education for students attending historically black colleges and universities. “We have always believed that one of the best RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
investments we can make is in our people,” said Jay Schottenstein, AEO executive chairman of the board and CEO. “The Real Change Scholarship for Social Justice demonstrates AEO’s commitment to help end racism, discrimination and inequality while providing educational support for the next generation of leaders. Together we are making real—and lasting—change to build an even stronger, more diverse workplace that provides opportunities for our associates to continue to develop and grow within our AEO family.” According to Donwan Harrell, founder of ArtMeetsChaos, working with young talent is an especially impactful service to the Black community. Harrell has a long-term vision to launch an incubator for young minorities to learn the ins and outs of the fashion industry and provide them with a platform for creative experimentation. For Harrell, Floyd’s death was “a clear indication that helping our youth can’t wait.” Though he wasn’t ready to start building his long-awaited mentorship hub, he began mentoring a student through youth art program Art Start, and encourages everyone to get started in a small way. “Although I am the mentor in this scenario, I am pleased to say that the young man I meet with weekly is a source of inspiration, and we both learn and appreciate the relationship,” Harrell said. “Systemic racism is a behemoth, tightly intertwined in the fabric of this country, but if everyone did their part, it would be dismantled in due time. Every step in the right direction counts towards progress and equal justice.”
A D V E R T O R I A L
S DENIM CONTINUES to innovate,
Informa Markets Fashion is taking a customer-focused approach to meet the industry’s ever-evolving needs. The organization is diversifying and expanding its live event opportunities, continually enhancing its digital offerings and placing an emphasis on advanced content through education, trend and market insights. These efforts are all geared to position original content as a larger business resource for its customers. Courtney Bradarich, vice president of events for contemporary women’s at COTERIE and PROJECT, and Jason Peskin, vice president of corporate development and events for contemporary men’s at PROJECT, share with Sourcing Journal how the Informa Markets Fashion team is providing tools and resources to better serve the industry in 2021 and beyond.
HOW HAVE INFORMA’S EVENTS SUCH AS PROJECT AND COTERIE PREPPED FOR A 2021 REBOUND AS WELL AS FACILITATING A SUCCESSFUL YEAR AHEAD FOR DENIM? CB: 2020 really gave us the runway to innovate, respond to updated market needs and evolve our baseline products and services. Since we’re an important connection platform for the contemporary market—of which denim is a foundational component from large companies to small independent labels—we’ve taken a deeper, more consultative approach with our brands and buyers. JP: We’ve launched more high-touch services like a retail concierge, increased production of advanced original content—featuring fresh industry voices within our educational programming— and brought forward an entirely new way for our brands and buyers to connect and do business with digital opportunities. These elements will be woven throughout our future events, delivering higher value experiences for both brands and buyers. We are excited to be getting back to producing live events that serve this category in more targeted ways, and by virtue of that, bolster success in the year ahead.
GIVEN THE OVERVIEW AND INSIGHT YOU HAVE IN THE INDUSTRY, HOW ARE YOUR EXHIBITORS ADDRESSING SOCIAL COMPLIANCE WITH THEIR PRODUCTS AND MESSAGING? CB: The social compliance component of sustainability comes with an expectation of transparency as well—from the buyer and the consumer. Brands are establishing ways to truly report on topics like fair wage pay and they’re doing so through their websites, social media, seasonal assets and now through our digital offerings. Informa Markets Fashion will continue to spotlight these important attributes and stories when sharing brand information with our retailer community.
HOW ARE YOU SEEING DENIM BRANDS REACTING TO INCREASED DEMAND FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY? CB: Consumers, and therefore buyers, will continue to call for business transparency and we’ve seen the denim brands in our contemporary community meet that expectation with creativity and boldness. Brands are considering moves to include deadstock fabric, use organic cotton, discontinue use of harsh chemicals and dyes, as well
as adopt established methods to reduce water consumption needed for production. JP: There is also a huge consumer focus on upcycling and love of vintage pieces that is having a renaissance moment. Being one of the most classic categories within apparel, the denim category is also homing in on full product lifecycles as a focus area to offset waste. Many brands are stepping out with secondhand incentive programs as part of their larger sustainable initiatives.
HOW WILL A HYBRID APPROACH TO LIVE AND DIGITAL B2B COMMERCE ENABLE DENIM BRANDS TO BETTER SHOWCASE UPCOMING COLLECTIONS? JP: We will continue to complement our live events with digital opportunities for our community. There is such a natural extension between these platforms, giving both brands and buyers greater flexibility and additional avenues to connect and conduct business. With geographic limitations removed, brands can connect with buyers worldwide at any time. This true globalization in commerce, through bridging digital with physical events, better assists brands in capturing new leads and new partners. This leads to greater ordering opportunities that can start before or even after a live event concludes. As we saw from our past digital event editions, they also offer incredible storytelling opportunities. We know that the contemporary buyer is more tuned in than ever to a brand’s narrative. We’re really excited to help our brands and retailers get back to business this year with our upcoming hybrid and live events in Miami, Las Vegas, Tokyo, and New York.
Credit: Hailley Howard
PLANNING FOR THE YEAR AHEAD: NEW INSIGHTS MEANS NEW CONTENT
D E SS OI GU NR EC RI N TG E A
Meet the Black designers behind some of the most creative independent jeans brands. w ords_____ V I CTO R VAU G H N S J R .
rom shopping guides that highlight Black-owned businesses, to retailers curating products made by Black designers, players from across the fashion industry have made various efforts during the past year to bring Black-owned companies to the forefront of fashion. But sometimes it’s better to know more about the person behind the product. And what garment is more personal than jeans, after all? Here, three Black designers share why they’re drawn to denim and how the enduring fabric is a platform for self-expression, creativity and fulfilling their dreams.
express themselves. This creates room for inclusivity and freedom of expression. My jeans are for all people. As a bespoke designer, during the design process, I intentionally make sure no two pairs of denim are the same. This encourages my customer to recognize [what] sets them apart from others. RIVET: What does being a Black fashion designer mean to you? AA: For me being a black fashion designer is about
creating for a bigger purpose. Everything I do is centered around storytelling. It’s all about creating
AALIM ABDUL, FOUNDER OF AALIM ABDUL RIVET: What made you want to create a denim brand? Aalim Abdul: Denim was my canvas for self-ex-
pression during a time that I was beginning to figure myself out. As a young teenager searching for comfortability in his sexuality, free-styling and customizing my jeans was my way of outwardly expressing those colorful feelings. It slowly became an outlet for me to unapologetically be myself. I knew this was an experience I wanted to share with others. RIVET: Who is your customer and what do you keep in mind when designing for them? AA: Because I don’t live under gender norms, my
customer is just a fashion-forward individual with a strong sense of self who’s not afraid to loudly
a message that can advance Black art and challenge others to think outside of the box. Extracting inspiration from my experience as a queer Black man is at the heart of what I do. RIVET: Where do you hope to see your brand within the next five years? AA: My goal is to be in a position where I am releas-
ing collections without constantly taking long hiatuses. As a creative working a 9-5 job, life gets overwhelming. Often times, I tend to take a step back for an extensive amount of time to regroup. Having my brand fully sustained without these long breaks is where I want to be. I also want to give a voice to those coming up after me. One thing I’m big on is creating opportunities for other young Black creatives who may feel pressured to go to a school or institution in order to groom their natural creativity. My current experience as a self-taught designer is proof that it’s possible on your own. Whether it’s on the front or back end of my brand, curating a space in the future for these kids is a huge part of why I do this.
ALEXIS COLBY, FOUNDER OF BIT OF DENIM RIVET: What made you want to create a denim brand? Alexis Colby: I’ve had a love for denim since coll_____A ALI M AB D UL
lege. I had a brand back then, VampedCo, where I would make shorts and hand stud and tie-dye them. Once I moved to New York City, I got back into denim and made a denim rug for my room. It was so fun creating with denim, I stuck with it and Bit of Denim was born. RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
SHEILA RASHID, FOUNDER OF SHEILA RASHID, LLC RIVET: What made you want to create a denim brand? Sheila Rashid: I wanted to create a denim brand
because initially, I wanted to wear my own denim and have my own fits since I couldn’t find what I was looking for elsewhere. RIVET: Who is your customer and what do you keep in mind when designing for them? SR: My customers are people that appreciate the
art of denim. I tend to make staple pieces that you can essentially wear every day. I like to call it luxury denim. I tend to pay attention to details and the flexibility and durability of fits and styles. RIVET: What does being a Black fashion designer mean to you? SR: Being a black designer means to be a blessing. I l_____SH ELIA R A SH ID
get to do what I love for a living. RIVET: Where do you hope to see your brand within the next five years? SR: In the next five years, I see my brand reaching
new and recurring customers through e-commerce, social media and word-of-mouth. I see more collaborations and new collections.
RIVET: Who is your customer and what do you keep in mind when designing for them? AC: I create for individuals—not the masses—so
my customer is someone who likes to stand out. Someone who likes unique pieces that are [oneof-a-kind]. When creating, I make sure to push the envelope and think about what I haven’t seen been done with denim and execute from there. RIVET: What does being a Black fashion designer mean to you? AC: It means creating my own mini-world in the
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world of fashion. Let’s be honest, this industry isn’t built for black designers to succeed, so it’s up to all Black creatives including myself to work hard and push our creativity to the fullest potential. We need to build our own lanes. RIVET: Where do you hope to see your brand within the next five years? AC: In the next five years, I see Bit of Denim tap-
ping into footwear, expanding into retail in Japan and Europe and expanding our creativity in the art world with installations. Big things on the way. RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
A D V E R T O R I A L
MAKING A DIFFERENCE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION
A worker spends a third of their day in their work environment. As human beings, it is our right to want to feel encouraged and work in safe environments. It is imperative to our mental health and our ability to function optimally. As a business, we must not just be aware of our workers’ mental health, but have these conversations and work towards an environment in which employees thrive. The better our employees function, the more successful we will all be.
SUSTAINABILITY IS AN OFTEN-DISCUSSED TOPIC WITHIN DENIM NOW, BUT WHERE DO YOU FEEL BOTH YOU AND THE DENIM INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE NEED TO STEP UP IN 2021? Traceability and transparency are critical. AFM is among several companies who are doing the right thing. Unfortunately, it’s too easy for companies to get away with fake claims. We must be willing to hold each other accountable and look at the bigger picture. For example, it is not enough to say that a jean is 50 percent sustainable. How can we validate this claim? How can we continue the research to reach closer to 100 percent? How can we collaborate to push the boundaries at every step of the process?
ARTISTIC FABRIC MILLS (AFM) may have its sights set on its upcoming Fall 22 Sustainable Vintage collection, which includes biodegradable fibers such as recycled cotton, Refibra, Repreve, CiCLO and ROICA, but the company’s purpose goes beyond denim production. Upon setting up the Artistic Cares Foundation in 2017, AFM works with organizations like the Childlife Foundation, The Citizens Foundation Schools, The Indus Hospitals and more to support better education and healthcare for Pakistani citizens. In a chat with Sourcing Journal, AFM’s global design director Towonda Vaughns and Susan Lawrence, vice president of marketing and sales, discuss how tackling social, environmental and economic issues is in the textile manufacturer’s DNA.
to make a difference in the world around us. From supporting organizations that champion inclusivity—investing in our youth through education or providing world-class healthcare to the underprivileged communities of Karachi, Pakistan—we feel honored to do our part in making the world a kinder and safer place for all. We also launched the Hajra and Ahmed Umer Centre, named after the company’s founders, to provide free or subsidized medical care to approximately 1 million people of Jummah Goth and the neighboring remote towns of Karachi. AFM funds and operates the clinic under the expertise of Sina Welfare and the Childlife Foundation. It stands as a testament to the values that AFM was built upon and our continuous efforts to give back to the communities that have supported us.
HOW IS AFM TAKING STOCK OF AND REPORTING ITS OWN CSR PROGRESS?
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS IMPACT OF INVESTING IN YOUR EMPLOYEES’ WELLBEING?
Through the Artistic Cares Foundation, we aim
WHAT KEY DIFFERENTIATORS IN THE DENIM MARKET TODAY DO CONSUMERS RESPOND TO MOST? DENIM BRANDS TO BETTER SHOWCASE UPCOMING COLLECTIONS? As a manufacturer, we need to be able to honestly answer the questions related to how apparel is made and where it is made, while still excelling in quality and being mindful of price points. The key differentiators are evident between brands who target Gen Z vs. brands that target millennials. Gen Z cares about the planet, has brand loyalty, likes to feel they are part of the design process, are willing to pay more but purchase wisely. Brands that cater to them respond to this fluidity and conscious lifestyle, hence offering sustainably made clothing that is personalized and nostalgic of eras past. Millennials want someone to save the planet, but sustainability is not as high a priority for them when it comes to their clothing purchases. They are concerned about price and quality more than where it was made or if it has organic or recycled cotton. You’ll see the brands that have captured their loyalty focusing on these preferences more.
PUBLIC C To cancel or not to cancel? Consumers feel more empowered than ever to take brands to task. w o r d s _____ C HUC K DOB ROS I EL S K I
ancel culture” had its moment last summer. Perhaps the most prolific wielder of the now heavily politicized term was then President Donald Trump. Following the murder of George Floyd and nationwide protests and unrest than ensued, Trump and his fellow conservatives time and again categorized calls for change—whether successful or unsuccessful, real or overblown—as “cancel culture.” At the same time, however, cultural elites— long a foil to Trump—also pushed back on the concept. Following a wave of high-profile firings and resignations within the worlds of journalism and academia, Harper’s Magazine published a missive critical of what it called “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” Some 153 academics, authors, journalists and other public figures endorsed the 532-word “Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” including “The Handmaid’s Tale” author Margaret Atwood; linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky; and CNN host Fareed Zakaria. Also on the list was J.K. Rowling, author of the world-famous “Harry Potter” series and—less than one month earlier—a more than 3,600-word essay expounding her thoughts on “trans issues.” Writer and social commentator Roxane Gay described the lengthy work as a “spectacle of transphobic bigotry under the guise of feminism.” The piece, posted on Rowling’s personal web-
site, came on the heels of several similar controversies, including in the days directly leading up to its publication. The essay itself references a December incident as the writer’s “fourth or fifth cancellation.”
"B R A N DS CA N GE T OU T A H E A D OF PR N IGH T M A R ES IF T H E Y SOLV E T H EM W H EN THEY ARE HR PROB L EM S.” — Margot B loom stein, a u thor Within this explosive environment, interest in “cancel culture” soared last summer. The week Rowling published her essay, Google searches for the term shot to a then all-time high, according to Google Trends. Harper’s published the “open debate” letter four weeks later, days after Trump decried “cancel culture” as the “very definition of totalitarianism.” Though it made no mention of “cancel culture,” searches for the phrases bounded RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
even higher, reaching a level unmatched until this winter, when the Conservative Political Action Conference used “America Uncanceled” as its rallying cry. Meredith D. Clark, an assistant professor in the University of Virginia’s Department of Media Studies, published a fivepage article on the etymology of “cancel culture” in October. The piece—drawn from a chapter of a book she’s writing on Black Twitter—in part responds to the Harper’s letter, then little more than three months old. “The problem with so-called ‘cancel culture’ does not rest with the formerly disempowered, seemingly faceless public that the letter critiques, but with the signatories and their peers, ‘... the institutional leaders,’ who, ‘in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms,’” Clark wrote, in a direct reference the wording used in the Harper’s letter.
What is cancel culture? Clark distinguishes “being canceled” from “cancel culture,” describing the former as “a matter of digital accountability practice.” “So where people who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to hold, say, a brand, a celebrity, a public official accountable—their email gets discarded or not even read, they don’t have a phone number where they can call that person and complain and even if they did complain, nothing would come of it—people are able to take digital and social media tools and address that person as
CRITIQUE directly as possible,” Clark told Rivet. In voicing that experience, she added, others can join in, share similar stories and bring further attention to the issue. Vindication—the ideal outcome—can take the form of an apology or even just acknowledgement, she said. Where someone may choose to use the term “canceling” to describe their own actions, rarely
does anyone voluntarily identify with the phrase “cancel culture.” When one does use the phrase, it is meant “pejoratively,” Clark said. “It’s essentially pathologizing people who are using digital and social media to make their voices heard.” “The difference between canceling someone and cancel culture is that the language of canceling a person has been extracted from online communities—primarily queer, Black, digital communities—and it has been exploited, so that it becomes this messaging that signals to people RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
who for whatever reason have a fear of being canceled—quote-unquote ‘canceled’—that this is not legitimate criticism, that this is mob behavior, that it’s something that is both a threat, but also something that should be ignored or ridiculed,” Clark said. The messaging works. A Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey made headlines in March when it declared that 64 percent of Americans view “cancel culture” as a growing threat to freedom. Responses to the question—“Do you think there is a growing cancel culture that is a threat to our freedom or not”—were largely uniform across gender, age, locale, income and education. The only major outlier arose when tabulating for political party and ideology, with Democrats opting for “not a threat” by a margin of 52-48 and Republicans choosing “a threat,” 80-20. By those metrics, it would seem there is a general, though not absolute, consensus on cancel culture. However, a study from public relations giant Porter Novelli complicates the matter a little—at least for brands and corporations.
What do consumers want when they cancel? Porter Novelli’s report—based on its December online survey of 1,004 U.S. adults and weighted
76 l_____STR EET W E AR BR A N D CH INATO W N MA R KET, R E TAI L E R OLD N AV Y A ND L U XU R Y LA BEL G U CCI H AV E A DDR E S S E D MISTA KES W I T H A POLOGIES AND ACTION A D DRE S S E D MISTA KES
to U.S Census estimates—found just 20 percent of Americans believed cancel culture was “bad for society,” meaning that they believe companies or individuals can’t do or say anything without being cancelled. Though only 34 percent considered it “good for society—it gets companies/ individuals to recognize bad behavior,” a middle 30 percent dubbed the practice “effective, but overused—too many companies/individuals are being canceled.” Importantly, Porter Novelli defined the terms “cancel culture” and “cancel” for its respondents, describing the former as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something that was considered objectionable or offensive” and the latter as “withdrawing support or discussing that topic negatively online,” according to senior vice president, marketing, research and insights, Whitney Dailey. Though the word “cancel” may elicit ideas of some permanent punishment, Porter Novelli found the most popular reason to cancel a brand, with the support of 38 percent of Americans, was for “a company to change its ways.” Other top
reasons included getting a company to change its political policies and stances (27 percent), persuading businesses to fire individuals responsible for an offensive statement (26 percent), and influencing corporations to sever ties with a celebrity or spokesperson who caused offense (22 percent). Just 18 percent said they would cancel a company to get it to change its branding or external representation. Even fewer, 14 percent, said they wanted a company to “‘go away completely.” “This isn’t really about obsolescence,” Dailey said. “This is more about having a constructive dialogue with companies to hopefully get them to a better place.”
How can brands respond when canceled? Margot Bloomstein, the author of “Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap,” frames cancellation— or at least, what companies complain about as being canceled—as “natural consequences of their choices.” The difference between the boycotts of yesterday and cancellations of today, she said, is a matter of scale and visibility. That scale, she added, follows RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
from a belief that if something is “a problem at a local level, that’s oftentimes a symptom of a problem on a much larger corporate level.” “I think what has changed is that people feel empowered to raise those issues to demand better,” Bloomstein said. This view lines up with Porter Novelli’s study, which found that 72 percent of Americans “feel more empowered than ever before to share their thoughts or opinions about companies.” Bloomstein offered Old Navy as an example of authentic accountability. In early 2018, a customer, James Conley III, walked into a West Des Moines, Iowa, store where an employee then accused him of stealing the jacket he was wearing. The customer then posted videos of the experience on Facebook, claiming he had been racially profiled. "I was accused that I didn't pay for my blue bubble jacket that I got for Christmas that I wore into the store," he wrote. Less than a week after Conley posted about the incident, Old Navy had publicly apologized to him by name and fired three employees who were involved. “Then they continued to dig in, they weren't going to simply just sacrifice the local manager,”
A D V E R T O R I A L
HOW LENZING MAKES AN IMPACT BY BEING ‘NATURALLY POSITIVE’
OOD-BASED FIBER manufacturer Lenzing’s sweeping sustainability strategy goes beyond aggressive ecological targets. In addition to aims like cutting carbon, its “Naturally Positive” plan focuses on encouraging and empowering people, plus enhancing community well-being. With production sites across the globe—from Austria to Asia and America—Lenzing’s social efforts cater to localized needs. “As a good corporate citizen, the Lenzing Group promotes beneficial development of the communities and regions where it operates,” said Peter Bartsch, Lenzing’s vice president of corporate responsibility. “This is achieved through safe and environmentally responsible operations, fair business practices and contribution to local economic development and community life.” Even outside of its operating footprint, Lenzing is giving back to people and the planet through projects such as a reforestation effort in Albania that combines vocational training with erosion prevention. Here, Bartsch and Tricia Carey, global director of business development at Lenzing, discuss employee empowerment and how buyer-supplier relationships should evolve. WHAT DOES “NATURALLY POSITIVE” LOOK LIKE FROM A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY PERSPECTIVE? PB: The Lenzing Group is committed to conducting business in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of all people. Comprising the core of the company’s business success are people, and those who take ownership and feel able to take positive action drive a successful transformation to a more sustainable society and economy. Empowering employees and nurturing future leaders are key activities for driving sustainability improvement. The Lenzing
Group also motivates partners along the value chain to be changemakers and drivers of sustainability.
WHAT TARGETS HAS LENZING SET TO EMPOWER PEOPLE? PB: One, to have a continuously valid third-party audited accredited social certificate for every Lenzing Group production site by 2023. Two, to enable a good life for people amplified by products offered by Lenzing, and by respecting human rights, employee well-being and diversity. And three, to continuously support the development of local communities near Lenzing production sites and social welfare programs to 2025 and beyond.
HOW DOES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION GO HAND-IN-HAND WITH YOUR NEIGHBORS’ WELL-BEING? PB: The Lenzing Group seeks a balance between the needs of society, the environment and the economy. Lenzing takes on this responsibility, particularly with respect to potential effects of its operations on neighbors of the production sites and vis-à-vis society as a whole. We use Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a beacon because they reflect our societal challenges globally. Within our materiality analysis, we find areas where we have positive impact and influence that overlap with the SDGs. We consequently pinpoint these topics for further improvement by setting targets and measures and reporting on them according to GRI standards. Environmental protection leads to clean drinking water and air, and thus certainly has a direct influence on the quality of life and well-being of our neighbors and communities. However, it goes far beyond local vicinities. As a leading company in our sector and a major employer in many regions, we can only be economically successful in the long term if we also ensure a corresponding quality of life.
WHAT ARE CONSUMERS REALLY LOOKING FOR WHEN IT COMES TO SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY? TC: Consumers want the basic facts. They want to connect with companies who have a shared value system for the planet and people without the greenwashing. Now there is the traceability technology for consumers, as global citizens, to understand who made their garment.
WHAT HAS THE PANDEMIC REVEALED ABOUT DENIM BRANDS’ RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEIR SUPPLY CHAINS? TC: Covid exposed the environmental and social issues of the denim industry. The TENCEL™ denim team works with suppliers, mills and technology providers to lower the environmental footprint of the entire garment. Collaborations are flourishing throughout the industry from supplier to supplier, supplier to brands and even influencer to brands, because there is finally an understanding that change cannot happen alone. We have massive issues to tackle from overconsumption, carbon footprint, circularity, transparency to social justice. Now is the time.
FASHION ON BLAST
" T H IS IS M OR E A B OU T H AV ING A CONS T RUCT I V E DI A LOGU E W I T H COM PA N IE S TO HOPEF U L LY G E T T H EM TO A B E T T ER PL ACE.” —W hi tne y D aile y, P or ter No v elli
ashion has provided ample fodder for recent attempts—successful or otherwise—at cancellation. Though he initially denied what he called “grotesquely false accusations” against him, Alexander Wang eventually apologized after a male model, backed by S-t Model Mgmt and Diet Prada, accused the designer of sexual assault. After meeting with his accusers and the lawyer representing them, Wang said he regretted “acting in a way that caused them pain,” adding, “life is about learning and growth, and now that I know better, I will do better.” In the wake of the March Atlanta spa shootings, a Change.org petition demanding Chinatown Market rebrand received renewed attention when Diet Prada picked up the cause. A March 25 post decrying the “white-owned streetwear brand’s appropriation of a historic and culturally significant neighborhood” garnered tens of thousands of likes and the petition attracted thousands of signatures. The brand announced it would change its name on March 29. Like many brands, Man Repeller responded to last summer’s protest movement by posting a letter in support of Black Lives Matter. When readers responded with criticism, reading the letter as hollow signaling from a fashion blog lacking in diversity,
founder Leandra Medine Cohen announced she would “step back.” The publication never seemed to regain its footing, however. It attempted a rebrand as Repeller in September, but it announced its closure less than two months later. In 2018, the ever-controversial Dolce & Gabbana rankled the Chinese market by releasing a marketing campaign that was quickly deemed racist by those in and outside the country. The label took down the videos within 24 hours and nixed a scheduled runway show. Co-founders Domenico Dolce and Steffano Gabbana later apologized, vowing to respect Chinese culture. However, while the broader world seems to have forgiven the brand—revenues grew 4.9 percent in the year ending in March 2019— its products still can’t be found on platforms like Tmall, JD.com and Secoo. Shortly after Reformation shared its support for the Black Lives Matter movement, a post accusing the brand of passing over Black employees for advancement went viral. The former employee called for founder Yael Aflalo’s removal and little more than a week later the CEO resigned. In its 2020 sustainability scorecard—now with goals and metrics on diversity and inclusion—Reformation dubbed its “people focus” as a low point for the year and said it is “doing the work to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion.” —CD
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Bloomstein said. “They said we need to keep digging into this, figure out how this happened here. So, they conducted a broader investigation and they continued to update the media saying, ‘Yes, this is a problem here, here’s what we’re still doing about it.’ So, they kind of kept the story in the news.” Clark noted that it’s not always the immediate controversy at issue when a brand gets canceled, pointing to Gucci as an example. In February 2019, the luxury label came under scrutiny for a roll-up collar sweater that appeared to mimic blackface. The incident came a few months after Prada pulled a charm that customers said resembled blackface and shortly before Burberry apologized for sending a hoodie with a noose around the neck down the London Fashion Week runway.
“And it wasn't just about the fact that they were using these images of blackface,” Clark said. “But it was also a matter of the ways these labels have co-opted Black culture in the past, the way that they have failed to hire and meaningfully position and promote people from marginalized groups… And it was about the fact that, in that instance, [Gucci] was representative of the practices of extraction that the fashion industry, that the entertainment industry has been known for.” To avoid facing these sorts of public repercussions, Bloomstein said brands “should be self-policing, whether it’s how they’re treating employees, how their employees are treating customers, how they are creating a culture that supports good behavior. Brands can get out ahead of PR nightmares if they solve them when they are HR problems.”
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A D V E R T O R I A L
FINDING END-OF-LIFE TEXTILE SOLUTIONS WITH ENHANCED BIODEGRADATION
OCONA LABS, THE “science-first”
minds behind 37.5® thermoregulating technology, recently announced a new sustainability offering aimed at addressing the mounting problems created by textile waste. “Recycling is a better option than discarding textile products as waste, but it’s not always a realistic one,” said Blair Kanis, general counsel & director of sustainability. “There’s no easy answer to end-of-life textile challenges but it’s something we need to address.” Below, Kanis shares the process of bringing the enhanced biodegradation additive to market, how this new innovation fits into the company’s overall sustainability initiatives and the steps Cocona Labs is taking to ensure employee health and wellbeing.
WHAT ARE SOME SOLUTIONS HERE? In addition to durability, which ensures garments made with 37.5 Technology can be reused over a long lifetime, we recently launched 37.5 Technology with Enhanced Biodegradation. In the U.S., textiles make up 8 percent of all landfill waste. All 37.5 staple fibers and filament yarns are now available with an additive that allows them to biodegrade at enhanced rates once placed in landfill conditions. Importantly, this new offering does not affect the comfort or performance that 37.5 Technology provides, so brands don’t need to choose between sustainability and performance. Unlike other products on the market, this new additive does not simply cause the fibers to fracture into smaller pieces of microplastic, but rather converts them into naturally occurring byproducts at the molecular level. You can learn more about this innovative offering here.
WITHIN THE FULL LIFECYCLE, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR COMPANY’S MOST RECENT PUSHES TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY? 37.5 Technology is the only thermoregulating technology available that takes a holistic approach to sustainability and integrates sustainability throughout the product lifecycle, including: using naturally derived volcanic minerals that are permanently embedded at the fiber level, lasting the lifetime of the garment; making fabrics with 37.5 Technology available in GRS-certified recycled polyester and nylon; 37.5 recycled fibers can be blended with other sustainable fibers; 37.5 polyester fibers are Oeko-Tex® certified; 37.5 Technology is anti-odor to extend the life of the garment; products containing 37.5 Technology require less energy to launder; and
37.5 yarns are available with an additive that will accelerate biodegradation in landfills from centuries to decades. The decision to incorporate this additive technology comes after more than three years of research, commercialization trials and biodegradation testing by an external lab. Third party laboratory testing under ASTM D-5511 in an accelerated landfill environment showed almost complete breakdown of 37.5 polyester fiber to natural materials in two years. However, we were not satisfied to rest on this laboratory data alone as the biodegradation process in actual landfills is projected to be much slower. Unlike traditional polyester that will sit unchanged in landfills for centuries, 37.5 yarns will now break down over a matter of decades. Specifically, 37.5 fibers are projected to break down 50 to 80 percent over the productive life of the average U.S. landfill, which is about 80 to 100 years. Throughout our testing process, we transparently share all of our findings, including posting testing reports on the “Sustainability” section of our website.
WHAT ABOUT CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AT COCONA LABS? At Cocona Labs, we strongly believe in the importance of work-life balance and making sure our employees feel supported in efforts to contribute within their communities. We provide free, quality health care and have a culture where everyone can weigh-in on decisions that directly affect their work and quality of life. The COVID-19 pandemic has made a focus on employee well-being even more important. Our communities are struggling in ways we could not have imagined before all this began. Cocona Labs recently instituted a community service program to allow employees to dedicate up to 5 percent of their working hours—one day per month—to volunteer activities (helping at local animal shelters, building and maintaining local trails, providing pro bono legal services to help keep people in their homes). We are proud to support these efforts.
A D V E R T O R I A L
MAKING BOTH SUSTAINABILITY AND CSR MORE DURABLE
HEN THINKING ABOUT its corporate commitments on an environmental and social scale, The Flax Company is thinking long term, adding durability to
both initiatives. “When it comes to sustainability and corporate social responsibility, these two notions cannot be disconnected,” says Denis Druon, CEO of The Flax Company SAS. “They both have ‘durability’ engraved in them, and both are certainly the result of long-term commitments.” Here, Denis Druon discusses the benefits of the company’s cottonized hemp and the initiatives needed to move the entire industry forward.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR COMPANY’S MOST RECENT PUSHES TOWARD CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, EITHER EMPLOYEE-FOCUSED AND/OR COMMUNITY FOCUSED? Since we produce everything in France, from fiber growing to fiber processing, we must obey strict Western regulations. However, our commitment to the community and the environment are fundamental to the company's policy. For example, we have financed a school in Tamilnadu, India to help educate village children This is the village next to our partner mill in South India and where the mill is also contributing. We also have a fencing program in France, as our companies shares the values of this sport: respect, perseverance and fight. We help young people practice this sport at our partner fencing club in Roubaix.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME INITIATIVES FOR WOMEN AT YOUR COMPANY AND IN THE COMMUNITY? We give female employees flexible work-at-home opportunity to be present at home during school vacations and other key moments when children need their mother. These are important moments
in the lives of parents, too, and we wanted our employees to be able to take advantage of these privileged moments.
ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL SIDE, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR COMPANY’S MOST RECENT PUSHES TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY? Our Marmara Hemp® is a sustainable product due to how hemp is grown (rain fed, no chemical additions) and processed (through mechanical equipment only and without chemical advditives). Having said that, and even though it was already proven to us, we had to get it certified as sustainable.
Looking outward, in France, we sponsored a Student Association of a Business School (EM Grenoble), which removed 590 kgs of plastic waste from the Isère river banks in Grenoble.
WHERE IS THE BIGGEST DEMAND PUSHING THE DENIM INDUSTRY TO BE MORE RESPONSIBLE TO PEOPLE AND THE PLANET? The denim industry not only asked us to provide them with a material with a sustainability certificate, they asked to work with us and all of our partners from cultivation to fiber processing to validate our approach and sustainability concepts. We showed them how committed we were to our resolutions. The hemp fiber we market carries values that are fully committed too.
HOW ARE YOU OPENING A WINDOW INTO YOUR SUSTAINABILITY AND CSR EFFORTS AND HOW CAN THE INDUSTRY FOSTER GREATER COLLABORATION? Trust can only be achieved through transparency. We organize working meetings with our partners who cultivate and work the fiber, and we identify all participants and links of the production chain. We welcome brands to put on their farm boots and visit us! Better understanding is needed between all the players, fiber producers, spinners, weavers, finishers and brands distributing the final product. This mutual understanding can only be created through close communication and putting all cards on the table.
WHAT ASPECTS OF SOCIAL COMPLIANCE MOST CONCERN END CONSUMERS? Consumers expect clothing to be produced in the most environmentally friendly way possible, and to have a longer life. Hemp is an extremely sustainable material due to its very clean cultivation (without water, pesticides or phytosanitary products) but also due to its very high resistance, making it an exceptional material with a very bright future.
WHAT WILL PUT ALL COMPANIES ON AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD REGARDING SOCIAL REGULATION? The only way to impose rules on companies that will be respected is through legislation. The more the governments of the manufacturing countries enforce these laws through controls, the more confidence consumers will have.
R E SSPOOUNRSCI IBNI GL I T Y
PEOPLE + Intersectional environmentalism—what does it mean for the denim industry? w o rd s _____ KATE NI SH I M UR A
temming from a desire to confront the damage its waste-making ways have waged on the environment, the fashion sector has rolled out a multitude of sustainable advancements in recent seasons. Material innovations, traceability technology and upcycling initiatives have all become common tactics for brands looking to curb their ecological output. But a global pandemic has laid bare the industry’s most toxic effects on the people at the heart of its supply chain. The term “intersectional environmentalism” has been quietly gaining traction, bolstered by a growing understanding that garment workers—most of whom are women—stand to bear the brunt of the industry’s failures. “Intersectional environmentalism in fashion is advocating for both people and the planet over profit, ensuring race and privilege fall under the umbrella of sustainability,” said Kayla Marci, Edited market analyst. “The movement identifies how marginalized people of color are often left out of the conversation, yet are the most vulnerable to adverse environmental impacts such as pollution and climate change.” Despite the fact that shoppers are becoming
savvy, “brands are still using sustainability as a box-ticking exercise, trying to offset their environmental footprint through a one-off organic collection or recycling initiative when it is a complex and multi-faceted concept,” Marci added. For companies to become truly sustainable, “their efforts need to also protect and give back to the poor communities of color who experience injustices from the industry’s processes,” she said. Issues persist throughout the supply chain— from the beginning of a garment’s life cycle, where workers are faced with poor working conditions, inadequate compensation and wage theft, through the end of a product’s life, when it’s discarded in a landfill that is often adjacent to an underserved Black or brown community, Marci said. “This often-neglected demographic is most affected by the fashion industry.” “It really comes down to two things—climate justice and gender justice,” ReMake founder and CEO Ayesha Barenblat opined. “Without human rights and without gender justice, there really cannot be a sustainability movement,” she added. “These two issues go hand in hand.” According to ReMake’s data, there are 70 million workers in the global apparel and textile industry, and “it’s one of the only manufacturing indusRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
tries in the world that’s predominantly powered by women.” In some prominent sourcing locales, more than 80 percent of workers are female.
“ B R A N DS A R E S T IL L USING SUS TA IN A B IL I T Y AS A B OX-T ICK ING E X ERCISE...,” — Ka y la Marci, Edi ted These individuals are “on the front lines of climate shocks,” Barenblat said, because the natural resources in their communities have been pillaged “to enrich Western brands.” What’s more, these women are also dealing with rampant human rights abuses—an issue that has come to light
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throughout the pandemic as brands canceled orders with their suppliers, and in turn, factories reneged on paying their workforces. “A downward pressure on price has automatically resulted in a downward pressure on wages,” she said. “This was already happening pre-pandemic, but in the pandemic it has really cracked wide open.” As brands panicked and pulled back on commitments, the inherent “inequities that exist within the fashion system” have been exacerbated, Barenblat asserted, leaving
workers’ livelihoods hanging in the balance. That vulnerability makes them ripe targets for abuse. “Outside of the wage conversation, something that’s also often forgotten is how much sexual harassment and violence exists inside the factories and in the communities,” she added. Workers often operate under intense pressure to reach productivity targets, creating the “perfect storm for gender-based violence” when male factory managers dole out disciplinary measures. “Women have often left the safety of their homes
and villages—whether from rural Myanmar or in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka—and arrive at boarding houses in big cities without protections in place,” she added. Impacts on people also exist upstream in the supply chain, Barenblat added. The Chinese government’s abuses of the Uyghur Muslims, for example, have been widespread and well-documented, with the Biden administration formally characterizing the actions— including mass detentions, sterilizations and forced labor—as a
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R E S PS O NU SR ICBI INLGI T Y
genocide in late March. In recent seasons, though, apparel companies, including denim brands, have found themselves at the center of the controversy for their continued reliance on Xinjiang for both factory labor and cotton crops. Third-party certifications from well-meaning organizations have long focused on the environmental effects of material generation while missing the human impact, Barenblat asserted. “If chemical-free cotton is picked by people who essentially have no rights, then that’s not sustainable,” she added. “If you’re only going to look at the environmental standards without looking at them, then it’s a complete myth.”
"IF CH EM ICA L-F R EE COT TON IS PICK ED BY P EOP L E W HO E S SEN T I A L LY H AV E NO R IG H T S, T H EN T H AT ’S NOT SUS TA IN A B L E.”
CREDIT (LEFT): REMAKE CREDIT (RIGHT): AWAJ FOUNDATION/ REMAKE
—Aye sh a B arenblat , ReMake The concept of intersectional environmentalism boils down to embracing “the biodiversity of thought when it comes to addressing our current climate crisis,” Aditi Mayer, a fashion sustainability and labor expert for non-profit Intersectional Environmentalist added. It’s important that brands and consumers understand that there are certain power dynamics at play within the fashion supply chain stemming from the makeup of its workforce, and those perspectives must be acknowledged in order to force real change, she said. Mayer has spent the better part of four years organizing alongside garment workers in Downtown Los Angeles—a market that employs which employs some 50,000 people, many working to create denim and jeans. The sector operates as a
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“largely underground and informal economy” because of its many undocumented workers, she said, and that dynamic has led to a culture of worker docility even in the face of injustice. “It’s really important to see how identity is weaponized in a lot of different ways,” she added. “When workers do attempt to speak out against instances of worker abuse and wage theft, time and time again we see instances of employers saying, ‘If you speak out, we'll have [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] called on you.’” The biggest tool propelling the exploitation of workers is the piece rate model, a legal loophole that allows factories to pay workers per garment produced, rather than adhering to California’s $15-per-hour minimum wage, Mayer argued. In previous decades, the piece rate “mirrored” the minimum wage, but that isn’t the case today. “Couple that with the rise of fast fashion—an industry built on speed and scale at all costs,” she said. “You now have this dynamic where workers are working around the clock, and it’s exacerbating health and safety concerns.” Over the course of the past year, garment workRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
ers and advocates, like L.A.’s Garment Worker Center, have been advocating for the passage of the Garment Worker Protection Act (SB-62), which would eliminate the piece-rate model and give garment workers access to the same minimum wage enjoyed by others in the state. “It would also create a direct line of accountability between what happens in the factory and the brand,” Mayer said, explaining that companies have long shirked responsibility for issues taking place at the production level, owing to practices like subcontracting. In early April, California’s Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill, which was introduced in December, and it will move forward to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval. “For so long, the sustainability narrative has acutely focused on environmental impact and not how to include the human dimension of labor as a key element of that,” Mayer said. “When we look at this issue through the lens of intersectional environmentalism, the people and the planet become front and center—and that’s an important shift. Brands that are touting sustainability can’t ignore the conversation of human rights.”
A D V E R T O R I A L
WITH ECO-FRIENDLY MANUFACTURING, MORITO SCOVILL AMERICAS HAS SUSTAINABILITY AT ITS C.O.R.E.
Americas (MSA) specializes in high-performance fasteners for apparel and industrial applications across outerwear, workwear, children’s wear, infantwear and medical apparel, the company also heavily supports denim production with a selection of snaps, buttons and burrs vital for their completion. And just like any denim manufacturer, MSA has a stake in the fabric’s future and the desire to use more eco-friendly materials in the process. Richard Sanderson, director of sales and marketing, apparel, Americas at Morito Scovill Americas, explains how the company is answering the call to deliver sustainable denim and further commit to responsible manufacturing practices.
HOW IS MORITO SCOVILL ADDRESSING THE DEMAND FOR MORE RESPONSIBLE MATERIALS WITHIN DENIM PRODUCTS? Sustainability in manufacturing has become a large focus in the denim industry. In 2020, Morito Scovill followed the lead of some of the world’s largest denim brands and launched our eco-friendly initiative, C.O.R.E™ – Committed to Our Resources and Environment. C.O.R.E. is composed of manufacturing methods that greatly reduce manufacturing impacts by not utilizing resource-heavy processes such as electroplating, sandblasting, color filling and paint baking. This means significantly less water and power are consumed and emissions during production are decreased. Products using C.O.R.E. manufacturing methods are currently available in 25 finishes for application on brass, copper, steel and stainless steel. As part of the C.O.R.E. offering, Morito Scovill has even committed to 90 percent recycled corrugated packaging and up to 80 percent recycled plastic packaging to ship all of our products.
HOW DO YOU FEEL MORITO SCOVILL HAS EVOLVED ITS FASTENER/BUTTON OFFERINGS TO ADDRESS CHANGING DEMANDS ACROSS DENIM? As a global supplier in over 25 countries, we have an extensive supply chain network with a combined 330 years of expertise. This allows us to provide customer-centered solutions to ever-changing demands by offering a vast array of trim options from basic, traditional hardware to innovative new ideas. As denim has evolved, we have continued to offer dependable products our customers rely on, such as Duramark® buttons, rivets, burrs and Mighty Snaps® fasteners. We also answered the call for sustainable products by launching our
new C.O.R.E.™ finishes that are produced using eco-friendly manufacturing processes.
GIVEN THAT YOU WORK ACROSS DIFFERENT APPAREL CATEGORIES, WHAT LESSONS CAN DENIM LEARN FROM OTHER SECTORS? I think denim has adapted to the changes in consumers’ lifestyles. Today people are looking for comfort as well as fashion, and stretch denim is increasing in popularity as a result. Athletic leisure is very hot right now and stretch denim is a good option for those wanting denim with the performance features of athleticwear.
HOW IS YOUR COMPANY WORKING TO FURTHER CIRCULARITY AND GIVING DENIM A SECOND LIFE? As further proof of our commitment to sustainable manufacturing practices, Morito Scovill Americas joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and recently completed the Higg Index. Our brand partners want visibility into what sustainability initiatives are being practiced throughout their entire supply chain. Membership in the SAC provides that transparency and helps drive our environmental and social responsibility. It also gives us a benchmark for continuous improvement and operational efficiency.
WHAT PREDICTIONS DO YOU HAVE FOR DENIM IN 2021 AND INTO 2022? We work closely with our denim customers to understand and anticipate changes in the marketplace. The pandemic has been very disruptive to everyday life around the world and forced a change in the way people perform their jobs and go about their daily lives. We feel denim will be a beneficiary of this change as attitudes continue to favor a more casual, comfortable wardrobe that is suitable for all facets of our daily lives.
In an age when consumers are conscious of supporting responsible companies, B Corp certification has become the standard to strive for. w ords_____ JA S MIN MAL IK CHUA
n an industry where businesses are increasingly looking to demonstrate a positive impact on people and the planet, B Corp certification has emerged as a valuable tool that takes into account the interests of all value-chain stakeholders. “Being a B Corp is about making decisions [with] staff, customers, investors [and] the community, as well as the environment [in mind],” said James Bartle, CEO of Outland Denim, which applied for the certification just six months after the Duchess Meghan-approved brand debuted. Less than two years later, in 2018, its request was greenlit, making Outland Denim not only the first denim company in Australia to achieve B Corp status but the second one in the world. “One of the things that stood out to us about this certification—that differs from a lot of others—is that it evenly weights social, environmental and economic impact,” Bartle said. “This holistic approach to sustainability is the core of our business, and so having this certification is a very quick and recognizable way to introduce our values to our customers as well as the industry.” Indeed, in recent years, B Corp—or benefit corporation—designation has become industry shorthand for companies that “aspire to do no harm and benefit all” through their products and practices. Jay Coen Gilbert, a founder of B Lab, the Pennsylvania-based social enterprise behind the certification system, described the sticker as “like the Fair Trade label but for a whole company, not just a bag of coffee.” The concept has gained swift acceptance: Since
What sets the BIA apart—and which she thinks is impressive—said Rachel Horigan, a consultant at Sancroft, is that covers a variety of topics across the environmental, social and governance. “This is important as many of these issues can’t be assessed in isolation–in particular, the focus on governance and legal accountability is really welcome,” she said. There has been a “real proliferation” of certifications in recent years, both as brands recognize the consumer appeal of sustainability and in the absence of more robust legislation or regulation, Horrigan noted. “Some are unfortunately more about marketing and in reality don’t necessarily translate into better social and environmental outcomes,” she said. “B Corp is much more credible and there is quite a lot of effort involved—it’s much more rigorous and includes external validation.” Though the assessment is an “extremely arduous” one, said Sanjeev Bahl, CEO of Saitex, the first factory in Asia and the only large-scale manufacturer of denim to tout the B Corp name, it can spur a company to reevaluate its approaches to critical issues. One question, for instance, pushed Saitex to make “previously unconsidered” improvements to its work environment for disabled employees. “That is the process of B Corp,” Bahl told Rivet in 2019. “The questions make you question yourself,
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the first B Corps were minted in 2007, their number has grown to more than 3,500 across 70 countries. Maryland became the first state to formally recognize B Corps in 2010; today, more than 40 states have proposed or passed legislation acknowledging the status. The trajectory has grown sharper in recent years, spiking 522 percent from 2014 to 2020 as the world comes to grips with existential issues such as the climate emergency. Andy Fyfe, a growth catalyst at B Lab, only expects that number to grow, particularly as a much-needed racial-justice reckoning continues to unfold against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I think a lot of shoppers, prospective employees [and] investors are all demanding extra transparency and also accountability from companies, especially if they claim that they are purpose-driven or that they have green initiatives,” Fyfe said. “People are demanding that statements are really evidence-based and that these companies have practices that back up what they say about the issues we face.” The numbers bear this out: An April survey of 600 U.S. adults by Forrester found that 47 percent of all respondents (and 51 percent of Gen-Z ones) associate the social, environmental and political views of CEOs with those of the businesses they lead. When choosing between two brands with similar products, 43 percent of those polled said they would favor the company with a like-minded stance on social, environmental, or political values. Not any company can claim the B Corp moniker, however. B Corps are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, the community and the environment. The process of becoming a B Corp, too, is a rigorous one that can take a full year. It’s a commitment that comes with an “opportunity cost,” Fyfe acknowledged. “For entrepreneurs with many different priorities, [doing so is] a big choice for them to make.” Qualifying businesses must first score at least 80 out of 200 points on a comprehensive questionnaire, dubbed the B Impact Assessment (BIA), that takes between one to three hours for a small company to complete. Questions include how diverse and inclusive management teams are, what percentage of energy stems from renewable sources, how much the lowest-paid workers make and whether social and environmental criteria are required of suppliers. This “rough baseline” is verified by an in-house standards team, and those who are successful have to post the results of the assessment on the B Lab website.
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take on the responsibility and then go forth bettering every action.” Patagonia, which became the first B Corp in California in 2012, says the BIA is the “only holistic look” it has on how it affects each of its stakeholders, the health of its business and “nature itself.” More important, “it helps us look at where we feel we have shortcomings [that] we need to improve,” said Vincent Stanley, director of philosophy at the outdoor-apparel maker, which recently launched hemp denim. This has resulted in growth. Patagonia used to “pat ourselves on the back” because of the number of products it made with recycled content. “But the BIA required us to look not by the number of styles but by fabric weight. And then we didn’t look so good, because some of our best-selling styles were not recycled. That inspired us to make changes.” The company also realized it was lagging in community efforts, so it took extra steps to bolster them. Another brand that found the certification journey a humbling one is Athleta, one of the first Gap Inc. companies to set its own sustainability goals and the only one to be B Corp certified. “We knew we were doing great work, but after digging into the nuances behind the questions in the process, it turned out we had a long way to go,” said Emily
“These working groups are great because you can discuss techniques and best practices of tackling these very big and intimidating topics with likeminded companies.”
" T H E R ECOGN I T ION SHOW S OU R CUS TOM ER S T H AT W E WA L K T H E WA L K ." — Emil y A llbr i t ten, S c ulptek Still, maintaining the designation isn’t easy. B Corps are required to recertify every three years, with a one-in-10 chance of an on-site audit. The assessment, which evolves with updating legal standards, performance expectation and feedback,
gets harder each time, “so you have to make sure to keep pushing,” Vicaria said. Neither is it enough for a company to say it’s a B Corp. “Transparency is very important and part of that is know[ing] who is behind your supply chain and the working conditions of the people involved in making your product,” she added. To be sure B Corp—and indeed all certifications—are only “one piece of the puzzle,” Outland Denim’s Bartle agreed, citing increasing recognition of the inadequacy of audits and certification programs to accurately identify and mitigate human-rights violations, especially when much of the world is under lockdown. With travel restrictions around the globe, businesses must be “creative, thinking outside the box for new solutions to monitor and assure due diligence is undertaken for their supply chain,” he said. That includes technologies that can provide real-time insight, such as Floor and Field, an anti-slavery monitoring platform the company installed in all Outland Denim production facilities last year. “Moving forward, I believe that technology and systems such as this, used in partnership with certifications, will form a stronger due diligence strategy,” Bartle said.
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Allbritten, senior manager of retail strategy and operations at the Sculptek denim purveyor, which earned its bona fides in 2018. “After certification, we set up internal working groups focused on our long-term success. This allowed us to determine a roadmap for future programmatic investments and grow and scale programs based on the assessment.” But attaining the B Corp imprimatur can be a “good return on investment” from a business standpoint, she averred, since consumers—millennials and Gen Z-ers, most of all—have expressed both desire and willingness to pay more for ethical and sustainable products. “Being a B Corp is a core component of our story as a socially responsible company,” Allbritten said. “The recognition shows our customers that we walk the walk. We’ve worked hard to translate the complexity of being a B Corp into digestible, marketable information for our customers.” One of the biggest benefits of for-benefit, companies say, is the community B Corps have created. “As a B corp you have access to different working groups, such as that of net-zero and antiracism and pro-inclusion, which are the ones that we are involved in,” said Laura Vicaria, sustainability manager at Mud Jeans, one of the first Dutch B Corps.
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A D V E R T O R I A L
CREATING POSITIVE IMPACT WITH A SHARED VALUE PERSPECTIVE
blending them to our already existing product lines such as our smart stretch fabrics or creating entirely new lines.
WHAT IMPACT DOES IT MAKE FROM A HUMAN RESOURCES PERSPECTIVE TO INVEST IN YOUR EMPLOYEES’ WELL-BEING? Creating a respectful and secure work environment is a main priority and is non-negotiable. We apply high occupational health and safety (OHS) standards and set a target for zero accidents. We also have an annual budget allocated for Naveena employees to empower them in areas of education, healthcare and financial support. We feel that our workforce is our most important capital and we do our utmost to provide them with the necessary tools for self actualization in both their professional and personal lives.
THE INDUSTRY HAS BEEN VERY VOCAL ABOUT ITS ENVIRONMENTAL GOALS. WHAT ARE THE PRIMARY CHANGES THE INDUSTRY NEEDS TO MAKE IN THE AREA OF SOCIAL COMPLIANCE?
AVEENA DENIM MILLS prides
itself on viewing both sustainability and corporate social responsibility holistically from a “shared value” perspective. Beyond setting environmentally conscious production standards, the denim manufacturer says it wants to create positive impact for all stakeholders and the communities they reside in. That’s why Naveena not only focuses on giving back or minimizing any harm the business may have on society, but also on maximizing the competitive value of its sustainability efforts, explains Aydan Tuzun, executive director of global sales and marketing at Naveena Denim Mills.
as market demand, today’s technological abilities, consumer trends and brand attitudes in the design process. The end products are sustainable products that are relevant to current market realities. The Holistic Denim line incorporates sustainable fiber alternatives such as organic cotton, post-consumer waste cotton and post-industrial waste cotton, hemp, Tencel, CiCLO and ROICA. These fibers replace less eco-friendly materials such as polyester and elastane. During manufacturing, Naveena uses Horizon, a sustainable dyeing and finishing process combination. Horizon uses 80 percent less water, 40 percent less energy and 50 percent less steam in production compared to conventional processes.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE TOP INNOVATIONS OR DEVELOPMENTS BREWING FOR NAVEENA DENIM RECENTLY?
WHAT RECENT CONSUMER BUYING TRENDS HAVE IMPACTED YOUR MANUFACTURING OPERATIONS?
We are always looking for new ways to reduce our environmental impact, using sustainable raw materials, sustainable processes and recycled materials. Our Holistic Denim concept considers all these elements to provide the maximum positive impact. Holistic Denim is a mix of sustainable fibers and sustainable processes, considering factors such
For a while, there has been a momentum towards athleisure and loungewear in fashion. Consumers are shifting their focus from trend to function, and Covid-19 has accelerated this trend. Today’s denim fabrics that include new fibers, constructions and treatment technologies meet this demand perfectly, focusing on clever, wearable and functional fabrics. We use different technologies and fibers,
Public awareness and traceability demands have increased, and many global brands already have a dedicated fashion collection made from organic, recycled or sustainable material, focusing on environmental goals. Until recent years, it has been a “comply-ordie” model, but fortunately we have evolved to conversations about sustainability, covering economic, social and environmental aspects. The recent Covid-19 pandemic shed light once again on the importance of the social pillar with growing concerns about employee health, safety and financial sustainability. The denim industry must streamline efforts, establish common global standards and set out ambitious programs to promote industrywide progress.
HOW SHOULD GOVERNMENTS INTERVENE TO ENACT SOCIAL REGULATIONS THAT PUT ALL COMPANIES ON AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD? Maximizing social welfare is one of the most common and best understood reasons for government intervention. Indeed, it’s easy to think of fashion as frivolous. But the truth is, it’s an industry that has a lot of impact. If we are going to have a liveable planet to pass on to our children, we need to overhaul the industry. Government regulations are a crucial part of that effort for an ecological and inclusive transition.
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COMFORTABLE, RECYCLABLE AND HUMANE: A NEW AGE OF DENIM
HE FUTURE OF denim is likely to look a lot different from its past, and Panther Denim is making all possible preparations to cater to a highly casual, comfort-seeking and sustainability-driven audience with three major launch concepts. However, as Panther Denim adapts to shifting consumer trends, Tim Huesemann, sales director at Panther Denim, says it is also the duty of both the manufacturer and the industry at large to address their own impact on human rights. WHAT RECENT CONSUMER BUYING TRENDS HAVE IMPACTED YOUR MANUFACTURING OPERATIONS? The threat that this pandemic holds over our heads is a call to action for the textile and fashion industry to change direction before an even larger problem is at hand. Consumers are becoming more aware of where their garments come from, and it is vital that as a collective we act imminently to reverse some devastating effects. The trend toward casualization, which was already strong before the crisis, will further accelerate. Many people will return to a fundamentally different work environment—one in which telecommuting, flexible hours and work-life balance are new norms. Comfort, obviously, will become a top consideration in apparel. Additionally, climate change and major events like Covid-19 will bring people to go for more protective gear composed of antimicrobial or antibacterial fibers, or water-repellent fabrics without wanting to give up style and comfort.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME TOP INNOVATIONS OR DEVELOPMENTS BREWING FOR PANTHER DENIM? Our latest concepts—Everywear, Comphy and Panther P/ReCYCLE Technology—are the key components of our collections at the moment. The Everywear and Comphy concepts are
designed to address changing shopper behaviors toward casualization and comfort. Panther P/ReCYCLE technology represents the futuristic and industrial approach to the recycling process. We focused on increasing the production efficiency of recycled yarns, not just post-consumer or pre-consumer products. This lets us make new high-quality products with both post-consumer or pre-consumer waste. Our technology leverages the recycling process to a new level, significantly reducing the tensile/tear strength drops and overcoming aesthetic defects on the fabric surface.
HOW CAN EVERYONE ACROSS THE DENIM SUPPLY CHAIN WORK TOGETHER TO CREATE AN INDUSTRY THAT VALUES AND PROTECTS ALL WORKERS? Actually, the answer is very easy and has already been spoken about for many years: Human rights. All companies need to install a “human rights due diligence process” to identify and account for how they address their impacts on human rights. Nevertheless, the denim supply chain can collaborate to give talks and raise the attention of the
social responsibility to the public. When the consumers are aware of it, the brands will push it back to the factory and thus the whole supply chain will work on it together.
HOW SHOULD GOVERNMENTS INTERVENE TO ENACT SOCIAL REGULATIONS THAT PUT ALL COMPANIES ON AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD? Governments should encourage or enact laws that factories must have certain social compliance certifications to operate. This way, every factory can have an even ground and standard to stand for, and customers have a general standard from which to choose factories. Overall, we hope to see more influence to make a value chain instead of a supply chain. Acknowledge each step of the product and treat it fairly.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BRAND AND RETAILER RELATIONSHIPS IN 2021, AND DID THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC CHANGE YOUR APPROACH TO ANY OF THESE PARTNERSHIPS? 2020 was a difficult year for the whole industry, from mills, manufacturers to brands. Thanks to the support from all partners, we got through it together and finally see the bright end of the tunnel. Answering the question, Covid-19 makes all of us united and work much closer than before. Because of Covid-19, the bonding we have with brands is even stronger. This bonding actually helps us to break the walls we have from the past, and work with our suppliers, customers in an even more open, direct, heart-to-heart approach.
GLO-CAL KNOWLEDGE Can global producers usher in L.A.’s denim revival?
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os Angeles has long enjoyed the distinction of being the U.S. market’s most robust garment production hub—and the City of Angels has always had a special place in its heart for allAmerican denim. While apparel manufacturing largely moved overseas decades ago, L.A.’s apparel denim sector has maintained a degree of cachet. The city’s 50,000-strong apparel workforce pales in comparison to overseas competitors, but boutique West Coast brands and larger American labels alike are finding new reasons to bring denim home—with the help of two trusted partners.
Big picture plan In January, Saitex, the trailblazing Vietnam-based denim manufacturer known for its focus on sustainable processes officially opened the doors to its long-awaited “factory of the future,” located in East Los Angeles. While the company’s founder, Sanjeev Bahl, had been teasing the project for more than a year— promising that the U.S. facility would be a smaller-scale replica of its tech-forward, resource-saving
overseas factory—the Covid crisis threw up a multitude of stumbling blocks. But with vaccinations well underway across the county and the state of California, the facility’s prospects look much more promising than they did a year ago. “Unfortunately, a lot of factories shut down during the pandemic, and that's kind of created a little bit more opportunity for us to replace some of that manufacturing,” Bahl said. “With the markets being more optimistic than they were six months ago, orders are beginning to roll back into the manufacturing system.” “So from that perspective, I think the timing couldn't be better,” he added. Not only are shoppers feeling more confident about parting with their dollars—they’ve also evinced a greater appetite for high-quality, sustainable products that are made domestically. The trend toward conscious consumption has been growing in recent years as a backlash to the fast-fashion frenzy that dominated the aughts and 2010s, but the pandemic has brought about a newfound public awareness of the garment supply chain and its impacts on people and the environment. That spells good news for Saitex USA’s smart factory, which boasts the most up-to-date laser cutRIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
ting tech, semi-automated sewing, robotic sprayers, 3D laser detailing and one-step wash machines that recycle H2O—arguably the state’s most precious commodity. “Our water usage here is very minimal,” Bahl said, noting that the new facility is employing a proprietary chemistry and machinery configuration that allows for the use of less than one liter of water per jean produced. “On the sewing side, I would say, 40 to 50 percent of the operations are totally automated,” Bahl added. “The rest of the machines have been re-engineered to the pneumatic protocol, which allows compression and quality and speed.” Planting a flag in L.A. has allowed Saitex USA to tap into the region’s wealth of denim brands, many of which have been looking to overhaul the traditionally hefty ecological impact of denim’s production processes for years. According to Bahl, Saitex has already seen major interest from its existing U.S.-based partners across the country, some of whom are looking to shift design and development to the new facility while keeping the bulk of production in Vietnam. “For them to develop, test and chase in the U.S., while scaling production in Asia—that business model works for them,” he said, referring to brands that sell their denim for
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between $80 and $150. Saitex has already seen four clients shift to this type of production, he said, though he declined to divulge them. Other labels are curious about the benefits of bringing certain product lines to life stateside, while a number of upscale boutique brands—most selling goods for more than $150—have jumped at the chance to produce their full collections at a state-ofthe art facility located closer to their target market. Having a presence in L.A. comes with manifold advantages for the company’s U.S. clients, Bahl said. For Saitex’s American brand partners like Everlane, Madewell, J.Crew and Target, the facility’s opening could offer a safeguard against some of the major supply chain challenges faced throughout the past year. Even with Asian sourcing churning at a furious rate, delivery interruptions have hampered the spring season—and dampened hopes of a full retail recovery. Delays unloading containers at the nearby ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have prevented brands and retailers across the board from accessing shipments from overseas just as consumers head back to the shops. While many of these brands may choose to keep the bulk of their sourcing offshore, Bahl said Saitex USA’s capacity will only continue to grow, making it a more attractive option. He expects to see the factory ramp up to producing just shy of one million units during its first phase of growth, which he believes will take more than a year. “And then, once we once we hit that benchmark and check the box on everything that we have hoped to accomplish, we’ll go into the next round of expansion,” he added. “The idea is to build these nano-factories across the United States and perhaps later in Europe,” bringing production closer to a local, on-demand model. Currently, Saitex USA is also building out its workforce, employing some 80 garment workers plucked from L.A.’s vital network of skilled laborers. “And I think at full capacity, we will have about 230,” Bahl said. Advanced processes and automation require a new level of training and upskilling, though, and Saitex brought its new U.S. laundry managers to Vietnam for almost a year to bring them up to speed in these arenas. “It’s a lot easier now to deal with the protocols and the processes and get the desired results,” Bahl said, after working together for a time. “We have most of the same machines in Vietnam, and we’ve incubated them there—tried
he added. The facility has retained a number of its original workers, including chief operating officer Tony Rodriguez. “L.A. was a center for fabric and all denim, but over the years that was in decline,” he said. Now, he believes the city is on the verge of a denim revival. The opening of SFI and the advancement of its capabilities has already proven a boon to Artistic
A star is born Pakistan-based denim manufacturer Artistic Milliners opened the doors to its new Commerce, Calif. venture in January, and the denim laundry facility is already making waves with the Golden State’s sustainable set. The acquisition of the Star Fades International (SFI) washing and finishing facility marks the group’s first operational expansion into the U.S. market after 70 years in business. While a foray into L.A.’s denim market was inevitable for the group, the opportunity to purchase the factory— which was already packed with cutting edge wet and dry process tech like lasers, ozone and e-flow machines—presented itself in early 2020. Now that the ribbon has been cut on the turnkey facility, SFI is producing about 100,000 pairs of jeans each month, according to Baber Sultan, Artistic Milliners’ director of denim mills. “The capacity is very much the same” now as it was when it opened, he said, “but how we produce has changed a lot.” SFI is continuing to acquire and install new machinery so it will be “a more modern, resource-saving and greener facility than before,” he said. “These are typically long, labor and chemical-intensive processes,” he added. But the “modern way of producing jeans” relies on the use of lasers for dry processes, and ozone machines to replace “intensive cycles of bleaching,” and of course, water and energy savings. Earlier this spring, SFI and Artistic Milliners announced a partnership with Italian chemical company Officina+39, leveraging the group’s new Aqualess waterfree tech to develop two vintage-inspired washes. The city’s longstanding history in garment production and ample workforce is also unparalleled,
that “usually designers are traveling, going to factories and laundries, developing their products.” Instead, “international travel isn’t happening much,” and having a local facility for the American market has proven essential to keeping production on track. “SFI is a 360-degree design house,” he said. “They can choose fabrics, do pattern making, garment styling, mood boarding, washes and development here.” While existing clientele have cottoned on to SFI’s benefits, he said, “small, L.A.-based premium brands, which we were not working with before” have also flocked to the business, he said. Sultan noted that between one-quarter and one-third of business is new—and made up of sustainably-minded West Coast brands. Thus far, SFI has seen its clientele fall into two distinct camps: large players that produce en masse in Pakistan, who are using the washing and finishing center as a part of their design and development process, and small, premium brands that can afford a ‘Made in U.S.A’ price tag. These multiple factors all play into a renewed interest in L.A. as a home base for design and production. For one, “brands don't want to rely on a certain region or a certain country for production—they want to hedge,” Sultan said. Fashion has also become “so fast that the agility and response time to that is another factor.” The positive sentiment surrounding domestically made goods and ethical sourcing has also skyrocketed, he said, and the contingent of shoppers willing to pay more for a pair of luxury jeans from an American label is growing. When asked whether he believes these attitude shifts will stick post-Covid, Sultan noted that the fate of onshoring as a strategy “is an interesting debate happening all around the world right now.” “Once the world opens up and everything gets back to normal, we’ll see,” he said. “But it looks like some portion of things are never going to be the same again.” l ____SAITE X US A
and finessed them—so that we can scale here.” Bahl believes that in short order, even more brands will see the value of the new facility—especially given its proximity to their operations. “Now that they see that there’s something modern, sustainable, just in time, with all of these capabilities under one roof, it checks boxes and takes away the pain points that have been forcing them to operate in a traditional manner,” he said. “It’s an exciting prospect.”
Milliners’ business, which services a number of American and L.A.-based brands, Sultan said. “I think Covid changed everything,” he added, noting that prior to the pandemic, the company’s factories in Pakistan had reached capacity. “Then Covid happened, along with supply chain disruptions, and the brands started realizing that ‘Made in USA’ or nearshoring was the new word at that time.” Travel restrictions have hindered brands’ abilities to collaborate with suppliers, he said, noting RIVET NO.12 / JUNE 2021
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HOW AGI DENIM STRENGTHENS BUSINESS WITH SOCIAL INITIATIVES
OR PAKISTAN-BASED manufacturer AGI Denim, social responsibility starts with caring for worker well-being and radiates out into the broader community. Within its operations, AGI ensures healthy, safe, fair and sustainable working conditions, which are audited and certified by standards and bodies such as WRAP, SA8000 and SMETA. This assists AGI and its brand partners in disclosing their progress. “When it comes to social responsibility, consumers want denim producers to show them what they are doing rather than just telling them about it,” said Ahmed Javed, executive director at AGI Denim. “Customers are searching for companies that are authentic, transparent and deeply concerned about their social and environmental impact.” Looking beyond its own supply chain, the company invests in social initiatives—including partnerships with Child Life Foundation and DoctHERs—and AGI’s Employee Volunteering Program that mobilizes its 27,000-strong workforce for good. Javed spoke to Rivet about the business case for employee engagement and the importance of social impact storytelling. WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MOST IMPERATIVE SOCIAL ISSUE THAT DENIM IN PARTICULAR NEEDS TO ADDRESS? Particularly in South Asia and other developing countries, we see that low-cost labor is critical for the competitiveness of the denim industry. Hence, the industry has long been accused of labor exploitation, including allegations of long hours, low wages and forced overtime. These conditions are often the result of immense pressure and demand for low-cost goods. The advent of fast fashion has allowed customers to buy more at lower costs, causing suppliers to squeeze their prices and cut corners. As a result, millions of garment workers end up dependent on this mass consumption, relying on
the brands they work for to sell as many goods as possible. This massive co-dependency means financially fragile workers are exposed to massive risks of cyclical demand fluctuations. Covid-19 has made matters worse as inequalities have been exacerbated.
THE DENIM INDUSTRY—AGI INCLUDED— HAS BEEN HEAVILY FOCUSED ON CUTTING BACK THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF PRODUCTION. WHY IS SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AN EQUALLY IMPORTANT CAUSE? Environmental and social responsibility go handin-hand for the fundamental reason that you cannot have one without the other. Our business relies on the people who work here, so it is our responsibility and our duty to look after both the people that make up our business, as well as their communities and families. It is vital to give back to the societies that give us so much and it must be ensured that these societies continue to thrive and grow.
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS IMPACT OF INVESTING IN YOUR EMPLOYEES’ WELL-BEING?
By taking the time to create a positive company culture, we can help reduce the overall stress at the workplace, increase employee motivation and improve our employee attrition rate. And ensuring that our team has opportunities to socialize outside of their normal work responsibilities helps them learn more about one another and establish a more supportive and inclusive workplace. We also invest a great deal in the physical health of our employees, including programs to ensure they have access to the healthcare services they need. We can help them stay healthy and improve employee morale, which has a positive impact on production, operational efficiency and target achievements. Additionally, we have programs in place allowing us to invest in our employees’ career development through training, mentoring or promotion opportunities.
HOW ARE YOU HELPING YOUR BRAND PARTNERS COMMUNICATE THE SOCIAL IMPACT BEHIND THEIR JEANS? Communicating what goes on behind the scenes is crucial for a company seeking to gain a competitive edge. Our products are manufactured in a fair way, made with the right moral intentions and follow the industry’s ideal standards. The social impact behind our products affects how consumers perceive them. AGI Denim actively strives to assist its brand partners by recommending marketing strategies and offering design and communication resources that accurately reflect the story they are telling their consumers.
PRIDE + JOY T Pride Month-themed apparel collections fall short without authenticity and allyship.
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hough in-person Pride events are scaled back due to the pandemic, apparel brands are finding other ways to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community this month with Pride collections and initiatives that provide support to organizations that foster equality and inclusion. “All types of brands are beginning to offer Pride collections as consumers become more driven by social good and the incentive to publicize support of the LGBTQ+ community grows,” said Kristin Breakell, Trendalytics content strategist. Indeed, there are clear peaks in occasion-based shopping around moments like music festivals, summer breaks and national holidays, according to Bridget Mills-Powell, Lyst content director. Pride, she said, is becoming an important date on the calendar, “with more and more people wanting to express their inclusive values through optimistic and colorful fashion pieces.” Since the start of January, the global fashion search platform has registered an increase of 158 percent year-on-year for Pride-related merchandise, with collections by Adidas, Calvin Klein, Hunter, Converse, Dr. Martens, Ugg, New Balance and Levi’s being amongst the brands with the highest demand. Pride collections are most successful when they are authentic to the brand selling them, regardless of design, Breakell said. In recent weeks, TikTok users have been roasting Pride Month merchandise from large corporations and critiquing a phenomenon called “rainbow capitalism,” a term used to describe companies that cash in on Pride Month with products and marketing but do little to support and recognize
LGBTQ+ people the remainder of the year. “Today’s consumer can see through performative marketing tactics and are more likely to support companies that advocate for the LGBTQ+ community year-round,” she said. Recent data by The NPD group and CivicScience found that 21 percent of consumers surveyed stated that LGBTQ+ equality/inclusion influenced their decision to purchase when buying apparel, footwear or accessories, while 48 percent said they have not made a fashion purchase specifically because they did not support a brand or retailer’s social position. Levi’s, however, is one brand that has a long-standing history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community. In 1992, Levi’s was the first Fortune 500 company to extend health benefits to samesex partners. In 2007, it was the only California business to file an amicus brief with the California Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage. For Pride 2021, the heritage brand aims to encourage empathy and inclusivity with a new Pride collection that underscores the importance of learning and respecting proper pronoun use. The unisex collection features Levi’s classics such as Trucker jackets, denim shortalls, a canvas jumpsuit and tees with the phrase “they/them, she/her, he/him, we” on many of the garments. For the third consecutive year, all net proceeds from Levi’s Pride collection will go to OutRight Action International, an organization that works to advance the rights of LGBTQ+ people all over the world. “We are proud to celebrate the LGBTQIA community each year with our Pride collection and by participating in Pride events across the globe,” said Jen Sey, Levi’s brand president. “We find it so important to see people as they want to be seen.”
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The Summer 2021 issue of Rivet celebrates the progressive steps denim companies are taking to ensure that they are not only conducting busin...
Published on Jun 9, 2021
The Summer 2021 issue of Rivet celebrates the progressive steps denim companies are taking to ensure that they are not only conducting busin...