Each Kingpins Transformers, the seasonal summit focusing on the social, economic and environmental challenges facing the denim industry, brings attention to the need for industry-wide regulations.
At the most recent seminar titled “Toxic Future: Is the Scary Part of Hazardous Chemicals On the Way?” held in Amsterdam on Monday, speakers from all parts of the supply chain had a turn to voice their concerns about the mounting pressure to create denim without hazardous chemicals and the rising costs that come with safer products.
Speakers agreed on the need for more collaboration and action, though many warned that in the process of fixing one problem, new ones may be created. Here are a few takeaways from the event.
Alberto De Conti, Garmon Chemicals CMO, said the vast volume of chemicals used in the manufacturing process, coupled with the multi-tiered textile supply chain that involved tens of thousands of suppliers worldwide, adds to the complexity of wiping the denim industry clean of hazardous chemicals.
And then there’s the industry’s “regulatory schizophrenia.”
Every time a new molecule is discovered, De Conti said there’s a long process of regulation, which differs from country to country. On top of this, brands have their own initiatives and restricted substance lists. As a chemical company, Garmon has more than 200 brand-driven lists that it must follow.
“It’s excessive,” De Conti said. From 2012 to 2016, Garmon’s overhead costs increased 200 percent and the cost of compliance grew 1,700 percent.
“It’s not sustainable. You have a brand pushed by Greenpeace, they go to their manufacturer and ask for innovation, quality, shorter lead times, on-time delivery and they [want] environmental compliance and lower prices. So what does the manufacturer do? He turns to his suppliers, including chemical companies, but its hard to provide a low price due to previous cost increases. There’s temptation to go out and look for chemicals that are low quality and not checked as much as they should be. So you get retox—all the measures to minimize the problem creates a new problem,” he said.
In the end, De Conti says it’s a game that no one wins. The cost of chemicals go up, control decreases, brand risk goes up and innovation and quality decline.
“Do we need so much complexity? If the potential problem is a common one, why not one common solution?” he asked.
There’s a lot of BS.
From organic cotton’s “toxic” certification process and its high cost in the U.S. compared with Europe, to the impossibility of using natural indigo on a large industrial scale, Alberto Candiani, co-owner and global manager at Candiani Denim, named the “top ten sustainable BS” he hears from the industry.
Candiani encouraged the industry to stop “demonizing” processes until it has all the facts. PP Spray is only bad if it’s not neutralized, and sandblasting can be safe in the proper working conditions, he said. Candiani’s “worst nightmare” is toxic dilution, or lowering the amount of hazardous chemicals by using more water to dilute it.
“Everyone has to commit to reduce the use of chemicals and at the same time water waste and discharge needs to be controlled,” he said
The Case of Aniline
Panelist questioned the fate of aniline, the organic toxic compound that was a precursor to indigo. While Candiani believed aniline is safe unless the indigo sublimes, Miguel Sanchez, Archroma global head business development of denim and casualwear, argued otherwise.
“Indigo and aniline are of so close together,” said Sanchez. “Aniline is a classified B2 carcinogenic, that means it’s potentially carcinogenic.”
Sanchez said there’s no advantage in having aniline content in natural indigo. “The idea that something that is natural is safe is wrong.”
“It doesn’t matter if it is coming from natural indigo or synthetic, you have the same risk,” added Christian Dreszig, Bluesign Technologies head of marketing.
Sanchez expects more consumers and safety organizations to take note of the potential risk aniline poses because information is readily accessible online. He said Swedish children’s brand Polarn O. Pyret examined aniline-free denim from different brands and found that the chemical was still present. “And from there other brands have been doing their own work on it. The link between aniline and indigo goes beyond the moment the indigo is on the garment,” he said.
The industry could experience its biggest shake-up if ZHDC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) ever named aniline a banned substance. “It will change your life in the industry because then you cannot use indigo for any blue jeans,” said Dreszig.