Global leaders in the chemical industry for textiles are driving towards consistent and conscious chemistry throughout the denim supply chain and beyond. Representatives from the supply chain are debating the best, safe, sustainable and affordable practices. The debate came up strongly at Kingpins Transformers last year
A lot of chemicals go into making a pair of jeans. At every step of the production chain, chemicals are inserted to facilitate some sort of process. Synthetic petro-chemicals are added in the spinning process to make the cotton stretchier. The dye bath, which is one of the most chemical intensive steps, contains all sorts of dye fixatives, oxidizing agents, reducing agents, and enzymes to bind the synthetic dye to the cotton. To get the yarns stiff enough to run through the loom, the material is sized with PVA, resins, and waxes. After the fabric is woven, the desizing process uses acids and enzymes to dissolve those chemicals that are coating the yarns, which are washed out into the wastewater stream. And in the final step, heavy bleaches and lightening agents are used to create fades and finishes, to give that worn in look.
These days, cleaning up the denim supply chain focuses mainly on water and energy use. However, that misses a big part of denim jeans’ environmental footprint.