Eco-friendly denim is more ubiquitous than ever, but bringing it to market hasn’t been easy. Nor cheap, for that matter.
While planet-pandering technologies—think Jeanologia’s water-sipping denim-finishing systems, Tonello’s bleach-less OBleach or Archroma’s botanically derived EarthColors—are increasingly available, they also require upfront costs from the mills that employ them.
“Sustainability is really linked to research and innovation,” said Francesca Polato, marketing manager at Berto in Italy. “If the company doesn’t invest, there is no innovation and, as a consequence, there is no sustainability.”
Indeed, going green requires a fair amount of green, though precise numbers can vary significantly from mill to mill depending their age, size, level of sophistication and buy-in from the C-suite.
Certainly, organic cotton fibers, nontoxic dyes and other sustainable components are all more expensive than their conventional counterparts, according to Steve Maggard, president of North Carolina’s Cone Denim. Even machinery upgrades that allow for water, energy and chemical efficiencies require “constant investment.” Mills may rack up additional costs to have their processes and products audited and certified by third parties to verify claims.
“In a perfect world, it would be cost neutral to operate sustainably,” Maggard said. “But that is not the case currently.”