Last Friday, January 25th, we stopped by the Future Fabrics Expo in central London for their 8th edition of the fabric fair. This season, the show partnered with G-Star RAW and The Sustainable Angle for a schedule of inspiring seminars that ran alongside the expo throughout both days. We caught the denim panel talk on the final day with three influential thought-leaders in sustainable fashion and textiles; Adriana Galjasevic, G Star’s Denim and Sustainable Expert and Designer, alongside Designer, Tiziano Guardini and moderator Model and sustainability campaigner, Arizona Muse.

Throughout the 45 minute discussion, the panelists hashed out the challenges and opportunities they face integrating sustainability. Solutions to close the loop of denim design and a strive towards the circular economy were key topics. Both Galjasevic and Guardini gave out sound advice to emerging brands on best practices for starting a sustainable brand as well as sharing some of the challenges they have faced in business along the way.

If you’ve been following the latest advancements in sustainability for denim then you will have no doubt heard about the G-Star’s Most Sustainable Jean Ever, which launched in February 2018. The jeans were developed by analysing each part of the denim design process and exploring ways to reduce the environmental impact. It was awarded the Gold level certification of the Cradle2Cradle institute. The fabric is made from 100% organic cotton and introduces the cleanest indigo dyeing technology which uses 70% less chemicals, no salts and produces no salt by-product during the reduction and dyeing process, consequently saving water and leaving clean and recyclable water effluent. The most sustainable washing techniques were developed to ensure that 98% of the water is recycled and re-used, and the other 2% evaporates.

Meanwhile, Italian designer Tiziano Guardini offered the audience a fresh perspective as an outsider of denim with his radical and artistic approach to socially responsible design. Guardini has been celebrated for his RTW and couture denim designs which he has created in collaboration with Turkish denim provider ISKO, the world’s only SWAN certified denim mill. You only have to look to his textured fur jackets created from shredded denim or red carpet denim gowns to get an idea of his provocative designs.

We took some time to talk with G-Star’s Adriana Galjasevic to find out more on their approach to the circular economy and where the brand goes beyond the most sustainable jean in the world.

How would you describe the state of the fashion industry today?

A work in progress! It definitely has more opportunity to evolve further we would like to see it speed up in terms of both good business practices and consumer awareness. Sustainability is not just a minor task that can be achieved swiftly, but it is a must for future development. The past few years, innovation and awareness has increased quicker, but going forward it should be accelerating even faster.

How do you define sustainability?

For G-Star it means good for people and good for the planet. We consider all of our practices from an environmental and social perspective as well as including circularity as that is part of both realms. But when defining the term sustainability, I always like to quote the definition created by the Gro Harlem Brundtland, United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development “Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I think this is a great definition because it explains the reason why we are all doing this: to give our future generations to have as good if not better lives than we already have and of course this includes healthy planet.

Last year G-star released ‘the most sustainable jean in the world’. How was this product received in the market?

We’ve had really positive feedback. Our customers are of course happy to wear a socially responsible product. For us at G-Star, its about creating a product that looks and feels great, while respecting people and the planet. The journey for this jean was really great as we took on a holistic approach on the entire process of denim design from the raw material sourcing, to design, making, washing even the end usage. It was important for us to include the consumer throughout the whole process, so we made information available for them online via an educational video. If you go to g-star.com/rftp you can see the film with additional full facts of our supply chain and processes. This is because we wanted to show our customers that we made certain choices throughout our process, and also to remind them that they also have a choice, whether that be- how to choose what they buy or how to care for a garment, as these also effects the environment. All in all, you cannot expect to have a responsible consumer without having a responsible designer.  I think this was a nice way to educate the customer and we’ve been getting a great response.

How has this innovation manifested further throughout the G-Star business and mainline collections?

Its been very inspirational. You have to start somewhere and we have seen this as a stepping stone towards the circular future. It’s not something that came overnight. Our CR department was born in 2006, so it’s been 13 years of hard work mapping out all these different innovations to get to this stage. I started back in 2011 when ‘Raw Sustainable’ launched and since then I’ve worked on integrating the sustainable practices into our circular design projects such as the ‘Upcycled Denim’, ‘Raw for the Oceans,’ ‘EarthColors,’ ‘Recycrom,’’ Renewed Denim’ line and of course our most sustainable jeans, which launched in February last year.

Since launching this new cradle to cradle denim fabric, we have also made it more sustainable by doing a Spring/Summer edition. Instead of doing 8 dips (in indigo), we do two dips, which we call ‘low dip’. This creates additional savings in terms of both fabric manufacturing and actual wash process. Other versions we are working on include the development of the world’s first Cradle to Cradle Certified ™ Gold stretch denim fabric and then on top of that it is going to be part of a fully certified Cradle to Cradle product. That is what our future is. The first jean was a pilot and a stepping stone to see how far we could push it because by creating these building blocks for the circular denim industry and by creating the products which have healthy ingredients, we have a toolbox for the future.

Jaden Smith’s capsule collection was another highlight in 2018. What was the impact of having a young thought leader like him working with the brand?

It was great. We are from separate generations but we see eye to eye when it comes to taking care of people and the environment and this was just a very natural connection. The design and aesthetic is inspired by Jaden and his Misfit line, which is all about patching and leaving raw seams so we combined his design and vision with our mutual love for nature. All the material innovations were provided by us at G-Star. The blue colourway, celebrating water uses the World’s first Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Gold denim fabric that we introduced for our most sustainable jeans. Then there was the eclipse, featuring our most sustainable black. And lastly, there was the Earth colorway in ecru, which was about going back to the raw, untreated aesthetic. If you think about it this is the most sustainable way as you don’t carry out any finishing. However, everyone likes to wear their jeans differently so this was about showcasing these three colourways in the most sustainable way.

Did he push you to explore new avenues in sustainability?

It was more of a shared vision. We already had the knowhow, materials and innovation on how we can do it. For example, features in Jaden’s collection like the labelling and packaging made from recycled denim dust was something we were actually doing in our ‘Renewed Denim’ line, which came out in May 2018. Renewed denim was a re-edition based on the ‘Upcycled Denim’ collection that we launched back in 2013. Here, we collected, sorted and shredded down G-Star postconsumer jeans from Amsterdam’s warehouses which we recreated into new fabrics. The back-pocket plaster explains the renewed denim process and this paper was made from recycled denim dust.  When you recycle denim, dust is a bi-product. With the idea to further to eliminate the concept of waste, we collected this dust and gave it a new life in form of a hangtag with useful information.

So, when it came to creating Jaden’s collection all those ingredients were already there from fabric, to digital printing, even sustainable draw cords were organic cotton – everything was optimised and inspired by our previous holistic approach to how we design jeans. It’s really nice to have an individual like Jaden who has such a passion for the same cause and also a reach to the audience of a new generation which he can educate and inspire.

As a large corporation who have been actively engaging in social responsibility what are some of the most important lessons have you learnt over the past 5-10 years?

If you really want to promote something, it’s not just enough to show it once. You have to believe in it , push it and be persistent until it becomes an inherent part of your organization.

Do you think the average consumer really cares about buying a sustainable product?

We think nowadays they do,  5 years ago that wouldn’t be the case. With events like the Future Fabrics Expo that we are at today and other consumer facing events like Bread & Butter, where Jaden and I sat on a panel are important and help spread the message. In the end we are all consumers and we all buy stuff so it’s very important to have various levels of education regarding sustainability in order to cater to all and help propel the interest.

If you could speak directly to the most culpable corporations who are not only affecting the environment but the lives of millions of garment workers, how would you urge them to change?

The change has to come from within. If you don’t want to change, no one else can change you. You really have to think about whether or not you want to change and if you do decide to, that’s a great step. Then you just have to start doing the work, and that work is not easy, but the good news is,  it is easier than it used to be as you have all these groups and all this knowledge that is shared in order to move forward. In addition to this, governments play an important role to control the corporations that operate in their countries.

G-Star Raw has a goal to use 100% sustainable materials by 2020. How far has your work come in terms of closing the loop?

We are aiming to be 100% sustainable on all the cotton and 90% sustainable on all the other materials. 80% of our production is cotton so for us if we solve the cotton part then we will have a better impact. We are well on our way and of course we have the commitment of the Zero Discharge of Chemicals which is also by 2020. Our journey for circularity to where we are now has been an evolution. If you think about some of our early steps in circularity like Upcycled denim in 2013, Raw for the Oceans project in 2014, EarthColors 2017, Our most sustainable jeans are all various ways of doing circularity. These are all methods we have experimented with, but have learned from on how to design from a holistic point of view. Our next step is Cradle to Cradle Certified ™ range of denim products at Gold Level and we are steadily working towards this. This will be our guiding light on all the ingredients that we need to implement for the circular future. Furthermore, we continue to work on strategies and infrastructures for circularity because design for circularity alone is not only enough.

Are there any inspiring platforms or individuals, whose ethos you most respect and are inspired by?

The book Cradle to Cradle – Rethinking the Way we Make Things by chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough who challenge the status quo and put forward a manifesto for an intriguing and radically different philosophy of design. Reading this book and having this vision of what they have projected through it, has inspired me to push my design career in directions I’ve never thought of. I read this book in 2005, so you can imagine how it has manifested in my head and it has honestly been my guiding light.

When it comes to inspirational figures, I think anyone who is a game changer in their own realms and is a kind person, is always an inspiration. In the denim industry there are too many names to say but special mentions to thought-leaders like Adriano Goldschmeid, Pierre Morisset, Francois Girbaud, Sanjeev Bahl and of course Maurizio Donadi.

How can fashion have a positive impact, not just being neutral on the environment?

If you look at the Cradle to Cradle Certification at Gold and Platinum levels- it’s actually designed to have a positive impact. Inspiration behind this certification can be found in nature and the fact that nature- although diverse and abundant, it does not create waste.  What if fashion could emulate the nature in its design?