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Fabric Innovation: How Brands & Manufacturers Are Weaving the Future of Denim

The textile industry is one of the oldest and most important industries in the world. It is responsible for producing the fabrics that we use to make our clothes and home furnishing and accessories. Just like fashion has evolved over centuries, so has fabric. India has a long and rich history of textile innovation. From the development of cotton cultivation and spinning techniques to the invention of the sari and the dhoti, India has been at the forefront of fabric innovation for centuries.

Over the years, India has emerged as a global center for textile and clothing manufacturing, with the industry playing a significant role in the nation’s economic growth. Cross cultural development and technological advancements along with rising demand by foreign nations have helped the industry progress to a key position on the world stage.

Evolution & Innovation

For centuries fabric was limited to natural materials like cotton, wool, silk, and linen. The development of synthetic and artificial fibers came about only in the last 200 years or so. As sustainability became a buzzword, 21st century, manufacturers began to develop new materials for environment-friendly fabric production, lessening their dependence on animals and other polluting substances and instead using recycled materials, developing new production processes that consume less water and energy. Sustainable innovation focused on giving back to the planet.

Aside from this, manufacturers also took to functional innovation, focusing on developing fabrics with new and improved properties – stronger, lighter, breathable, water and sweat resistant, self-cleaning and even temperature-regulating fabrics.

Fabric Innovations

  • Recycled Polyester: Made from recycled plastic bottles, this is a sustainable alternative to traditional polyester, which is made from petroleum.
  • Organic Cotton: Grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides.
  • SeaCell: Developed from seaweed-based material, contains medicinal properties like calcium and vitamin E, which are beneficial for the skin of the wearer.
  • Bamboo Fabric: Made from bamboo fibers, it is very soft and comfortable.
  • TENCEL: Lenzing’s trademark fabric, TENCEL™ is made using wood pulp and is very soft and durable.
  • Microsilks: Innovative material developed to replicate the strength and elasticity of spider webs.

 

The Denim Story

One of the most popular fabrics in the world today is denim. Most commonly used for jeans, a fundamental component of the casual wardrobe, denim has become a staple textile within the global apparel market.

  • The market value for denim fabricwas estimated to be worth 27.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2022 and was expected to increase to over 35 billion U.S. dollars by 2027 as per a report by Statista.
  • According to another report by Report Linker, the denim market is expected to increase to $ 79.1 billion by 2026, from an estimated $ 57.3 billion in 2020. The report also assumes a CAGR of 4.8%.

Denim dates back to the 17th century. Created in Nîmes, France, serge de Nîmes was a cotton twill cloth made of wool and silk. It later became known simply as ‘denim’. This sturdy and durable cotton fabric has evolved significantly over the years. From its humble beginnings as a workwear fabric to its current status as a fashion staple, denim has been transformed by innovation and technological advancements.

Back in 1860, in response to consumer requests for a softer, less chafing fabric, Levi Strauss & Co., which was manufacturing labor pants from a stiff canvas cloth, added serge de Nîmes to its product range, giving rise to denim as we know it today. Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis created riveted work pants in 1873, which prevented seams and pockets from bursting during hard lifting.

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, denim was the standard for industrial and farm clothing. Even now, it continues to hold the distinction of America’s favorite work pants.

It was only in the 1950’s that blue jeans captured the attention of young, fashion-enthusiasts and the denim industry exploded. The rest, as they say, is history and today Denim is the most popular fabric in the world.

Innovation in Denim Production

Like all other fabrics, denim too has evolved with new technological advancements from production line to the usage of new types of materials to create this sturdy cotton warp-faced textile.

Some of the earliest denim innovations were the flying shuttle and the sewing machine. More recent technologies such as laser, ozone, and fibre developments have been revolutionary, as has been the use of natural fibers like hemp and linen along with man-made fibres like Lyocell which have started replacing the thirsty cotton crop.

Research by Denimhunters suggests that recycled fibres such as Refibra – a type of TENCEL that’s made out of waste material from the manufacturing processes – are extremely popular amongst denim manufacturers. Fabrics such as Cordura, Kevlar and Dyneema have also been revolutionary, the research further explains. These, when spun with cotton give a fabric that looks and feels like denim but with a lot of added strength.

Then there is technology such as Lycra’s dualFX, which gives denim the kind of elasticity that makes stretch denim the dope. Most recently, says Denimhunters, mills have also been experimenting with bi-stretch denim that come with an elastomer spun into both the weft and the warp.

While innovations in denim are taking the world by storm, Indian manufacturers are not far behind.

“CovationBio’s history is traced back to DuPont’s history into polymers and plastics and Sorona® was the first bio-based material in DuPont’s history. Since Sorona® offers a nice comfort stretch and more importantly recovery to the fabric, Sorona®’s first adoption was in the Denim segment and hence the history goes back to at least 15+ years. Since that time, there have been several innovations around the polymer itself and of course the yarn and hence brands all over the world continue to use Sorona® in Denim in various forms, both staple and filament,” explains Gowri S. Nagarajan, Ph.D., Regional Marketing & Sales Manager, Covation BioMaterials.

Sorona® yarns, he says, come in various deniers and the Sorona® fibers can be blended
with other fibers and can be produced into various counts with or without spandex and hence they can result in a whole gamut of denim weights needed to be applied to the
various apparel segments. “Sorona® fiber can handle any finish with ease as it is a versatile fiber and inherently provides certain attributes for the lifetime of the garment that can make some finish even unnecessary. The key to Sorona® based fabrics is not just the
comfort stretch but more importantly the recovery of the fabric,” states Nagarajan.

According to Subir Mukherjee, Business Head – Denim, Bhaskar Industries, they make denim in different combinations of cotton, PCW / PIW recycled cotton, TENCEL™, modal, hemp, linen, banana, bamboo, silk, seacell, sustainable viscose, recycled polyester, bio-degradable polyester, bico sorona, t400 and elastane to name a few fibers. “These denims are made in both stretch and nonstretch varieties,” Mukherjee adds.

Bhaskar Industries – established in 1998 by Dainik Bhaskar Group (now known as DB
Corp Ltd.) – is a vertically integrated denim mill under one roof, with an annual capacity of 44 million meters. Their first denim line was installed in 2003.

As per Ashish Bhatnagar, Senior Vice President, LNJ Denim, his company has an ideal mix of both ring frames and open-end spinning to craft fashionable constructions. LNJ Denim – which is a denim-manufacturing facility, established in 2007 under RSWM Limited – uses the newest techniques and technologies, including polyurethane, acrylic, and colour treatments, to create a broad variety of innovative fabric finishes. The company has a manufacturing capacity of 34 million yards of denim annually.

“We use a wide array of looms to create twill, knit-look dobby weaves, among other weaves. Genuine selvedge denim materials are produced each month using our vintage Ruti-C shuttle looms. Given that it attains a higher degree of dyeing consistency than
alternative indigo dyeing techniques, we provide the Morrison Rope dye range and
also updated versions of Jupiter Sheet dyeing giving us a lot of flexibility in terms of casts.
We also offer premium surface textures with peach finishes, which can improve the final product’s appearance and tactile quality. Every type of denim fabric can be made with shrink to fit finishes, preshrunk finishes or overdyed for extra flair,” Bhatnagar explains.

Jean-ious Sustainability Ideas

One of the most significant innovations in denim production has been the development of waterless dyeing techniques. Traditional denim dyeing processes use a large amount of water, which can be harmful to the environment. Waterless dyeing technologies can reduce water consumption by up to 95%, making denim production more sustainable.

“We are one of the largest fabric manufacturers in the world but not a single drop of water is consumed from the ground and Arvind makes enough fabric to go around the world 6 times over. We save the equivalent of the drinking water consumption of a city the size
of Ahmedabad every day,” says Kulin Lalbhai, Chairman & Non-Executive Director at Arvind Ltd.

Denim is Arvind Ltd’s heritage offering and the company has been pioneers of the denim
revolution in India since the early 1980s. Denim within the company is built upon four key pillars – design, innovation, sustainability, and customer centricity. “Today, we power the most iconic denim brands across Europe, US, and Asia. We produce enough fabric to go around the world 8X over,” Lalbhai says.

Mukherjee of Bhaskar Industries states that his company is a ZLD plant (zero liquid discharge) and they do not discharge any industrial waste water to the public drainage system. “We actively promote sustainable fibers like cotton certified under U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, Cotton Made in Africa [CMiA] and green viscose; wood sourced from FSC
certified plantations,” Mukherjee avers.

“We have machines from reputed suppliers including Rope Dyeing from Morisson and Slasher Dyeing from Sucker Muller. In weaving, we have both Air-Jet and Rapier technologies available from suppliers like Picanol, Toyota and Tsudakoma. For finishing, we have machines from Morisson, Monforts, Zimmer, Caru, Motex, Kusters and Osthoǹ to name a few. Our spinning machines come from suppliers like Trutzschler, Rieter, LMW, SCHLAFHORST, SAURER and SIEGER,” he adds.

The company actively promotes cotton certified under U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, Cotton Made in Africa [CMiA], GOTS, BCI, GRS, RCS, Green viscose – wood sourced from FSC certified plantations. They also use the MantraBlu Dyeing Process for a resource efficient dye.

LNJ Denim too is making a conscious effort towards sustainability, with Bhatnagar saying they have been using sustainable cotton, innovative sustainable yarns and fibers, inhouse garneting technology for recycling per-consumer industrial waste and post consumer used garments, state-of-the-art effluent treatment plant enabling reusing and recycling water.

“As a member of ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Certification and Testing Programs), LNJ reduces ecological impact with non-hazardous chemicals and by using solar power to reduce dependency on coal or diesel based power. RSWM also boasts of an in-house PET bottle recycling unit which supports the yarn and denim fabric business,” he adds.

Covation Bio, while not manufacturing denim, promotes Sorona® as a key raw material in denim. The company’s sustainability pillars align with 4 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – Decent Work & Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption & Production, Climate Action, and Life on Land. Unlike other fibers, Sorona®’s sustainability starts at the manufacturing stage and is at the centre of the polymer’s development and commercialization.

“While the monomer BioPDO is made using 100% plant-based ingredients, Sorona® in turn is made using 37% plant-based ingredients. Versus Nylon 6, Sorona® energy footprint is 30% lower and carbon footprint is 50% lower. CovationBio’s R&D team completed lab-scale studies showing Sorona® polymer can be mechanically recycled with PET and it is possible for Sorona® to be made with all biobased or a combination of bio-based and recycled raw materials,” explains Nagarajan.

Impact

Fabric innovation has a huge influence on the textile industry as both brands and consumers are moving toward sustainability and innovative fabrics that strike a balance between functionality and sustainability will be key components of fashion in the future.

Worldwide, new approaches are being developed to produce sustainable fibers and manufacturing processes to reduce environmental impact. Several innovative fabric startups are also helping light microplastics. With consumer behavior evolving, the textile industry is slated to become more inventive, efficient, sustainable, and innovation-focused.

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