YKK Stories

Jeans manufacturers and Berkeley scientists discover new ways to make earth-friendly blue jeans

May 4, 2018
Author: YKK
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At YKK we are always looking for new ways to become a more environmentally ethical company by improving our manufacturing processes, creating more eco-friendly products and by participating in corporate social responsibility activities that help the environment.

Likewise, we support the jeans industry in its recent efforts to develop more sustainable methods for making blue jeans.

In the article, “GMO jeans: using biotech to make indigo-dyed denim a bit more green,” by Ron Meador found on www.minnpost.com, a Berkeley research paper explains that since both natural and synthetic indigo are not water soluble, they cannot penetrate jeans fibers.  Therefore, both types of indigo must be fixed using a toxic bleaching process which is largely responsible for polluting many rivers in China and in other countries that have significant denim production.

To solve this problem, the Berkeley research paper goes on to say that a team of researchers from Berkeley have developed genetically engineered bacteria that can be used for making and applying indigo dye.

Though this bacterial system is still in the experimental stages and will need to be optimized and scaled up to make it commercially viable, the scientists are optimistic about the potential of this new discovery.

GMO jeans: Using biotech to make indigo-dyed denim a bit more green

Sometimes it seems the world is awash in genetically modified organisms.You have your landscape-scale examples, like transgenic salmon or those GMO corn and soybean crops, made to be pest- and pesticide-resistant (but capable of stimulating other resistance in the marketplace).Then you have your tiny (and less controversial) ones, like bacteria wit

Another organization that has developed a new method of producing sustainable jeans is Levi Strauss.  According to the article, “Levi’s will use lasers to ethically create the finishes on all of its jeans,” by Thuy Ong found on www.theverge.com, the company is introducing a digitizing technique that uses lasers to ethically create designs on its jeans.  This technique will eliminate harmful chemicals and reduce the labor-intensive steps used in producing jeans finishes from between 18 to 24 steps to only three.

Levi also states in the article that during the past 30 years, the jeans industry has used hand-finishing and chemical processes to create the worn and faded designs on denim, and Levi intends to achieve a “zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020.”

Levi’s will use lasers to ethically create the finishes on all of its jeans

Levi Strauss is introducing a digitizing technique that uses lasers to ethically create designs on its jeans in place of manual labor. Called Project FLX (which stands for Future-Led Execution), the technique will cut out harmful chemicals and reduce labor-intensive steps in producing jean finishes from between 18 to 24 steps to just three.

In addition to these two new methods of creating sustainable jeans, fashion e-tailer Everlane Inc. has also made an attempt to reduce the environmental impact of its jeans manufacturing.  In the article, “What Goes Into Making an Earth-Friendly $68 Pair of Jeans,” by Nic McCormack found on www.bloomberg.com, Michael Preysman, chief executive officer of Everlane Inc., states that it took him two years to find an eco-friendly manufacturing facility.   He eventually found Saitex International Dong Nai Co. Ltd., a modern manufacturing facility located in Bien Hoa, southern Vietnam and surrounded by rainwater-filled pools and spouting fountains.  “They set incredibly high standards by recycling 98 percent of their water to a drinkable state, air-drying the denim, and turning the excess denim waste into bricks made for affordable house,” states Preysman.

What Goes Into Making an Earth-Friendly $68 Pair of Jeans

Denim production is a “dirty business,” says Michael Preysman, chief executive officer of fashion e-tailer Everlane Inc. He’s not wrong. Chances are, those jeans you’re wearing produced 44 pounds of carbon dioxide and took up to 10,000 liters (2,700 gallons) of water to make, much of it ending up in waterways, along with toxic dyes and chemicals deployed in making denim.

Like Levi Strauss, Everlane Inc. and the researchers at Berkeley, YKK is concerned with protecting rivers and other water resources and eliminating chemicals that are harmful to the environment.  As an example, YKK has developed a waterless dyeing technology for zippers at its factory in Kurobe, Japan.  This new waterless dyeing process is called ECO-DYE®, and it involves applying supercritical fluid dyeing (SFD), an innovative waterless dyeing technology that uses carbon dioxide (CO2) rather than water as a method of dyeing.  The dyeing is done by using carbon dioxide in a “supercritical fluid” state, which is obtained controlling the temperature and pressure in which carbon dioxide has characteristics of both gas and liquid.

Through the use of carbon, the water used in making zippers is reduced to nearly zero, and it can be collected and recycled.  This waterless dyeing process also results in the same high quality and look of conventionally-dyed YKK® zippers.  In addition, it does not require drying, and it is expected to contribute to a reduction of energy use.

In keeping with our environmental pledge which states that, YKK “will address and promote ‘harmony with the environment,’” we will continue to explore new sustainable manufacturing practices and to develop new eco-friendly products.