Atwood ensures that the future of industry is based on sustainability, expected both by consumers and investors.
Roian Atwood, director of sustainability in Wrangler, has an extended career linked to that ambit which started through his role in American Apparel. Atwood explains that it is not possible to be in the business if its not sustainable, to a large extent due to the fact that consumers and investors expect companies to be so. The executive, who has piloted Wrangler’s new development with the Spanish Tejidos Royo, explains that the group is immersed in other projects linked to the whole supply chain, starting by cotton plantations.
Question: Is it possible to compete in the market today without being sustainable?
Answer: Not if you want to survive. Frankly, bad performers in our industry must stop to exist for the common good of future generations who will inherit the planet. For us, right now is a fundamental moment to be in the fashion industry, because responsibility and sustainability are more common by the day. Both consumers as investors expect it, and all fashion business companies are answering back. Perhaps at different levels, but answering nonetheless.
“However much consumers want sustainable products, they are not willing to give up on style, commodity and price for now”
Q.: Is it expensive to be sustainable?
A.: However much consumers want sustainable products, they are not willing to give up on style, commodity and price for now. Therefore, it is our job as brands to guarantee all four. Although sometimes there are initial costs associated with carrying out an innovation to a commercialisation phase, our goal is that this technology or material has the same costs as the already existent technologies. But the responsibility of being sustainable is on us.
Q.: How have you worked on this development?
A.: Until now, Wrangler and Tejidos Royo had been separately looking for the foam-dye. Wrangler provided Texas Tech University with some funds for the development of an indigo-dyeing process of second generation with foam because we saw its potential to improve our industry’s environmental impact. Royo, on the other hand, had already began using a first-generation technology prior to our Texas Tech collaboration. Before collaborating with Royo, us in Wrengler already tested our second-generation technology with other of the fabric mills we worked with. Putting everything we learned back then together, our I+D team assimilated both the works from Royo as the ones carried out by Texas Tech. Shortly after, Royo created the brand Dry Indigo Denim for the new foam-dye technology.
“For an innovation such as foam-dye, multiple actors are required to reach the finish line”
Q.: Have there been any more actors involved in this development?
A.: Besides providing the funds, our innovation experts team gave technical support during the development of the technology carried out in Texas Tech, in association with Indigo Mill Designs and Gaston Systems. For an innovation such as this, multiple actors are required to get to the finish line. Wrangler acted as finance partner, collaborator and ceremony leader. Our participation in this development of the supply chain is based on the commitment to reduce the amount of water we use during our washing up process. Through investments on water treatment and recycling, we intend to reduce our consumption in 5 billion litres by 2020, a 20% less than what we used in 2012.
Q.: When did your collaboration with Royo begin?
A.: Last November. We invited fabric mills from all around the world to see up-close the technology of foam-dye elaborated in Texas Tech University, and we exposed that we would be willing to purchase the first denim fabric dyed with foam available in the market. As you can imagine, it was quite hard to find the first ones because we were dealing with a completely new technology. We were not surprised to see that many manufacturers were sceptical about it. We met Royo shortly after. The fact that they too were working on foam-dye and their commitment to sustainability made us take a chance on them.
Q.: Is it the first time you work tightly with a manufacturer?
A.: The Wrangler brand exists since 1947 and throughout this whole time we have established strong relationships with suppliers and collaborations that have lasted for years. However, ahead of the importance of this particular technology, we really are getting more involved. We hope that other fabric mills adopt this technology too and that it ultimately becomes an industry standard.
“When we exposed the project, we were not surprised to see that many manufacturers were sceptical about it”
Q.: How can that be achieved?
A.: At Wrangler, for example, we produce jeans around the whole globe, for which it would be necessary to implant this technology on a global scale in order to guarantee all our jeans are dyed with foam. Arvind’s factories in India have committed to adopt this technology, and we are currently speaking to other factories in the West. Our goal is to have access to this technology in all parts of the world by 2020 or before. We would be the first to use this technology, but hopefully, not the last. Our intention is that one day, this technology will be a commonplace in denim industry, reducing the general footprint of our industry.
Q.: Do you have more collaborations of this kind going on?
A.: Yes, and we hope to release more innovations the moment they are viable. Right now, for example, we are closely working with the program e3 by Basf for cotton producers. In collaboration with Soil Health Institute, MyFarms and Field to Market’s software supplier, we are working on the identification and promotion of better practices for land sustainability and the improvement of products’ economic viability.
Q.: And more innovations?
A.: Yes, we have several innovation teams who are experts in the matter. We have interesting innovations going on, but I cannot talk about them much. Our Science&Conservation team is doing more public works on the improvement of practices for the land, alternative materials coming from recycled denim and the promotion of a greater exchange of data between the supply chain’s actors.
“Our intention is that one day, this technology will be a commonplace in denim industry”
Q.: Are you also working on circular strategies?
A.: I cannot reveal much about the progress we are making in that sense, but what I can say is that our team is developing interesting things regarding it. We are working up and downwards in all our supply chain, from the ground where cotton is cultivated to the consumption of our clothing items. We are looking for the areas where we can be disruptive.
Q.: Which do you think are the main challenges of industry today?
A.: Circularity and wanting to avoid textiles from reaching dumpsters is something that has been and will continue to be a great challenge for denim industry. It is important to recognise that the lineal production system is a thing of the past.
Q.: How do you imagine denim industry in five years?
A.: I’m an optimist. I see a lot of creativity and innovation. As a professional of sustainability, I hope to see many changes regarding that ambit: more circular business models, the reduction of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases, more renewable energy, bigger rates of water recycling and general reduction of water use, more traceability and less unwanted chemical products.