Tommy Hilfiger fashions the future of jeans at its Amsterdam Denim Center
This spring, Tommy Hilfiger jeans are going green. The US label is introducing for the first time within the Tommy Jeans range a collection made of 100% recycled denim, featuring a jacket and several jeans models. The label claims this line is a first of its kind and, besides recycled fabrics, it is made using recycled plastic thread, unused buttons from previous collections and labels made with recycled paper. It is a genuine ecological milestone for Tommy Hilfiger, which had previously gone down this road but only succeeded in using between 15% and 40% of recycled materials for its jeans. The new collection is therefore nothing short of revolutionary for the denim industry. A proud statement of intent for the staff at the Amsterdam-based Denim Center operated by the PVH group (the owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein), whose work is behind these innovations.
The US group seems to be clearly setting its sights on the denim market, and is keen to broadcast the fact. The industry as a whole sells over two billion pairs of jeans annually, and PVH produces 15 million pairs.
“Denim products account for approximately 15% of our revenue,” said Daniel Grieder, the boss of PVH Europe and general manager of Tommy Hilfiger, talking to FashionNetwork.com. “But we think it could reach 25%."
How? By relying on innovation. And very clearly, for PVH innovation rhymes with eco-responsibility. It is a sizeable challenge, even for a group with a revenue in excess of $7 billion.
All major denim suppliers offer the services of their R&D centres, but PVH decided to invest in creating its own facility. Rather than a closed-off unit though, the staff at the Denim Center see it as a place where connections are made. “We want to be a magnet for ideas, we want the outside world to know we are here to test these ideas,” they said. The Denim Center is keen on fostering the development of tomorrow’s technical and creative innovation through its relationship with ten industrial partners from all over the world, as well as with fashion designers and clients. By doing so, it will enable PVH to steal a march on its competitors.
At the Denim Center, PVH has the means to escalate its denim business. Large windows afford a view of the centre's laboratories. The label’s designers have access to an archive of 1,300 fabric samples. But it is chiefly at the denim workshop that Tommy Hilfiger concocts its new products. The walls are lined with rolls of multi-coloured thread and of denim fabrics of different weights. In the middle of the workshop, sits a large worktable with 17 sewing machines installed around it, enabling the staff to manufacture prototypes on-site. Once they are approved, the technical information is digitally stored and transmitted to manufacturing workshops the world over.
“This enables us to produce prototypes in 48 hours, as opposed to the three to six weeks it took before,” said Grieder. A remarkable gain in terms of time and materials, considering each season the label creates some one hundred new models.
Time and material savings are clearly the main focus at the Denim Center. The adjoining room is home to the Denim lab. White-coated technicians busy themselves around machines costing from tens of thousands to, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of euro each. PVH uses laser machines by Jeanologia and high-tech washing machines by Italian manufacturer Tonello. The goal is to utilise as little water as possible, to eliminate chemicals and speed up the production process.
In practical terms, the centre’s staff have developed laser finishes which give jeans an aged look in less than 90 seconds, as opposed to more than half an hour when using traditional methods. Jeans are treated in huge blue machines for ozone washes which generate the required level of wear and tear, while dyeing is obtained with machines using a nebulization technique. All the operations are digitally automated, and the data can be transmitted from Amsterdam to the group's subcontractors.
The latter are encouraged to install the same cutting-edge machines on an industrial scale, in order to be able to accelerate production when orders for new models are placed. The goal is to work in parallel. The staff at the Denim lab said that 60% of jeans styles are now made using laser washing.
As well as being more eco-responsible, the approach fostered by the Denim Center also allows the group's labels to put on the market the styles that are most in demand, in the shortest time possible. Above all, PVH seems to have paid heed to a criticism which industry suppliers have been voicing for some years: that denim label designers and buyers are not aware of the innovations and techniques available. Teams from Zalando and El Corte Inglès have already visited what the group now calls its denim academy.
The Amsterdam centre is a cutting-edge tool for the PVH group. It is also a test. Looking to move closer to the main denim markets worldwide, the group is envisaging setting up other denim centres in Asia and the Americas.
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