Lenzing’s Pursuit for Tomorrow’s Denim: Pioneering Circularity in the Fashion Industry

The Lenzing Group, a leading fiber manufacturer, and its textile specialty fiber brand, TENCEL™ have emerged as a key player in bringing circularity to the fashion industry, particular with denim.
The Lenzing Group, a leading fiber manufacturer, and its textile specialty fiber brand, TENCEL™ have emerged as a key player in bringing circularity to the fashion industry, particular with denim.

The environmental impact of production processes and textile waste has long been a pressing concern in the fashion industry, with denim being perhaps the most pressing sector of all. As the environmental impact of denim production and disposal continues to raise alarms, the need for better, more responsible solutions has become a priority for change. The Lenzing Group, a leading fiber manufacturer, and its textile specialty fiber brand, TENCEL™ have emerged as a key player in this pursuit, driving change through an array of new concepts and innovations.

Denim for Tomorrow: A Collective Effort

Tuncay Kılıçkan, Head of Global Business Development, Denim, at Lenzing.
Tuncay Kılıçkan, Head of Global Business Development, Denim, at Lenzing.

Denim creates a substantial proportion of textile waste, with studies indicating that 2.16 million tons of waste are generated from jeans alone. Its production has historically been associated with various environmental challenges at the beginning of the garment life cycle, including high water consumption, chemical usage, and carbon footprint. With the rise of fast fashion and disposable culture, the negative impact of denim production has intensified. Awareness of the fact has pushed many consumers to seek out more sustainably-made denim and likewise, brands and manufacturers are increasingly recognizing the importance of adopting eco-friendly practices and reducing their ecological footprint.

With aims of accelerating circularity in the denim sector and beyond, Lenzing’s new “Fiber Recycling Initiative” kicks-off with the production of denim fabrics derived from mechanically-recycled TENCEL™ branded lyocell fibers. Repurposing pre-consumer lyocell waste at a commercial scale, the initiative redefines the circular future of a sustainable denim industry globally.

“As a leading fiber manufacturer, we set the tone for the industry to adopt more circular practices,” said Tuncay Kılıçkan, Head of Global Business Development, Denim, at Lenzing. “With our like-minded value chain partners, we have discovered the potential of mechanically recycled TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers in denim production. While the concept is still relatively new to the wider industry, the development of the ‘Fiber Recycling Initiative’ by TENCEL™ sets out to promote the benefits and unleash the full potential of the new circular fabric.”

Scaling Circularity: The Future of Denim Production

To tackle the environmental issues plaguing the denim industry, circularity has emerged as a viable solution. Rather than following the traditional linear model of production, consumption, and disposal, circularity aims to create a closed-loop system, where materials are continuously recycled and repurposed. This paradigm shift is crucial for reducing waste, conserving resources, and minimizing the environmental impact of denim production.

The initial phase of the new circularity initiative highlights the ongoing quest for responsible denim production and innovation from Lenzing and its mill partners as they answer a common call for sustainability, circularity and transparency in the global textile value chain.

“Circularity is undeniably the present, and the inevitable future of denim,” said Baber Sultan, Director of Research, Product and Trend at Artistic Milliners. “Considering the high tenacity of TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers, there is an edge to increase recycled content while producing higher quality fabrics. The new fabric has so much potential across global markets, especially with the nostalgia around Y2K and other vintage looks.”
Virgin TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers are already reputable for their environmentally responsible, closed loop production process, which transforms sustainably sourced wood pulp into cellulosic fibers with high resource efficiency and low carbon footprint.

“The mechanically recycled TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers are ideal for denim,” said the Product Development Team at Canatiba. “Unlike cotton, the new fabric retains its characteristics in relation to virgin fibers, while maintaining the length, resistance and all the physical properties, as well as being super soft to touch. It comes from a completely clean and sustainable process that does not involve water or chemical consumption.”

“We believe that the future of the textile industry depends on sustainability and circularity, which can also guarantee the survival of denim,” said José Antonio Mazorra, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Textil Santanderina. “I expect that innovation and technological improvements around circularity, including phases of collection, selection and recycling, will result in a greater need for mechanically recycled cellulosic fibers.”

The Fiber Recycling Initiative underscores Lenzing commitment to circularity, a core value of the company. By partnering with leading brands and recycling experts, Lenzing was able to develop efficient processes to transform post-consumer denim waste into new, high-quality fibers, reducing the need for virgin resources and easing the ecological burden on the environment.

Fabric material made of mechanical recycled TENCEL.
Fabric material made of mechanical recycled TENCEL.

Lenzing: Pioneering Denim Circularity through Partnership

Among the companies leading the charge towards sustainability and circularity in the denim industry, Lenzing has established itself as a trailblazer. Its efforts to transform the sector go beyond fiber recycling as the company has also recently introduced its twin collections, the “Zero Virgin Cotton” and “Zero Cotton” collection with mills in the hope of providing denim brands of all price points a range of alternative fabrics made of recycled cotton or no cotton at all.

Compared to fast fashion, sustainably-made denim, which is usually produced using materials and processes with lower environmental impact, typically comes with a premium price point. This is often due to the higher price of cotton alternatives or the smaller quantity of items that are being manufactured. By working with mills in different countries, from Bangladesh, China to Pakistan, Spain and more, Lenzing’s latest denim collections are available across various locations around the world, enhancing the accessibility and availability of the products. In other words, responsible denim production empowers industry players across sectors with more options to create a wider range of offerings.

“We have been receiving ongoing inquiries for cotton alternatives in recent years, and to date, we have witnessed a significant improvement in this aspect,” said Kılıçkan. “In the Zero Cotton collection, where we replaced the entire cotton component with TENCEL™ branded fibers, we are able to present an upgraded denim look with a variety of shades and yarn characters from various supply locations. This is certainly something to celebrate and spotlight alongside our partners. A similar story is happening with the Zero Virgin Cotton collection, where we champion circularity with the use of recycled cotton. Normally, recycled cotton has a limited supply and could be difficult to handle. However, with TENCEL™ branded fibers as a blend partner solution with recycled cotton, we not only embrace circularity, but also enable the ‘zero virgin cotton’ products to come with a variety of design aesthetics and stable supply. With the Zero Cotton and Zero Virgin Cotton collections, we are able to cover high-level, mid-level and developing supply territories, bringing a key message to the denim industry that using alternative fiber materials is possible.”

As for future TENCEL™ Denim developments, Kılıçkan teased updates to the development of TENCEL™ Modal with Indigo Color technology and matte TENCEL™ lyocell fiber offerings, which are in line with the current market trends. “We are coordinating with mill partners to finetune these two fibers and leverage current market trends to cover more customer requests. We are confident that the demand for wood-based cellulosic fibers, like TENCEL™ Lyocell and TENCEL™ Modal fibers, will grow in the coming years and we will strive to drive the market through any innovation, product development, and supply solution.”