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Requests for Sustainable Trims Lead to New Creative Opportunities

By Rivet

“Sustainable design is no longer just a ‘nice-to-have,’ it’s a ‘must-have.’”

This statement has become a popular refrain across the fashion industry, from premium and luxury players to fast fashion brands looking to go green. But eco-conscious product doesn’t end at the adoption of new fibers and fabrications; it carries into the trims category.

The suppliers behind the buttons, rivets, zippers, patches, labels and hang tags that give denim styles their sartorial edge are becoming more conscious of their environmental impact, adopting fresh processes and innovative materials from seaweed to recycled metal.

“Sustainability is no longer a trend for us—it’s inside our DNA for many years now, and we build all our collections in that way,” said Thibault Greuzat, Dorlet president. The group continues to push its partners to adopt more consciously crafted buttons, “and make them aware that even if trims are a small detail on the garment, there is something to do to make it in a more sustainable way.”

The French company focused its main Spring/Summer 2024 collection on brass, copper, stainless steel and alloy, “to offer a pallet of four raw colors without any plating,” the executive explained. The company’s chemical-free Raw Line accelerates the oxidation of the metals by aging them in heated conditions, resulting in a unique patina on the buttons. The process saves 60 percent more electricity than traditional plating techniques and cutting water consumption in half. Meanwhile, the company’s proprietary Wild Line allows metals to be sublimated without the use of chemicals. The eco-dyeing process reduces chemical use by 80 percent.

When it comes to styling, Dorlet has had “a lot of requests for a clean look, flat shapes and lots of contrasts on the color to see the details,” Greuzat said. “We need to create something unique for our customer, they are searching for something special when they come to us,” he added.

“We try with our design team to create to best match between their request of additional value, sustainability and competitive price,” he explained, calling the issue “an existing challenge.”

YKK USA senior manager of sustainability Brian La Plante said that brands are upping the ante when it comes to addressing the sustainability profiles of their trims. “Customers are increasing their requests for trims made with recycled materials,” he said, and they are particularly interested in shank buttons and rivets made from recycled metal. “We introduced a 100 percent mono-material recycled metal detachable shank button and rivet at the Kingpins Show in Amsterdam that was extremely well received.”

The company is also seeing heightening demand for eco-conscious zipper design, with a “large increase” in interest in its 3Y Natulon recycled tape zipper and metal fasteners. The designs utilize YKK’s environmentally friendly finishes. “Customers are particularly interested in our AcroPlating non-toxic metal plating technology because of its reduced environmental impacts and wide range of colors,” La Plante said, noting that is being widely adopted for use across all product lines.

The potential for reuse and recycling have also begun to guide design decision-making.

“Brands are developing more circular styles,” according to La Plante. “Our detachable shank button and rivet are being used by an increasing number of brands for their circular denim collections,” he said. The durable button and rivet can easily be removed at the end of the garment’s end of life with a simple tool and then recycled.” These pieces are available in an array of finishes and can be customized.

Aesthetic trends are also evolving to mirror sustainable ones. “While traditional charcoal and gun metal finishes continue to be popular, we are seeing an increased interest in matte silver finishes such as platinum and tin,” La Plante said. Notably, as customers increase their focus on environmental impact, it’s being reflected in their requests for “trims with straightforward styling and cleaner, simpler lines.”

“Customers are more focused on updating existing styles with new fits, than creating new designs with unique standout trims,” he added.

Cadica sales and marketing director Carlo Parisatto echoed that today’s customers are “demanding sustainable solutions” from their suppliers—along with the certifications to back them up. “We try to offer them alternative solutions both in terms of materials and production processes,” he said.

Luxury brands have largely accepted the higher cost of eco-friendly inputs after watching the space develop for years. Those that choose to invest in such accessories and packaging are “consequently more informed and updated, and they ask for specifications related to each item.” The Italian patch, label, packaging, button and hangtag producer has worked to fully trace its supply chain, Parisatto said, noting that its in-country production sites allow for full operational control and transparency.

When it comes to look and feel, the firm’s luxury clientele is asking for newness, “mixing sustainable materials and productions but always with an exclusive and original design.” Aiming to reduce waste and encourage recyclability, customers are evincing a preference for mono-material accessories and packaging. They are also keen to reduce the use of virgin plastics, searching instead for natural or recycled options.

Recently, Cadica’s creative team presented a packaging collection designed for both e-commerce and physical retail that showcased recycled and recyclable options. “The graphics are simple and minimal,” intending to highlight the sustainability profile of the packaging, Parisatto said. The collection includes a cardboard mailer that says “I am a kraft paper mailer box” on its face, specifying that it is 100 percent recyclable. A canvas satchel reads “I am a tote bag” made from 100 percent organic cotton.

Brands are also looking to showcase environmentally conscious creativity across their lines, not just “in a dedicated capsule collection.” Cadica has taken note of more products that are both seasonless and genderless, following a “philosophy of less is better.”

The firm identified four prevailing aesthetic trends for S/S ’24. Elemental features “cold and rigid” colorways like blue and metallic grey, evoking the interplay between science and chemical elements. “Gypsy Soul is another new style that will be strong next season,” Parisatto noted, calling it “a cultural trend that embraces ethnic differences, traditions and the fashion around the world.” Sun-worn colors are mixed and matched in eclectic designs.

The season will also see a resurgence of romance with Love Land, defined by dusty surfaces, kitschy details, and vintage hues. “The most innovative trend is the Digital Mythologies, a future that is created from the present and the past with intangible materials and a metaverse reality,” he said.

“This season, the overall look is classic but with a twist,” said Lone Mogensen, Trimco sustainability coordinator. “The world has seen a lot lately, so brands are playing with designs and techniques, creating unique trims that give a positive vibe while still being mindful of their material choices.”

The U.K.-based button, badge, packaging and tag maker has seen an interest in trims that “invite a tactile experience,” like personalized embroidery. “Brands are playing with shapes, enlarging labels, or using unusual placements for their branded trims,” she added.

Naturally, brands are looking for branded content “made with consideration for their environmental impact” now more than ever before, with mono-materials emerging as “a strong tendency, as a requirement to facilitate recycling.”

Classic denim trims are still very much in demand, “however, the cotton and polyester labels are now replaced by recycled or organic cotton,” Mogensen said. Trimco often uses recycled polyester made from plastic bottles or textile waste, meanwhile, innovative new badge materials are being developed from waste like apple pulp or coffee grounds. Forest Stewardship Council-certified jacron badges, which have the look of leather but are made from wood pulp, “are a classic material choice that can fit both playful and colorful denim, as well as timeless styles.”

“Fun and exciting, using waste in new ways is a step in the right direction,” she added.

Trimco also sees the use of regenerative sources like man-made cellulosic fibers or seaweed as ways to foster creativity “without unbalancing the environmental scale.” These elements are renewable and often fully recyclable, boosting the group’s efforts to promote circularity.

“All these bio-based materials are fascinating,” the sustainability lead said, but they come with challenges. The group is working to develop solutions that match the durability and functionality desired for denim garments, which will endure wear, tear, and washing. “We are committed to learning more and further developing into this field,” Mogensen added.

Denim jeans, jackets and other styles are made to last, and brands are increasingly looking at possibilities for repair and patching as the pieces wear in. This includes “adding trims with technology such as QR codes or NFC technology that carry information about the garment, letting the new owners know about their pre-loved garment journey if resold,” she said. “For luxury items, this is also a way to avoid counterfeiting; something brands are struggling with lately.”

Such advanced technology could play a key role in helping brands reach their social and environmental compliance goals, “and generally be more transparent about their supply chain and the production of a garment.” According to Mogensen, Trimco sees “the beginning of a digital product passport taking shape” through digitalized tools.

Hang tags and packaging can help communicate sustainability data available to “consumers, recyclers, regulators” and others, and fulfill the important role of conveying waste sorting requirements to those dealing with a garment at its end-of-life stage. “Brands need to answer to regulations applying the right waste sorting signage,” she explained, noting that several EU countries, including France, have implemented guideline laws. “Brands that do a lot of work to monitor their supply chain want to make those efforts visible and invite consumers to recycle,” Mogensen added.

“Whether it is a new material, texture, or QR code, brands want to be closer to the consumer, as they are becoming more selective in their purchase behavior and demand more from the brand,” she said. The role of trims is not just shifting, but growing, in this changing retail landscape. “Trims are not only used to promote a brand name, but also its values, packing the entire essence and thought put into every garment.”

This story appears in the Spring/Summer 2024 In Season Look Book. Click here to view the book.

This article was published by Rivet November 9, 2023. YKK is a member of SPESA.

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