Even the average jeans customer knows already that denim belongs to the bad guys concerning sustainable issues. Our industry consumes lots of water, uses hazardous chemicals and with all the super stretch denims we contribute to the microplastic pollution.
But the awareness is raising, new possibilities were developed over the past years and there are many ecological materials and treatments available already today.
In this series, we take a look on the impact of denim and jeans, but we put the focus on the progress of sustainable alternatives.
The time where sustainable decisions came with limited possibilities in design and outcome is a thing of the past!
No.5: A Visit At 140Fahrenheit, A Brand-new, State-Of-The-Art Denim Finishing House In Germany.
In episodes 1 – 4 we spoke about environmental problems and sustainable developments of the denim industry. The latest episode was about stonewash (read it here in case you missed it) and how we can replace pumice stones with products or technologies to reduce the impact and create the same results.
Today we would like to share a practical experience; a visit to the brand new, fully sustainable jeans washing house in Germany, called 140Fahrenheit.
The shareholders of 140Fahrenheit are Felix Holtgrave and his brother Dr. Maximilian Holtgrave. Felix is the managing director of the company and is responsible for the everyday business. We spoke with Felix about the project, challenges on the way, and plans for the future.
He was born into a textile family, and garment finishing is part of his genes. Felix’s dad and his grandfather built one of the first washing houses in Romania. Back then as a teenager, he had the chance to customize his favorite pants and consequently developed a taste for indigo.
Felix’s education is very textile-based: Ten years ago, he started working in product management at a German fashion company, that specialized in trousers. His next step was to study textile management and later fashion & product management. He consequently founded his own washing house together with his brother in February 2021. The project is part of C&A’s program known as “Green Factory” although 140Fahrenheit is fully independent of the major fashion retailer based in Düsseldorf, Germany, and works for other brands also.
The company is settled in Mönchengladbach, a former area for textile production, next to the confection “C&A FIT” which is part of the “Green Factory” program, too.
Since its opening at the beginning of 2022, the washing house is producing fully sustainable, high-class jeans finish, mostly for C&A.
But Felix does not really like the word “sustainability”, as there is no solid definition for sustainable textiles yet. He prefers to speak about “resource efficiency” and “recycling”, about “water-saving” and “energy recovery”. Felix shows pristine expertise, for example explaining the challenges of a closed-loop water recycling system, and why it is not fully possible yet.
The Beginning Of 140Fahrenheit
In the beginning, the team of 140Fahrenheit faced some challenges on their way to the new standard of European garment finishing. They started at the climax of the pandemic, so all the negotiation talks took place online only. Additionally, the worldwide computer chip shortage and the resulting delivery delays made it difficult for them. Rising energy costs and material prizes were also an issue.
“To become a pioneer in denim finishing, you need strong partners, especially on the technical side,” Felix says. After taking all aspects and information into consideration, he decided to work with Tonello, a manufacturer of machines and technology for garment production.
At 140Fahrenheit, the using effects like buffies and scraping are created with a special laser, which automatically adapts the design according to the placement of the jeans. So, there are no chemicals involved at all.
Seam effects are supported, for example, by the addition of “NoStone” technology, whereby the drum is given a kind of second layer like sandpaper. This creates a similar high-low effect to using pumice stones. If the effects are not strong enough, there is the possibility to add eco-stones to the washing. These are special synthetic stones, with a much higher life span than conventional pumice stones, without producing toxic sludge (for more info see No. 4 of this series).
Ozone Is A Gas And Acts Like A Natural Oxidizer
Bleaching is created by using ozone technology. Ozone is a gas and acts like a natural oxidizer. One huge advantage of ozone bleaching is the fact, that it works with a small amount of cold water, or even without water at all. After the reaction, ozone breaks down into oxygen and water. Consequently, there are no toxic side effects like polluted wastewater, compared to bleaching with chlorine.
There is also the possibility to add Bluesign (ZDHC level 3) certified chemicals, like eco-bleach to increase several effects. This process is controlled by Tonello-Core, a technology that enables the nebulization of chemicals, so the products can be reduced to the very minimum. By using special software, all consumption is precisely determined in order to identify further savings potential and ensure maximum transparency for the customer.
According to Felix, this makes it possible to create a wash with less than 10 liters of water by currently recycling around 45 – 50% of the wastewater and using it for another wash circle. Tendency increasing!
The Carbon-Free Approach Of 140Fahrenheit
Since the production kick off one year ago, not a single pumice stone has been inside that factory, the same goes for pp-spray or bleaching agents based on chlorine. Additionally, 140Fahrenheit is carbon-free, which means they don’t produce any carbon dioxide at all. Usually, companies claim they are “CO² neutral” which means, that they offset their emissions by supporting afforestation. Not necessary for 140Fahrenheit, because they fully work with renewable energy like solar and wind, so there is simply nothing to compensate. This mindset already starts on the way to work, as the team comes by bus, bike, or electric car.
The usage of all those technologies and machines are based on the values and vision of 140Fahrenheit, in some cases, there are no strict legal requirements yet.
But there is more to come: Felix’s plan for the future is, to maximize the percentage of water recycling, and to keep up with the latest development in technology. He wants to extend the customer base and inspire others to follow, and he wants to “bring back garment finishing as a relevant industry in Europe” and if it´s up to him, even back to Germany.
The Advantages Of Manufacturing In Germany
To manufacture in Germany has huge advantages; 140Fahrenheit can produce smaller quantities and is demand-oriented, like capsule collections, they can react to special requirements and trends very fast, and all that without the risk of any delivery delays.
Nonetheless, Felix regularly faces another common issue: Many fashion companies simply have a huge lack of knowledge about the ecological problems of conventional jeans finishing, so they don’t really understand the necessity to avoid pumice stones or pp-spray.
That means, education needs to be done first. That lies the foundation for a greener mindset and the willingness to pay slightly higher production costs for an ecological and fair product.
The shift to sustainable jeans production is possible, and 140Fahrenheit is a very promising partner. This factory represents all characteristics of a modern, successful company; high tech and automatization, and a sustainable, revolutionary mindset.
We admire the spirit and courage of Felix and his brother and would love to see more projects like this in the middle of Europe.
Stay tuned for more sustainable alternatives in the denim world!
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