Yesterday, representatives from across the apparel industry came together at the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute of Texas Tech University, where Wrangler, Lee, the Walmart Foundation and Indigo Mill Designs (IMD) unveiled a disruptive new dyeing process for producing denim. In a radical departure from water-based dyeing, IndigoZERO™ uses a foam-based process to reduce water and energy use by more than 90 percent.
“Wrangler advanced the commercialization of this technology because we believe it has the potential to dramatically improve the environmental impact of our industry and help us achieve our brand goals for water conservation,” said Tom Waldron, Wrangler brand president.
Foam dyeing of yarn is a new technology that is cost-effective and has low environmental impacts. However, its use was previously limited in denim manufacturing because the indigo dye used to create the traditional blue color reacts to oxygen in the air.
Developed at Texas Tech University, IMD’s IndigoZERO solution overcomes this limitation, resulting in net reductions in water and energy usage of more than 90 percent. Additionally, the foam-dyeing process reduces chemical usage while achieving the same or better dye quality compared to conventional processes.
“A large fabric mill uses millions of gallons of water every day to dye denim,” said Sudhakar Puvvada, who leads denim innovation work for Wrangler and Lee’s Global Innovation Center and served as an advisor to IMD. “IMD’s innovation can greatly reduce that amount and cut the energy needed for dyeing and wastewater treatment.”
IMD’s foam-dyeing process will also allow fabric mills to produce much smaller quantities than conventional dyeing processes, when desired. In addition to reducing waste, smaller fabric runs will allow for new design and marketing innovations in the denim industry.
Traditional water-based dye tank set-ups are 300 yards long. The new foam dyeing system for the same amount of fabric is only 30 feet long. Wrangler projects that if the technology is implemented only by Wrangler and Lee fabric suppliers in the Americas, 8 billion liters of water will be conserved annually — equal to the amount of water used by 70,000 Americans each year. Once adapted to Wrangler and Lee suppliers globally, at least 17 billion liters of water will be saved annually.
“We’re grateful for the support of Wrangler and Lee, whose investment and technical contribution greatly advanced the process of commercialization with IMD,” said Dean Ethridge, lead researcher at Texas Tech. “Credit also goes to the US Manufacturing Innovation Fund for supporting the research project that made development of this technology possible.”