Denim is one of the most environmentally destructive fabrics to produce, from its massive thirst for water to the pollution left in its wake. Livia Firth speaks to Alberto Candiani, owner of Italian manufacturer Candiani Denim, to find out if there’s a different way to go blue
The first time I met Alberto Candiani, the fourth- generation owner of the family-run Candiani Denim, I was completely struck by his passion, knowledge, scientific research, and deep need to know every single part of his denim’s supply chain. What I did not expect was to also meet a heavy metal DJ and that we would end up talking about how to plant a denim garden.”
LIVIA FIRTH: Alberto, I love the story of Candiani’s sustainability journey starting from a garden… or better, from a nature reserve.
ALBERTO CANDIANI: Yes! Candiani was born in 1938 in the little town of Robecchetto, where Parco del Ticino nature reserve was founded in the 70s. This meant that for every decision, they had strict rules and restrictions. That forced us to become efficient and sustainable, long before the word “sustainability” was widely used. If you talk to my dad, he would say that efficiency is the grammar of sustainability. And I agree, because if you are efficient, it means you’re also sustainable, or at least that you have that type of proposition. As a consequence of that, we also had to become pure innovators.
LF: What has been the driving force behind your innovation, research, and development? Was it always about becoming more sustainable and more environmentally friendly, or were you also driven by design?
AC: We were driven by a vision, for sure. Innovation goes into the ingredients and the process. You want to use less water, less chemicals, less energy, and you don’t want to compromise the quality of what you do. And in order to do so, you have to invest in new technologies, you need to invest in the people, you have to have ideas, and you have to make those things real. We are driven by a need for improvement.
LF: Tell me about the two technologies that you are the proudest of in terms of sustainability
AC: Number one is Coreva, our bio-stretch technology, which is the only bio-based and biodegradable stretch technology available in the market. We are basically replacing common synthetic elastomers with a plant-based elastomer. The circular idea is to use that fabric or that garment at the end of its lifecycle to bio-fertilize the cotton that it’s made of again. This is full circularity, which five years ago I was told by a scientific committee was not possible. And now it’s possible, it’s demonstrated, and it is scalable. We launched it in 2019 with selected R&D partners like Denham and Stella McCartney, and in January 2021 we’ll scale the production. Another technology I’m proud of is Kitotex, which we licenced exclusively for the denim world. It utilizes chitosan, which is a bio-based and biodegradable polymer, to replace the liquid plastic normally applied on the yarns in order to weave them when you create the fabric. So Candiani is going plastic free. I’m giving up on even recycled plastic right now. No nylons – they’re just not needed for what we do. I’m also looking more into microplastics and liquid plastics, which are just as bad. We are cleaning up both the process and product to become plastic and micro-plastic free.
LF: So, in a few years’ time, you could literally fertilize a field of denim with all the old denim that has been produced in this way?
AC: This is the idea. This is why Coreva is so important. It is revolutionary. We’ve even bio-fertilized fields of cotton with our scraps.
LF: You not only know exactly where your cotton comes from, but you have strong opinions about organic cotton versus non-organic, and you look into the supply chain very carefully. Why is that so important?
AC: I like to go and visit those fields that I get the cotton from myself and I like to have a direct relationship with the farmers. I care about the quality, the provenance, how it’s made, how it’s grown. Cotton is a very intensive plant to grow, but it’s been demonized too much lately. It is water consuming, true, but more than 65% of cotton grows because it rains. Sometimes it grows in specific areas of the world where you cannot plant other stuff, and it becomes a fundamental crop for the local agricultural rotation.
LF: You supply denim to lots of different brands. But lately you have decided to explore another business model: producing Candiani’s own custom-made brand of jeans. What’s the idea behind this?
AC: Our store in Milan is going to be a made-to-measure store with wide customization opportunities. The idea is to satisfy a question I’ve been asked so many times: Where do I buy the perfect pair of jeans? When you come here, we take your measurements, and we produce your perfect pair of jeans in only four hours. We will tell you about the Italian origins of denim, which not many know – it was invented 500 years ago in the city of Genoa.
LF: Will you also put a little DJ booth in the new store? Because I know you’re passionate about music…
AC: It’s pretty much gone now! With two kids and one coming… But when I find time to write some music or to produce it, I still go to the studio and I’m still loving it, even though the DJ career is over, and my band is over.
LF: But this is what we can do in the new store! You get to go for a dance with your perfect pair of jeans.
AC: I like the idea. Apart from the fact that you may not like my music, Livia… It’s quite heavy metal.
LF: Oh no! OK, forget about the last part of us dancing then…
Photographs Carla Guler
Originally published in the December 2020 Issue of Vogue Arabia