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Fast Retailing Treating Denim Jeans in Southern California With Water-Saving Techniques

Masaaki Matsubara speaks at the Jeans Innovation Center.

Masaaki Matsubara speaks at the Jeans Innovation Center.

Fast Retailing, the Japanese parent company of Uniqlo, recently launched its Southern California denim innovation center to announce it is very close to eliminating the use of water from its denim-treatment process.

The $ 19 billion company showed off its Fast Retailing Jeans Innovation Center in Gardena, Calif., next door to the Japanese-owned Caitac Garment Processing location, which has been washing jeans for local denim manufacturers for years.

It was nearly three years ago that Fast Retailing started in Los Angeles to reduce water usage because L.A. is the center of the denim world. "If we had built this center in Tokyo, it would have been too influenced by vintage. If we had done it in Europe, it would have been too influenced by fashion. Here in L.A. it’s a mix of all cultures. "Jeans originated here," said Masaaki Matsubara, chief operating officer of the Jeans Innovation Center.

The 10,000-square-foot facility features laser-engraving and ozone machines made by Spanish manufacturer Jeanologia, a company whose equipment is a familiar sight in many denim factories.

The center developed new technologies using nano-bubble and ozone-washing machines, which were used on select Fast Retailing's 2018 jeans line which includes some J Brand and Uniqlo jeans. It cut water usage by an average of 90 percent and as much as 99 percent.

Washes to give jeans to worn and distressed appearance. Instead, it uses synthetic stones, which help create a vintage look but don’t deteriorate as fast as pumice.

Already, Fast Retailing has shared with its overseas factories center.

By 2020, the technology will be used for all of Fast Retailing's denim brands, which includes Uniqlo, J Brand, Theory, Official Gazette and Princess Tam-Tam.

“We have innovated with existing technology, figuring out how to outperform our brands to achieve water savings of 99 percent in the wash process at our full production scale. Only 10 percent or 20 percent. "We want to reduce water usage to near zero," Matsubara said in a statement.

Cutting water usage has been an important initiative for California companies such as Levi Strauss & Co., Volcom and Outerknown. Sustainability consultant Derek Sabori applauded Fast Retailing’s announcement. “At 99 percent, they are saying they've reduced their water footprint almost entirely. That’s huge, ”he said. "You don’t often see rates that high. So for that achievement they deserve credit. "

He noted this gives confidence and inspiration to other brands. "Soon enough, cutting water usage will reach critical mass and become the expected norm," said Sabori, who was Volcom's vice president, global sustainability, and currently runs at sustainability consulting company called The Underswell.

Levi has been working on cutting water usage since 2011 with its Water

Cutting water usage was not the only sustainability move by Fast Retailing. Earlier this month it announced that by 2020 it wants to reduce single-use plastic by up to 85 percent at its 3,500 stores around the world. In September, it will switch to eco-friendly paper bags. Expected to stop using plastic packaging for its Uniqlo and G.U. products, using sustainable alternatives instead.

Recently, Fast Retailing tasked 18 students at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising to take unwearable clothing from Uniqlo's all-product recycling initiative as well as alteration to create upcycled designs. They are now being displayed at the Uniqlo store at The Bloc retail center in downtown Los Angeles.

All images courtesy of Fast Retailing.

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