How ONDyTEC is cleaning up stone-washed denim

The denim jeans market is worth over 70 million euro a year. It has grown yearly for decades and is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. However, denim’s economic success comes at a high environmental cost.

Indigo is a difficult dye for fabric to absorb. For every pair of jeans made, between 50 and 100 litres of water are polluted with hazardous chemicals, such as sodium hydrosulphite, which damage water courses and ecosystems, leaving large volumes of water toxic.

Javier Frances is a Spanish textile engineer and the founder of ONDyTEC. He brings a lifetime of knowledge and experience to the leadership of a Spanish company specialising in the elimination of hazardous chemicals in fabric dyeing.

Sustainability, communities and the circular economy

The high environmental impact of the manufacture of denim garments (not only jeans, but jackets, shirts, waistcoats, dresses and even footwear) is compounded by the fact that many of the world’s major denim producers are located in places with water scarcity, such as Morocco.

But it is in Morocco, Tunisia and Türkiye, for example, that the most experienced and best-skilled labour is to be found. And this is where Francés and ONDyTEC are succeeding in bringing truly sustainable denim to market.

“The fact that we are in Alicante and Morocco is just next door to us is a big advantage,” says Francés, “but there is more to it than that: manufacturers in Morocco have generations of experience, and they get sustainability in a way that not everybody does.”

For Francés, sustainability is much more than just about the environment. “Making a pair of jeans is incredibly complex and requires highly skilled labour. Machinery is no substitute for experience and craftsmanship; the essential qualities that, in my opinion, are best nurtured in and by communities.”

And these are the very communities that suffer most from the damage caused by so-called state of the art manufacturing processes; ONDyTEC and their partners are not just driving environmental sustainability, but also helping to establish a circular economy in the denim business.

“Without Innowwide, ONDyTEC would never have been able to do business in Morocco. The programme opened doors for us and helped us find like-minded people in our sector.” Francés

The Moroccan connection: Innowwide and cross-border collaboration

A circular business model also evidenced in how Francés has built and structured ONDyTEC: he co-owns the company with his wife and employees, and they fund it themselves entirely.

Francés prefers to grow the company gradually, carefully choosing to work only with those who share his vision.

At its inception, ONDyTEC provided consultancy services to other fabric manufacturers, but soon found that although most liked the idea of sustainability, many were unable or unwilling to carry out necessary strategies to their supply chains in the long term.

By participating in an Innowwide project, Francés has since found like-minded people who are and who do. Innowwide’s funding has allowed him to develop a growing partnership with, for example, the Moroccan Denim and Fashion Cluster and the first fruits of their collaboration are already available in test markets.

The solution to pollution: car windows and rock pigments

ONDyTEC now partners with other organisations to manufacture denim garments of their own. Their patented eco-friendly denim dye uniquely uses recycled polyvinyl butryal (rPVB) recovered from car window glass as a binding agent to apply fine natural rock pigments, such as indigo dye, to fibre. It eliminates the need for hazardous chemicals and so greatly reduces water pollution and consumption, as well as avoiding the need for investment in expensive and complex machinery.

Eco-friendly denim dye also produces a high degree of finish and enjoys another advantage in that it particularly lends itself to laser detailing and decoration.

But some big brand owners in the denim industry remain reluctant, despite their innovative nature. In a market that thrives on authenticity and tradition, sustainability has not gained much traction yet. For now, investment in marketing slogans like “traditionally stone-washed bootcut jeans” may still offer more immediate financial returns.

“Every business has a choice to make. We can choose the path of endless growth whatever the cost, or we can commit to what we need to do now to sustain what we have. I certainly know where I want to go.” Francés

Natural fit (denim)

Like some sort of fabric whisperer, Francés’ passion is infectious and rubs off on those around him. The fact that he has personal firsthand experience in every aspect of his trade, from weaving, dyeing and finishing, to running both a business and an industry institute is part of it, but there’s something more: a sense of calm, and despite his abundant energy, a sense of contentment also.

Asked if there is anything that he particularly likes to do outside of ONDyTEC, he says that for him life is work and work is life. “When I’m not working with textiles,” he says, “then I like to travel and meet people who are.”

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Posted 1 July 24