This past August I had the incredible opportunity to visit one of our Kordal partners in Guatemala and to meet the magic-makers and innovators behind some of our most popular woven styles! The New Denim Project is a textile manufacturer based in Guatemala City who is committed to closed-loop production practices, uniting technology and ecology in the production of textiles in order to maintain their commitment to quality and environmental and social responsibility. Their methods are based on eliminating the concept of “waste,” giving every part of the process a purpose.
Arianne Engelberg, Creative Director of The New Denim Project, sat down to share a bit of the company's history with me as well as Guatemala's history with textiles, and then took me on a tour of the facility to learn more about their innovative practices!
So far at Kordal Studio, we have worked with The New Denim Project to upcycle two kinds of materials for our collections...
1) UPCYCLED DENIM: Pre-consumer denim scraps from local factories. This is what we used to produce our SS18 Keaton Blazers and Alex Pants, as well as our web-exclusive Denim Jumpsuits and Quilted Jackets for FW18!
For the upcycled denim, the process begins with pre-consumer denim scraps from the cut and sew process, gathered from local factories. The scraps are sorted by hand, separating paper scraps, staples, tape, and other non-fiber materials from the denim pieces which are then sent out to get reprocessed into fiber and returned to The New Denim Project's facilities in large bales.
The reprocessed fibers are then carded (a method of combing the fibers so they all go in the same direction to create a higher quality yarn), spun into thick roving, and then 6-8 ends of the thick roving gets combined and carded again to make a thinner roving. Below you can see the next step, where the thinner roving is hooked up to their machinery for open ended spinning (creating yarn without a spindle), which spins the roving into a fine yarn and onto cones.
2) UPCYCLED CANVAS: Leftover cotton fiber deemed as “waste” from local farms. This is what we used to update the Keaton Blazer and Alex Pant for FW18, as well as to develop some really exciting new styles -- hello Utility Jumpsuit and Reversible Quilted Jacket!! We even collaborated with TNDP to create a filler for our Quilted Jackets that was made out of denim scraps in order to avoid common synthetic fillers used for quilting.
The process for the upcycled canvas starts out a little differently. Rather than using denim scraps, The New Denim Project utilizes the leftover parts of the cotton seed/plant that other mills deem unusable or "too dirty." These fibers are then thoroughly cleaned through multiple processes in order to separate the cotton from the dirt and non-fiber parts, and then that "waste" is donated to local farmers who use it as fertilizer -- and swear by it! You can see this in the above right photo, where the cotton fluff is first cleaned by hand before going through machinery to clean it again, and at the bottom is all the dirt and "waste" from this initial cleaning process.
The steps following the cleaning are the same as the second half of the upcycled denim process -- the fibers are fluffed and carded, spun into thick roving, and then multiple ends of the thick roving are combined and carded again to make a thinner roving before getting hooked up to their machinery and spun into a fine yarn and onto cones.
And because the cotton fibers for this process come from multiple different factories around the area, this means that there can be discrepancies in the "natural" color (some can be more white or more yellow) and also in the percentage of flecks in the final production of the fabric depending on which bale(s) of fiber are processed. So in a way, each production run of the upcycled canvas has its own unique personality!
Once the fibers for both the upcycled denim and the upcycled canvas are processed into cones of yarn, these cones are then ready to be hooked up to the looms for weaving. This is a very intricate and time-consuming process that is still done by hand today, where each end of yarn must be threaded through little metal "eyes" to hold each end in place to set up the warp (vertical strands which are parallel to the selvedge edge of the final fabric) for the weaving process. So crazy!
Once the looms are set up, the actual weaving of the fabric is automated, with a technician who checks the looms in case any issues come up. It is truly such an amazing process! You can learn more about the process and The New Denim Project on their website, and check in on our Instagram stories @kordalstudio to see videos from my tour and the making of the magic!
Huge thanks to Arianne Engelberg and Jessica Marchina from The New Denim Project for all your kindness and for sharing your knowledge! We're so excited to be partnering with great thinkers and shakers and can't wait to make another trip out to Guate soon ;)
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Algodones Mayas was founded 26 years ago by Luisa's parents with a goal of preserving the Guatemalan culture, the land, it's natural colors and motifs. To do this they grow and cultivate native pre-hispanic colored cotton. The thread derived from their cotton does not go through any dyeing process. They preserve 100% of the plant's natural colors: brown Ixcaco, raw white and jade green.
Over the past seven years it's been such a gift to see how our little brand has grown and evolved. From launching a Kickstarter project back in 2012 to quitting my freelance gigs a few years later to work on Kordal full time and hiring our first team member Jia Yee, we've reached milestones I couldn't have imagined. I'm still pinching myself that on November 30th, 2019 we opened the doors of our very own store.