Denim has been part of the consumers’ lifestyle for more than a century now. Earlier, the denim fabric was only used to produce blue jeans. However, with the paradigm shift in the fashion industry, this rugged cotton fabric has taken the shape of shirts, jackets, bags, facemasks, and other accessories. This has encouraged various industry players to expand their product portfolio in the denim finishing agent market.

Type of Denim Finishing Process

The denim finishing process is the most critical part of the denim industry. The fabric undergoes various finishing processes to enhance the durability, reduce the shrinkage, and avoid the wrap during the cycle of the product. Moreover, to improve its appearance and bestow the fabric with an inventive wash, the finishing process is necessary.

After weaving the cotton fabric, the denim is chemically and mechanically treated to provide dimensional stability, and high-quality to the consumers. The finishing process of the denim undergoes through various stages which are explained below:

  • Singeing

In this process, the gas flame is used to burn off the tiny fibers on the fabric and yarn. During the process, the fabric is passed over the gas flame or heat copper plates rapidly. This is an important pretreatment process to smoothen and clear the fabric surface. If not done, it can result in improper denim print patterns and increase the risk of pilling.

  • Preshrinking

Most of the cheap garments shrink considerably just one or two wash. Generally, denim construction is dimensionally unstable after weaving and washing; therefore, to avoid that, it requires a preshrinking or sanforizing process. The fabric that does not go through the preshrinking process, it witnesses 10-15% just after the first few washes. However, after the process, it reduces to 1%-2%.

The mechanical finishing process involves stretching of the fabric before washing to adjust the dimensional parameters and minimizes the shrinkage during the garment production.

  • Calendaring

Calendaring is a mechanical process in which denim passes through rollers or calendars at high or moderate temperatures. The objective of this process is to expose the fabric to heat, moisture, and pressure to impart a luster and bestow it a smooth surface. 

In this process, the hardened steel roller rotates at a high speed and produces a glazing look when it comes into contact with the roller.

  • Mercerizing

Mercerization is a chemical process in which the fabric is treated with sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution. This is done to enhance its luster and improve dye affinity. Furthermore, it increases the fiber strength, resistance to shrinkage, and also prevents the dyes from completely penetrating the fibers. The fabric is generally immersed in the caustic solution between 45 seconds and 5 minutes.

The popularity of this process has reduced over the years as it considerably increases the cost and time of denim production.

  • Softening

The pretreatment processes remove the softness of the denim; thus, to regain the softness, it undergoes a softening process. Softeners are added during the process to enhance the fiber strength and increase the abrasion resistance. Well, it is one of the crucial after treatment processes of denim fabrics.

  • Coating

To improve the surface properties and to cover the denim with the chemical dyes, the coating materials are added to the fabric. This includes plastic films, resins, polyurethanes, metal powders, latex, rubbers, and metal powders, among others. The coating process is done to produce distinguished effects on the denim and various methods such as knife coating, screen coating, and foam coating is used in the industry.

Common Denim Finishing Agents Used in The Industry

  1. Bleaching agent

Sodium hypochlorite (KMnO4) is one of the conventional bleaching agents used during the washing of the denim fabric. It is used to decolorize the indigo from the fabric and also to minimize the yellowing after the wash of the fabric. However, due to the harshness of the chemical, environment ethical fashion companies are moving to different methods. While it not only deteriorates the environment but also reduces the strength of the denim.

  1. Softeners

As discussed above, softeners are used to impart the luster and enhance the softness of the denim fabric. However, the agents that are generally used in the softening process include non-ionic softeners, anionic softeners, cationic softeners, silicone softeners, and polyethylene-based softeners, among others.

  • Anionic Softeners: They are typically produced from the condensation of fatty acids. This anionic finishing agent has prominent rewetting properties and has good lubricating characteristics.

  • Cationic Softeners: They are generally quaternary ammonium salts, amino esters, and amino amides. These cationic softeners impart fluffy handle and are durable for multiple washes.

  • Silicone Softeners: These softeners are insoluble in water and thus are applied after the emulsification process. They have good lubricating, elastic resilience, abrasion resistance, and tear strength properties, among others. Its softening capability comes from siloxane and rotation of Si-O bonds.

  • Polyethylene-based softeners: This softener is stable to extreme pH solutions and is compatible with resins. Furthermore, they improve the strength, sewability, and abrasion resistance of the denim fabric.

  1. Resins Finishing Agent

Resin finishing is done to cross-link the surface on the fabric which improves the draping property, strength, comfort, and provides resistance to wearing and tearing of the denim fabric. Moreover, it also imparts a crease-resistance property to the fabric. The common resin finishing agents that are used in the industry are urea-formaldehyde, dimethyl dihydroxy ethylene urea (DMDHEU), and tetramethyl acetylene diUrea (TMADU), among others.

Currently, industry players are focusing on producing resin agents that have less formaldehyde content and which requires no additional catalyst during the resin finishing process.

  1. Defoamers

Antifoams or defoamers are used as a finishing agent during the processing of the denim fabric. Usually, the foam results in the entanglement of the garments which can disrupt the functioning of the machines. Moreover, it can uneven washing of the fabric. Therefore, antifoams are used to provide smooth functioning of the process. There are various defoamers such as organic oils, silicone oils, organomodified siloxanes, and hydrophobic solids, among others.

  1. Enzymes

Enzyme finishing agents are organic in nature which has helped them to gain major market traction in the denim industry. This type of finishing agent provides a sustainable solution by saving time, energy, and money. There are a few types of enzyme finishing agents such as lacasse, amylase, and cellulose. Amongst the three, lacasse has become the most popular enzyme finishing agent in the denim fabric world.

Laccases' are multi-copper enzymes that act as a catalyst for the oxidation reactions of phenols and the reduction of oxygen to water. This type of enzyme is present in vascular plants and fungi. Unlike KMnO4 which is hazardous to the environment, this enzyme is simpler to control and results in effective washing similar to the conventional beaching agent.

  1. Anti-back staining agents

Anti-back staining agents are utilized to prevent the deposition of the indigo dyes during the wet processing. This means that they produce a fading or a bluing effect on the denim. If they are mixed with the cellulose enzyme, it creates a salt and pepper effect on the fabric. Most of the anti-back staining agents available in the market are compatible with the enzymes and used for the biopolisihing of the denim garments.

Amongst all types, the enzyme segment is anticipated to exhibit higher CAGR growth during the forecast period. Meanwhile, the anti-back staining agent accounted for a significant market share in 2019 and is expected to grow at a robust rate in the coming years.

4 Trends of Denim Finishing Agents Market

According to Statista, the denim fabric industry was worth around USD 90 Billion in 2019 and is expected to surpass USD 105 Billion by the year 2023. This industry is witnessing several new manufacturers every year especially in emerging economies owing to the rising demand and population which is eventually propelling the demand for denim finishing agents in the market.

As per the detailed report published by Growth Market Reports, the global denim finishing agent market was valued around USD 1.46 Billion in 2019 and is expected to surpass USD 2.2 Billion by the year 2027, expanding at a CAGR of at 6.7% during the forecast period 2020-2027.

Here below are the four trends that are propelling the growth of the market:

  1. The advent of nanotechnology in the textile industry

The application of nanotechnology has laid out quite a revolution in the denim industry. The use of nanocoatings imparts the denim fabric with various benefits such as water repellence, wrinkle-free property, UV protection, self-cleaning property, anti-static property, and flame retardancy, among others. Moreover, it increases the durability of the fabric without affecting the quality and end-consumer experience. In 2015, Nano-Tex introduced nanotechnology-based wrinkle-free treatment which also improves the strength and alternative to deteriorating the conventional process.

According to the data published on Technical Textile.net, the usage of nanotechnology is expected to create a trillion-dollar industry in the next decade. Moreover, the implementation of modern technologies is anticipated to create new market avenues across the globe. Thus, these technologies are going to introduce new denim finishing agents in the market and offer lucrative opportunities to new entrants and emerging players.

  1. Eco-friendly Denim

According to Levis Strauss, around 3,781 liters of water are used to make one pair of 501® jeans and emits 33.4kg of CO2 during its lifetime. Therefore, to reduce the water and carbon footprint, the fashion industry is swiftly shifting their production methodologies to minimize water usage and pollution. This has increased the demand for eco-friendly denim finishing agents which are not hazardous to human and the environment. Therefore, the demand for ecological solutions is expected to take change the market dynamics in the foreseeable future.

As per the data published in Vogue, the demand for “sustainable denim” has increased by 193% as compared to last year. Meanwhile, the demand for denim has increased by over 11% year-over-year. Brands are introducing sustainable solutions to stand themselves out in the competitive space while attracting new consumers. The world’s leading denim brand Levis aims to produce 80% of its products using technologies that can reduce water consumption by almost 96% in the year 2020.

  1. The rise in the number of local players

The fashion industry has become highly competitive in nature. Various small industry players are venturing in the denim fashion industry and at least capture the local market. This has increased the demand for cost-effective denim finishing agents in the market. Emerging economies such as India and China are witnessing a high demand owing to the low manufacturing costs and low-cost laborers.

In 2019, the small and medium enterprise (SME) segment accounted for more than 50% of the market share. Local players are also venturing in the manufacturing of the counterfeit denim products which is further augmenting the growth of the market.

  1. Colors & Technologies.

Earlier, denim was considered a synonym to indigo color but in recent years, various brands have broken the stereotypes. Today, denim garments are available in various colors which have led to the introduction of new denim finishing agents in the market. The changing fashion trends are also spurring market growth.

The new denim washing technology in the market has surged the demand for these agents across the globe. For instance, the ozone fading and reactive fading technologies are further augmenting the market growth.

Impact of COVID-19 on the Industry.

Even though denim has become an absolute staple in the fashion industry, therefore are certain factors that have negatively impacted and also created lucrative opportunities in the market. One of them is the pandemic which has persuaded the population to stay in pajamas and other daily comforts. This has even reduced the sales of denim jeans massively.

The coronavirus crisis had halted the production and disrupted the supplier chain across the globe. While the market is slowing pacing up the production, the demand for denim garments has dramatically plummeted since the beginning of 2020. According to the Levis Straus CEO Chip Berg, their sales plummeted by 57%. Meanwhile, many fashion houses have shut down their stores and filed bankruptcy. Thus, to rejuvenate their market, fashion industry players are focusing on creative business strategies and innovations.

Industry players are focusing on the manufacturing of the softer denim or light-weight denim which is expected to accelerate the demand for the specific finishing agents accordingly. Moreover, they are going to introduce anti-bacterial and eco-friendly denim to boost their sales. This, in turn, is speculated to create opportunities for the players in the denim finishing agents market.

Top 4 Companies in the Denim Finishing Agents Market

  • BASF SE

The American multinational company BASF SE has already a multitude of chemical products in its portfolio. BASF SE provides resin finishing products that consist of various crosslinking agents, additives, surfactants, and catalysts. It also offers hydrosulfite which acts as a reducing agent during the dyeing process.

In September 2019, the company introduced the ‘PolyTHF Inside’ brand its Denim Industry Development Trend Forum. PolyTHF (polytetrahydrofuran) is a spandex material that is generally used in denim garments. However, it loses its elasticity after going through the various process. Thus, to counter this issue, it has launched its product which also contributes to sustainable growth

  • Huntsman Corporation

The prominent chemical manufacturer introduced a protective agent against phenolic yellowing named STABILON®NPY. Most of the fabrics are prone to turn yellow when it comes in contact with phenolic antioxidants and packaging materials. Thus, to avoid that, Huntsman’s product will help to prevent the yellowing by blocking amino end-groups of polyamide fibers.

The company is focusing on the development of sustainable denim and its AVITERA® reactive dyeing technology has helped the company to increase its market share in the denim industry. It also offers products for the wet processing of textiles and has also introduced PHOBOTEX® RSY non-fluorinated durable repellant (DWR) to provide functional garments.

  • CHT Group

The Europe-based special chemical manufacturer company has a wide range of finishing agents. CHT Group has resin finishes and sanforising auxiliaries. Moreover, they have antistatics, hydrophilic agents, yarn lubricants, softeners, and water-repellent agents.

Recently, the company introduced a product line named organIQ which includes a biodegradable bleaching denim agent, an alternative for KMnO4. According to the CHT Group, its product results in the lowest water consumption and is free from heavy metals.

  • Rudolf

The chemical manufacturing company offers resin finishing agents and catalysts. For instance, their RUCON® DMO is a self-crosslinking resin finishing agent while RUCON® FAC is a low formaldehyde resin made up of cellulosic fibers and requires no catalysts. Rudolf has a list of products from sizing to the coating process which has helped the company to expand its market share in various regions.

Other industry players include The Dow Chemical Company, Denim Care Sdn Bhd, Pulcra Chemicals, Americos Industries, and Rudolf GmbH, among others.

Regional Market Outlook

Based on the geographical region, the market is segmented into North America, Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East & Africa, and Latin America. In 2019, the Asia Pacific region accounted for more than 40% of the market share. This market region is anticipated to offer lucrative opportunities owing to the presence of major denim manufacturing companies in emerging economies such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, and China, among others. The moguls of the fashion industry are expanding their production units which are opening new market avenues for the emerging players.