Posted by Matt Register

Dr. Dean Ethridge, Research Professor at Texas Tech University, joins us to talk about a new process of dying denim that is resource efficient and economically beneficial.

Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.

Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to the show, Texas Business Radio, I’m your host, Matt Register, Jay Curry had to step out, he’s gonna join us here shortly. In the meantime, we’re gonna talk to a professor out at Texas Tech University out in Lubbock, that is in the process of commercializing a process that may revolutionize the blue jean industry, of all things. Dr. Dean Ethridge is a research professor there at Texas Tech. Dr. Ethridge, are you there?

Dr. Ethridge: I’m here.

Matt Register: Talk to me a little bit about what you do there at Texas Tech.

Dr. Ethridge: Okay. The institute within this project is being done is called the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute. A very important dimension of our mission revolves around adding value to the cotton fibers that are produced in very large quantities out here where Texas Tech is located.
Matt Register: Sure.

Dr. Ethridge: We’ve been doing this since the beginning of the university. We were actually a part of the charter of Texas Tech University back in 1923, when all the leadership here, or about 90% of the leadership on the Texas plains, was agricultural leadership, and these people had a vision about their customers for their fibers. And they wanted to have this institution to institutionalize the capability to add value to their fibers.
Matt Register: Well, and this is very interesting, and a little bit of background on the industry for our listeners. When the process of dying, this indigo dying of material, is very water intensive, is a pretty nasty process, is it not?

Dr. Ethridge: Yes it is. Of course, the dye they use for denim jeans is called indigo. It’s an ancient dye, one of the oldest dyes known to man. It’s been manufactured synthetically for well over a hundred years, and it’s a perfectly safe substance. It’s even used for food coloring. So the indigo dye product itself is considered highly sustainable, but denim is being challenged partly because of its enormous volume, and partly because the dyeing method is not clean. The dyeing method involves the use of huge amounts, and the use of harmful sulfur compounds that require costly effluent treatments.

So this project fits perfectly within the current focus on manufacturing sustainability. This technology eliminates the sulfur compounds. It reduces the water use by more than 90%, and it results in a zero discharge of wastewater.

Matt Register: Well, it’s quite remarkable, and what it is you’ve been able to achieve on there. Now this was funded a Walmart grant, is that accurate?

Dr. Ethridge: That is correct, that is correct. The Walmart corporation formed the Walmart Foundation, and it established within this the U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, did this is a partnership with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and its purpose was to try to get some solutions to challenges that many companies face with establishing and growing the U.S. manufacturing. It had several categories stipulated, one of these was textiles and apparel, and that’s within the paradigm that we were chosen.

And the Walmart, as everyone probably is aware, is a dominant seller of apparel and other textiles, one of the largest sellers in the world of blue jeans, and they are very concerned that they keep their supply chain together so that it involves an integral part being U.S. manufacturing of denim, so this fit very well within the paradigm that they had for this U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund.
Matt Register: Well this is absolutely fascinating. We’re on the phone with Dr. Dean Ethridge out of Texas Tech, who has developed a new technology for the dyeing of denim and blue jeans that really could mean that a lot of that industry gets brought back to the United States.

Matt Register: Talk to me briefly, Dr. Ethridge, about the recent history in the United States of the textile industry, ’cause it’s been decimated with globalism. Is that accurate?
Dr. Ethridge: That is correct. Beginning about the mid ’90s, beginning around 1995, when the WTO came into effect and China came on to the scene, being admitted to full membership in the WTO, has resulted in absolute decimation of the U.S. textile manufacturing sector. Prior to this era, the industry was consuming 13 to 14 million bales of cotton every year, and it’s currently consuming about 3.3 million bales.

Matt Register: Wow.

Dr. Ethridge: That illustrates the nature of damage that’s been done.

Matt Register: Well, but what this does, and make sure I have this straight, what this does, you know China has lower labor costs, they have roughly the same process for doing it over in China, but their labor cost is significantly lower. But this new process reduces the manufacturing cost such that we can overcome our increase in labor cost, and economically produce this stuff in the United States.

Dr. Ethridge: That’s correct, and the costs that are imposed on U.S. manufacturer are much greater than they are in China, because they don’t have the stringent environmental controls that we do here. The cleaning up of the wastewater is a very expensive process here in the United States, whereas in China and in much of the Asian subcontinent, they simply are not cleaning it up, so that results in significant environmental damage, but it gives them a competitive advantage in the global market.

Matt Register: Yeah, no doubt, and some would even say an unfair competitive advantage. Now talk to me about where in the process you guys are, ’cause you’re talking to some guys about getting this in the market fairly quickly, right?

Dr. Ethridge: Yes, we’re trying to move as quickly as we can. And we’ve had sufficient success with our research project, that we’ve got substantial interest being shown to us by the industry, and I’m talking the industry throughout the marketing chain, from the manufacture through the garment suppliers of the world. And we’ve had investment in the research from industry that’s been put on top of the Walmart grant, and we are doing significant testing and evaluation for a half-dozen manufacturers right now.

Matt Register: Now, this is interesting, and this is coming from Texas Tech, from deep within their Department of Agriculture, right, which is they’re trying to find more efficient ways of producing textiles and other things, keeping jobs here in the United States. It’s very fascinating. What is the easiest way, Dr. Ethridge, for somebody to learn more about this should somebody want to learn more?

Dr. Ethridge: Okay, I would suggest that at this point in time, the simplest thing would be to focus on the Walmart Foundation, because they are in the process now of … we’re nearing the end of the project with them, and they have been here and done significant videoing and press release preparation. They’re intending to put this out in early January, is my understanding. And I think this would be a good spot.

They can also come to the Texas Tech website, because our communications has also done videos that explain the process, and indicate the potentials that we think are there.

Matt Register: Well, absolutely fascinating stuff. Mr. Producer make sure we get links to all this, and we’ll have it linked right there from directly to it. Dr. Dean Ethridge, research professor at Texas Tech University, thank you very much for joining us.

Dr. Ethridge: Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

Matt Register: No problem. We do have to pay a couple of our bills, though. We’ll be back right after this. Don’t go anywhere, you don’t even have time to go anywhere. We’re just getting warmed up. We’ll be back right after this.

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About the Author
Matt Register

Matt Register

In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.

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