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Interviews
Interview: Ralph Tharpe
October 3. 2018
In his 40 years in the cotton textile industry, Ralph Tharpe has worn many hats at some of the denim industry’s most established companies. His career has spanned product development, technical design, dyeing and finishing and even marketing for companies such as Cone Mills Corp., Artistic Fabric Mills and American Denimatrix. Now, Ralph is focusing on commercializing a patent-pending process for dyeing yarn and denim with indigo foam, which he says will conserve water and could ultimately result in huge cost savings for the industry.

+ How do you define innovation?

Innovative companies create value where it did not exist before. Because our resources are not infinite, we should evaluate innovations to see if the value they create is really worth all the resources consumed.

+ What is innovative about indigo foam and what is your dream for it?

Interesting you should phrase your question that way, because we are changing the name of our company from Indigo Mill Designs to Indigo Foam Technologies. We have proven that we can dye without added reducer (hydrosulfite), without added caustic (sodium hydroxide), and without washing the yarn before or after dyeing. The process will save the industry hundreds of millions of dollars. The earth will also benefit because of all the water savings. My dream is that all indigo should be pre-reduced without chemicals and that all indigo dyed fabrics should bear the IndigoZERO™ trademark.

+ What is one hurdle to innovation and how do you combat it?

Skeptics who control risk-taking are the biggest hurdle. Other stumbling blocks can include licensing, exclusivity, patents, etcetera. It’s all about capital allocation versus risk. Building a business that can compete by doing the same thing faster or cheaper is easier to finance than taking a risk on something new.

+ Who is an innovation leader outside of the denim/garment industry and why do you find them inspiring?

I hope the audience is inspired by the Transformers event and can implement new ideas into their own work or even find new collaborators.

+ What company outside of the apparel industry is doing a good job in regards to Transparency?

The Israeli Water Commission (a government agency) and the Israeli company Netafim are responsible for incredible major innovations in the conservation of water to the benefit of the entire world. In 2014, I saw a sign at Lubbock airport in Texas that read “Grow More Jeans – Netafim”. I looked them up and found out they invented drip irrigation. Through their sustainability office, I met Seth Siegel who wrote the New York Times bestseller Let There Be Water. You can see his TED Talk here.
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