In our collective zeal for new, newer and newest personal technologies, few have stopped to consider that technological waste would quickly become one of the largest sources of pollution in the world. But perhaps more shocking is the impact the apparel business has had on the overall health of our planet. Indeed, a November 2019 Business Insider story reported the bad news: “the fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined.”
But there are forces within fashion who are determinedly working to reverse that reality. To wit, BlackBook recently published a story about the efforts of India’s Secteur 6 with “regenerative fashion.” And textile manufacturer / distributor ISKO™, the largest producer of denim in the world, has recently launched R-TWO™, an extensive “reused and recycled” program, with the intent of cutting a significant percentage of waste out of the supply chain.
Since it can be difficult to know where to find the most accurate information, in order to become a genuinely educated consumer, we went right to the source—posing seven pointed questions to ISKO™ Senior Digital Marketing & Communications Executive, Burcu Almali.
As expected, we learned a lot.
What exactly is “sustainable denim”?
As the industry still appears to be facing a lot of “greenwashing,” it is important to take a stance in order to achieve the implementation of definite best practices, that champion accountability and transparency.
At ISKO, we prefer to speak of “responsibility” rather than sustainability, which is a much broader concept that considers both environmental and social aspects. From this point of view, we believe that responsible denim is the result of a set of actions applied to every single process throughout the production, to make the end product environmentally and socially responsible.
When it comes to responsibility there is no finish line, but ISKO is constantly looking for ways to do things better. The ISKO Responsible Innovation™ approach aims at pushing the unlimited possibilities of denim, while promoting a holistic, responsible mindset.
How much waste is there currently in the denim supply chain?
Waste is a global problem affecting all industries, and the denim supply chain is no exception.
The Waste Hierarchy sets out the order of priority for managing resources based on their environmental impacts. This guides all ISKO’s thinking and actions, as the avoidance of every kind of waste is always the priority. Where the creation of waste is currently unavoidable, ISKO will strive to reuse, recycle, or recover wasted resources as well as energy. When disposal is the only viable option, ISKO manages it in the most environmentally responsible way possible.
On the other hand, the top priority of the Waste Hierarchy is ultimately to “use less.” Reuse, recycle, reprocess and recovery are all key actions for a better future and a better use of resources. Using more than what is actually needed is certainly one of the biggest challenges that the apparel supply chains face; thus, reduction in raw material sourcing must become the norm, and a key parameter in the supply chain.
How is ISKO specifically addressing that?
ISKO’s R-TWO™ is a step in the right direction, as it effectively helps to decrease the usage of raw materials, improving sourcing efficiency. When raw cotton is processed into yarn, 10% of it is typically expected to be lost as waste. At this stage ISKO differentiates itself, continually tracing and monitoring this loss and reusing the cotton by adding it back into the spinning process.
Recycling processes require treatments involving chemicals and energy, so the utilization of reused cotton is truly pioneering for recovering our own loss without any additional treatments.
Describe the R-TWO™ concept? Can you detail how the recycling works?
R-TWO™ relies on a blend of reused cotton and recycled polyester, improving sourcing efficiency throughout the supply chain.
As pointed out above, ISKO collects the raw cotton from its own yarn production and prevents it from becoming waste. It is then added back into the spinning process, obtaining cotton that is fully traced, documented and audited. This verification process has been invented by ISKO in partnership with its yarn supplier Sanko, offering full clarity into the traceability of reused cotton from field to fabric. It is also certified with the Content Claim Standard—or CCS—of the Textile Exchange.
Certified recycled materials are then blended with the reused cotton to create R-TWO™. Recycled polyester comes from clear plastic bottles or, alternatively, it can come from other certified waste. In either case the source material is collected, sorted, stripped of labels and caps, and cleaned. This material is ground into plastic pellets that can then be re-spun into new fiber filaments, which are finally blended with the reused cotton to create R-TWO™ fabrics.
What ultimately sets it apart?
A major asset of employing recycled polyester is the energy required to produce it, which is less than the amount required to manufacture virgin polyester. By using more recycled polyester, ISKO effectively reduces its dependence on petroleum as a raw material, ultimately reducing the overall carbon footprint of ISKO™ fabrics.
Depending on the content percentages, for the recycled polyester ISKO can provide either the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) or Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certifications, that both track the recycled raw material throughout the supply chain to verify its integrity.
How do you see the denim industry involving in the near future to accommodate more sustainable concepts?
We are happy to notice a much more open attitude to practices of responsible innovation. Nevertheless, this is an ongoing process—one should never stand still, as there is always room for improvement. Unfortunately, not everything we read or hear is true, which makes it extremely difficult for everyone to make informed choices without falling victim to greenwashing.
To prevent this from happening, we must call for accountability at all levels of the production process, making sure that all industry players are well informed. With a greater demand for transparency we can push everyone to commit to the making of greener supply and product chains. To the same end, it is extremely important to work on the development of a global standard where the industry can be measured and assessed fairly.
What can everyday people do to be more conscious fashion shoppers?
Sustainability is an issue that we should all care about with no exceptions, whether we are players involved in the production process of a pair of jeans, or the person who’s going to buy them. Every single person counts in this process and needs to be accountable.
There are for sure a few steps we could all consider in order to start making responsible choices with our denim. A good idea is to look for brands that have clear responsible strategies and are transparent about their policies on people and the environment. Also, be sure to look for quality, as denim not only lasts longer but also improves with age.