The past three decades have been eventful for Interloop, which over the course of its lifetime has grown to become one of the largest hosiery manufacturers in the world. The vertically integrated business is now a $300 million company that produces 700 million pairs of socks and tights annually for some of the world’s top brands and retailers. And now it’s looking to duplicate that success with denim.
The company branched into the category in 2018 when it built a denim facility from the ground up based on industry best practices. According to Dorothy McNee, Interloop’s business development manager, it was a natural next step for the Pakistan-based manufacturer.
“Venturing into denim was aligned with our diversification strategy,” McNee said. “Pakistan has also emerged as a key denim supplier due to its cotton-based agriculture and overall style innovation in denim fabrications.”
Pakistan is indeed a key denim supplier, with business data platform Statista identifying the area as the leading exporter of denim fabric worldwide, particularly in exports of cotton-rich denim. It’s become the site from which many mills and manufacturers produce, and is now a ripe area for instituting ethical cotton cultivation. Both Soorty and Artistic Milliners have unveiled individual cotton initiatives that further promote Pakistan’s booming cotton supply, and Interloop is a major contributor to the Organic Cotton Accelerator, which supports local farmers. Though the country’s denim sector was hit especially hard during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s begun to make its comeback.
With the addition of Interloop’s denim factory, the company now has a total of seven facilities around the world, with locations in Pakistan, North America, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Japan and China. It exclusively produces denim at its Pakistan facility.
Taking notes from its experience in hosiery and other areas, Interloop designed its denim facility for optimal efficiency, packing the 600,000-square-foot factory with innovative measures and built-in systems for sustainability. McNee notes that, by building from the ground up, Interloop was able to make its denim facility both environmentally friendly and cost-effective—a seemingly contradictory duo.
“Conversations over the last few years have focused on how dirty the industry is, and how all of these denim mills and manufacturers are trying to fix the facility that they inherited,” she said. “So, the concept of building something from scratch is brilliant. It was researched heavily to determine best practices.”
The end result was a facility designed according to LEED Platinum Standards, the highest possible award. The facility is currently one of the largest apparel manufacturing facilities to receive the certification.
Through its innovative building design alone, the facility saves up to 50 percent water and more than 50 percent energy. According to McNee, material flow was integrated in an engineered approach to promote efficiency from cutting to finishing. Daylight is also maximized throughout the facility to further reduce the need for electricity.
But the company’s focus on sustainability isn’t contained to building design. It also carries over its people-first approach to its denim business, extending its legacy of fair wages and commitment to hiring permanent rather than temporary employees—a concept it considers a pervasive issue in the fashion industry.
“We challenge that norm, which means low attrition and highly motivated staff that creates a steady operation,” McNee said.
Though the company was more than prepared for the move to denim, the category brings with it a unique set of challenges compared to hosiery. Denim, according to Fahid Hussain, Interloop’s head of denim business, is a “completely different animal.”
“Denim is the most widely worn garment,” he said. “With denim, you have all of the dirty processes—washing, finishing, stone washing; all of the different fits that need to be controlled. It’s all about technique and meeting sustainability requirements.”
The Interloop factory uses a finishing system equipped with robots and lasers, eliminating the need for humans and therefore increasing efficiency and safety. Similar concepts are also used by other industry leaders such as Jeanologia, an Interloop partner whose Handman system renders 10,000 finished jeans in 24 hours with zero waste.
Armed with these best practices, Interloop is already flexing its denim muscles with global brands including Mustang, Diesel, Guess and NYDJ, and is in the process of adding more names to its lineup. It’s currently working on the latest Guess Jeans Redesign collection, which features denim made according to ambitious circularity requirements set by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Next up, Interloop is focusing on shortening lead times and investing in virtual sampling processes to increase efficiency and become even more sustainable. But according to McNee, the company’s sustainability quest is ongoing, and requires industry-wide collaboration.
“There is a limit where each one of us can impact, but collectively we can make a change,” she said.