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Reused Cotton Can Thread Sustainability Throughout the Denim Supply Chain

The Global Climate Strike, in which millions of young people took to the streets in September to demand action on climate change, wasn’t a surprise to anyone in the denim industry who’s been paying attention.

As part of their quest to preserve their future, members of this younger generation are not only seeking more sustainable business practices but they’re also prepared to demand it with their voices and wallets. But while consumers are playing a large role in advancing sustainability, apparel companies are unsurprisingly overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done and the best path for them to move forward.

For one thing, there’s no one-size-fits all solution—every brand or manufacturer has different needs. To effect real change, brands, retailers and factories must be prepared to work together, whether it’s sharing of best practices or placing strategic pressure on different points in the supply chain.

“Collaboration is essential—no one can change the industry alone,” Rosey Cortazzi, global marketing director of textile manufacturer ISKO, said. “Informed industry players at all levels can result in greater demands for transparency, ultimately pushing everyone to commit to the making of greener supply and product chains.”

As the world’s go-to denim manufacturer, ISKO knows this mission well, having embarked on a responsible journey from the very start. The company has a culture of continuous improvement that supports its longstanding efforts in sustainable manufacturing. This includes teaming with the global non-profit Textile Exchange earlier this year to minimize the global impact of the textile industry in genuine and meaningful ways.

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Being part of the Textile Exchange network enables ISKO to develop more sustainable materials and production methods, and to maintain an open dialogue with all the different stakeholders, shaping and developing more responsible and efficient business models, Cortazzi said.

To get to the root of sustainable denim manufacturing, one must first start with the fibers. As part of this, ISKO has developed a new R-TWO platform in line with its broader recycling and reusing strategy. R-TWO includes textile concepts made with a mix or blend of reused cotton, obtained from production loss with Content Claim Standard Certification (CCS), and recycled polyester certified to Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) or Global Recycle Standard (GRS), depending on the percentage used.

For every 100 kilos of raw cotton processed into yarn, about 20 percent is lost in the process. ISKO collects the loss and returns it to the spinning process, thus obtaining re-used cotton yarn that is fully traced, documented and audited. The reused cotton is then blended with the certified recycled polyester to create R-TWO fabrics. Furthermore, unlike traditional recycling processes that require resource-wasting and chemical-heavy treatments, this re-used cotton does not. This pioneering procedure was developed by ISKO’s R&D and CSR team.

The total energy resources required to manufacture virgin polyester are higher than the energy required to produce recycled polyester, Cortazzi noted, and choosing the latter enables companies to reduce their energy and raw materials usage.

The reused cotton is also certified with the Content Claim Standard of Textile Exchange, and ISKO is very much in favor of a global certification program to boost accountability. “A global standard would be a benefit to brands, retailers and consumers, as it would allow the industry to be equally measured on their responsible denim practices,” Cortazzi said. “At ISKO, everything we do has been verified by a third party, and certifications play a big part in providing our customers with proof of our responsible credentials.”

By having these certifications, brands and manufacturers are able to more effectively communicate the benefits of their sustainable efforts.

“When it comes to responsible innovation, there is no finish line,” Cortazzi pointed out. “The industry still has a long way to go. We hope that government initiatives will start to put pressure on brands and retailers globally to raise the bar.”

With that said, she noted that ISKO is always seeking new ways it can improve sustainable manufacturing, and it believes R-TWO will help contribute meaningful progress. All of ISKO’s existing bestsellers can be converted to an R-TWO fabric, and the company intends for more than 50 percent of its collection to be made with the fabric. It’s also creating a full sustainability report to communicate ISKO’s achievements, targets, visions and policies surrounding sustainable and ethical manufacturing to its customers.

Cortazzi said the company has also been encouraged by the progress they’ve seen throughout the industry.

“We’re pleased to see that responsible fashion is becoming more of a priority for many brands and retailers,” she said, “and that the industry is becoming more transparent.”

Click to learn more about ISKO.