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Orta’s Denim Route Paves a Path for Improved Supply Chain Traceability

The path to sustainability is a long and complicated one, and Orta Anadolu is ready for the journey.

The Turkish denim manufacturer is responding to the industry-wide call for better traceability by mapping out its supply chain—literally. It recently bowed the Denim Route, a supplier map detailing the places where it sources cotton, dyestuff, chemicals and various fibers. It currently lives on the Orta Blu digital platform and allows users to hover over a category and identify the country of origin.

But it’s much more than a flashy illustration. The Denim Route serves as the foundation for a traceable supply chain and closely aligns with Orta’s larger transparency pledge that “Orta is always open.”

The route complements other transparency initiatives the mill announced in recent years, such as the app and its Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tool. Orta has integrated the Denim Route into both initiatives, sharing three years’ worth of LCA  data related to each fabric through the app. By scanning the QR code on a product’s hangtag, users can pull up LCA data, which now includes the fiber origin of each fabric beginning with its latest collection.

“Transparency today is more than just a label that says this garment is ‘ethically-made’ or ‘sustainably-sourced,’ or just showing the pictures of one factory you are working with on your website,” Zennure Danisman, Orta’s marketing and wash manager, told Rivet. “Transparency of your sourcing down to the very first step of your supply chain, your process and the people you work with is becoming a consumer mandate.”

While traceability is a common demand today, the need for a modern supplier map dates back to ancient times. According to Danisman, the Denim Route was inspired by the Silk Road, a route that was created in 130 B.C. to cultivate trade between China and the West. The city of Kayseri, Turkey—the center of Orta’s manufacturing facilities—played a vital role in the trading route.

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Today, Orta isn’t alone in answering the call for traceability. Tech companies are setting out to create advancements in tracing solutions, and the denim industry in particular has begun to invest accordingly. Earlier this year, Melbourne-based Nobody Denim discussed its partnership with FibreTrace, a nanotech tracking system powered by a blockchain-based platform. Tracing fibers are mixed into cotton fibers so the resulting fabric can be scanned throughout the supply chain to capture data, which consumers can later access by scanning a QR code or alternative method based on the brand’s choosing.

Similarly, Boyish Jeans was an early adopter of the Retraced plugin, which educates consumers about a product’s journey, the production processes needed to create each item, and environmental implications for all products that are mapped out on the platform. Boyish founder and creative director Jordan Nodarse aims to have the label’s entire supply chain mapped out imminently, but has said that doing so takes significant time and effort.

According to Danisman, one of the greatest challenges to tracing the denim supply chain lies in the fiber stage. Currently, the Denim Route categorizes fiber sourcing by type, including natural, recycled, regenerated cellulosic and synthetic fibers—each one carrying its own set of nuances.

“The supply network of cotton is very complex due to the number of parties involved in its trading—farmers, traders, ginners, companies, cooperatives, etc. Here, labeled and certified cotton plays an important role as it is controlled, traced and verified by a third party,” Danisman said. “And of course, it is hard to trace not only cotton, but every input of our creations starting from the cradle.”

She added that the key to overcoming these challenges is to work closely with suppliers that “share our vision of creating a better denim world.”

So far, she noted that partners are welcoming the initiative with open arms—and it may be in their best interest to do so, as a company’s credibility is now so closely tied to its transparency efforts. “Transparency is more than just sharing the best practices,” Danisman said. “It is about a new level of openness, communication and accountability across the whole denim supply chain and with the person who is buying and wearing that pair of jeans. And our industry really needs this new level of openness.”

Though there are no updates currently in the works for the Denim Route, Orta “remains open” to adding enhancements as needed. “This is the first step for The Denim Route, and it will continue to grow with our material world,” said Danisman. “Our practices will be open.”