Saitex has reached a new height that makes it truly unique within the denim industry: It recently became the only B Corp apparel factory headquartered in Asia.
The denim manufacturer, based outside Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, has achieved the equivalent of a marathon in the race to sustainable manufacturing. Developed as a way in which to measure companies’ efforts to operate sustainably, transparently and ethically in a more holistic manner, B Corp certification indicates to consumers that the products they are purchasing were not only made with the quality of the ingredients in mind, said Andy Fyfe, senior manager of B Corp growth and activation, but also the lives of the people who made them.
Unlike many other, more siloed certification processes, B Corp certification measures a company’s complete social and environmental performance, accounting for such things as its impact on employees, the environment and its customers. It requires end-to-end transparency of a business, and, perhaps most distinctively, it addresses the fiduciary duty of directors.
“We have long believed that meaningful change was only going to come from one of three sources: consumers, corporations or governments,” Saitex founder and CEO Sanjeev Bahl said. “While the tide is shifting on the consumer side and we seem to be evolving on the governmental end, the business community is recognizing the benefits very quickly.
“What we created at Saitex is good business—it increases efficiencies, it minimizes consumption and waste while remaining profitable,” Bahl added. “The unexpected benefits of employee morale and a highly effective authentic communication [are an] asset for any corporation.”
There are three “pillars” in achieving B Corp certification: an impact assessment, a series of specific legal requirements, and a multi-step verification process with an 80-point bar. Companies must undergo an incredibly rigorous application process that’s meant to not just indicate where its achieving success, but also to commit the company to continuous improvement by incorporating it into its legal structure.
It’s an extremely arduous process, and it’s one that begins well before applying, Bahl explained, with many application questions forcing the denim manufacturer to rethink its previous approaches to various actions and decisions.
For example, one certification question had Saitex re-examine its work environment for disabled employees, spurring the company to make significant—and previously unconsidered—updates to its environment. This social impact is particularly important to the company, as the main beneficiaries of its B Corp certification will be its own employees.
“That is the process of B Corp,” Bahl noted. “The questions make you question yourself, take on the responsibility, and then go forth bettering every action.”
Saitex, which counts Everlane, Madewell and G Star Raw among its brand partners, scored 105.3 on the B Corp’s index out of 200. To put that in perspective, most ordinary businesses would score around 50 points, said Fyfe, and companies must reach at least 80 points to be certified.
“It’s very, very difficult just to get up to 80 points,” he noted.
Companies keep their certification for three years and must reapply in order to receive a new score. Saitex is determined to maintain its high score, Bahl said, as it signifies that the company can be profitable while effecting positive environmental and social change.
“We are on the path for changing perceptions of how dirty our industry can be,” Bahl said.
Having this certification not only widens Saitex’s network to other sustainably minded business partners, but it also becomes an effective communication tool to increase consumer awareness, he added.
As sustainable manufacturing becomes less of a goal and more of a mandate, Saitex’s factory could serve as a wish list for any company seeking green inspiration. For one thing, its onsite water and waste treatment facility has been upgraded to increase its capactity to turn sludge into non-hazardous waste and clean the water used in production that is then re-inserted in the system.
In addition, the facility runs on renewable and clean energy from solar panels and energy savings from air drying, natural lighting, investments in laser distressing, the use of ozone washing that doesn’t require water, and automation across the process to reduce waste.
For another, 98 percent of the water used is recycled—that last 2 percent is lost due to evaporation—and it air dries denim to save 85 percent of the energy required during traditional drying methods. Furthermore, a full 100 percent of the steam in the laundry is generated with a biomass fuel, reducing fossil-fuel emissions and potential landfill waste.
When it comes to denim design, meanwhile, the company makes use of such sustainability-advancing technologies as laser treatments and ozone washing to reduce both chemical and water use. Automated robotic processes for laser, spraying and brushing increase efficiency and accuracy, thereby reducing production waste, while its washing machines have been retrofitted to include spray systems that reduce water usage by 90 percent.
Finally, the company’s REKUT business unit stores 100 percent of the factory’s fabric waste and manufactures it into tiles for floors, facades and furniture.
All of these efforts and technologies combine to model Saitex as an example of the promise and potential of sustainable apparel manufacturing. And as consumer desire to make responsible purchases increases, it’s important that it’s not just the brands holding these certifications but their value chains as well, said Fyfe.
Bahl, too, remains optimistic that transparency will become common practice as consumers begin to demand as much from their fashion as they currently do from their food.
“The emergence of organic and fair trade foods really allowed consumers to make more conscious, more responsible selections. Transparency is that for the apparel industry; it will be the currency of marketing campaigns that will make brands, factories and suppliers proof points for customer loyalty,” he said.
“At the moment, customers who are looking to support good causes through the purchases they make don’t have access to enough verified data, and we believe that if verified data was more accessible, people would make more sustainable choices,” Bahl concluded.