Achieving full circularity is no easy feat in fashion. Denim mills need to approach sustainability through various channels, perhaps starting by taking a page out of Soorty’s playbook.
The vertically integrated denim manufacturer hosted its third open house event, “Design for Circularity,” at its New York City showroom this week.
“We’d really like to promote and propose a more transparent, integrated, traceable supply chain for the industry,” Ebru Debbağ, Soorty executive director of global sales and marketing, said of the event. “We all believe we’re at a tipping point in the industry and things are changing really fast. It’s really our passion and our mission to carry out this information to the whole industry; that’s how we’re going to change it.”
Soorty joined forces with some key names—Lenzing, The Lycra Company, Jeanologia, Marmara Hemp, Scrap New York and Decode—for the event, driving the collective effort toward a circular fashion world. The supply chain partners came together to show how circular denim is made possible via Soorty’s vertical integration, enabling fiber innovation and smart laundry to merge. On the other hand, the cross-industry partners run on shared values and goals.
Through a series programs and workshops, Soorty and its partners highlighted the latest conscious technologies and collections to kick off the event.
Marmara Hemp, which products the first certified sustainable cottonized hemp fiber, discussed facts and figures surrounding France’s hemp industry.
“France is the third largest supplier of textile hemp in the world,” said Hervé Denoyelle, Marmara Hemp director of sales. “Success of hemp for us is based on three things: ecological, the economy of the product and social conditions. From the ecological perspective, we don’t use any chemicals to grow hemp, we don’t use water—it’s from the skies—and it’s also zero-waste production because everything’s being used, even the dust is being used, when we produce hemp.”
From the social point of view, the company only uses local employees with respect to European legislation. From the economic perspective Denoyelle said growing hemp results in cleaner soil. This means farmer can grow a different crop the following year with 20 percent better performance yield because hemp benefitted the soil the previous year.
“The future of hemp [has] no problem of supply, even in the medium term, I would say, because the use has been increasing sharply in the first two years,” Denoyelle said. “But now it’s step-by-step so we can see the plateau in the consumption. And also on our side, we’re increasing our capacity, it’s going to be doubled next summer.”
Lenzing shared its recent fiber innovations and how Tencel works toward circular denim from fiber to finish.
“Refibra uses 30 percent textile waste, so we wish we engaged with today’s textile industry problem, which is our waste. However, we cannot do everything on our own. So when the feedstock is available in a certain standard, when we have enough scalable—this is so important, scalable feedstock available—we are happy to use textile waste as an ingredient. But the important thing is that we can close the circle within our industry,” said Tuncay Kılıçkan, Lenzing head of global business development, denim. “The first generation of circular fiber that came from Lenzing was Refibra. It’s exactly like our Tencel Lyocell, but the only difference is that it’s 30 percent recycled, which is a good step ahead, and scalable.”
He also spoke about the company’s Tencel Modal fiber with Indigo Color technology. First launched in 2021, it has been established as a go-to fiber solution to address the demand for more eco-responsible fiber alternatives among denim brands and retailers. The technology incorporates indigo pigment directly into Tencel branded modal fibers using a one-step, spun-dyeing process. Compared with traditional rope-dyed indigo yarns, the production of Tencel modal fiber with Indigo Color technology saves around 99 percent of water and electricity, 80 percent of chemicals and 100 percent of heat energy, significantly reducing the ecological footprint of denim products.
“Whatever we do in sustainability, whatever we do in circularity, it only happens if it’s scalable,” Kılıçkan said. “We do joint ventures with industries leaders so that we can do scalable changes in the industry. We can only make an impact if we do something scalable; if it’s something [too] niche, it just stays there and dies. [But] as long as we work together, we can make things change in a better way.”
“For our 2024 spring/summer collection we’re going to be focusing on different technologies, fiber and fabric technologies, as well as some specific fibers like the T400 EcoMade and Lycra Adaptiv Fiber,” Ebru Özaydın, strategic marketing director in denim at The Lycra Company, said. “So when we talk about Lycra Adaptiv Fiber, it’s a new polymer. As you can imagine, fiber innovators, they don’t come every six months with a new polymer or a new fiber. Behind the scenes, we have to be working with the scientists, the end researchers. Therefore, this is the first time that the Lycra Company has launched a new polymer.”
The new polymer gives an easy stretch, nodding to the shapewear boom, maintaining its fit and providing shaping and compression as needed. The Lycra T400 EcoMade Fiber, on the other hand, is made from pre-consumer waste. Using 20 percent recycled content, the fiber waste is collected at its manufacturing sites and blended with virgin polymer at specific concentrations to create spandex with the same performance as the original Lycra fiber.
Özaydın also discussed the CoolMax EcoMade polyester fiber, with two versions available: one from PET bottles and the other from textile waste.
“More and more brands [have] been coming in and asking us or telling us that they want to get rid of plastic bottles, but they want to invest more in textile waste, because [the] beverage industry thinks of using the PET bottles—this is my own waste, I’m going to be using it—so it’s real circularity, right,” she said. “So of course 100 percent textile waste is a great opportunity. And the other thing is, especially in the United States and California, you have to be putting information on the hangtags for the consumer [to know] that it is low BPA or BPA free. So hopefully for the future we’re going to be investing more and more in textile waste.”
Jeanologia spoke about how it and Soorty are scaling up solutions by merging creativity with innovation.
“The main goal or mission of our company is change the industry; we’re trying to create a more ethical, more efficient and sustainable textile industry,” Jeremy Soldado, Miami hub manager of finishing technology company Jeanologia, said. “We wanted to put more pressure on our shoulders [so] we established what we call Mission Zero, with the idea to produce with zero waste. The goal is to detoxify the industry. We are able to take out a lot of resources, a lot of waters and chemicals, on the garment finishing and fabric finishing. By 2025 we are able to [achieve this].”
Jeanologia and Soorty share common values and a vision to keep jeans as a symbol of the new rebels who want to protect the environment and the planet and inspire the textile industry. Jeanologia is a Soorty technology partner, and both believe that Mission Zero is a need, beginning with fabric. Soorty fabrics, produced on G2 Dynamic ozone finishing ranges, are light-sensitive, react well to the eco-technologies and offer an eco-efficient alternative to most water-intensive and pollutant finishing processes.
“So we created some garments [with Soorty] without using any kind of stone. We created garments with a very low impact, using an average of 1.7 liters per each one, all of them in a low-impact category,” Soldado said. “The aim is to change the standard of the industry for measuring the impacts of your garments.”
During a hands-on presentation, Decode discussed zero waste as a design possibility to combat fashion’s impact on climate change.
“What I mean when I say zero-waste design is the creation of a garment that [yields] no waste in its creation. So we do this through complex pattern engineering. Basically, with every shape we rearrange [them] and see how they can nest together; it really comes down to understanding what’s the core of a garment,” Danielle Elsener, founder of zero-waste apparel brand Decode, said. “How can you make it still wearable and accessible and something people understand and care about and what to wear forever? Kind of cracking [that] code has been a huge movement for me.”
Scrap NYC founder Partick Metellus shared how the organization is reducing textile waste in New York City, with a dedicated donation box on-site for people to drop off their used garments to be recycled.
Metellus shared how he was raised in a household that didn’t throw anything away. Everything deemed reusable was packed into a box and shipped to Haiti, where his family is from. One summer, Metellus was at church, where his family donated these boxes, when he noticed his favorite T-shirt was packed and accidentally being donated. At first, he felt upset. Then he saw a shirtless little boy reach for the T-shirt, and he realized—at eight years old—that what he’s wearing today and might not want tomorrow, someone else may need. This experience inspired his journey to reduce textile waste. In 2020 he began—through various hustles—to build his clientele of donators, collecting 4,000 pounds in 2021 and 25,000 pounds last year.
“But that’s just a drop in the bucket,” he said, recalling that Lenzing told him it wasn’t a significant enough amount of weight for it to be considered valuable. “I realize scalability is important. So now we do the dirty work, but it’s glamorous dirty work.”
So Scrap, which provides an actionable and transparent clothing donation option, built its brand up from just home pickups and expanded to hotels, hospitals and universities. It has gathered 20,000 pounds in towels alone from brands that were previously paying to have their linens taken to landfills.
“You can call me a collector, but I see myself as a facilitator of the conversation,” Metellus said. “I see myself as a bridge for other collectors, recyclers, manufacturers and consumers. It’s an important process in this whole ecosystem of creating and establishing a true circular economy.”
Now, Scrap has a pilot that will be launching with a major U.S. hotel brand, collecting its feedstock and bringing it to Renewcell and, in turn, having Loftex, a major towel manufacturer, develop and manufacture a towel that will be placed on Walmart’s and Target’s shelves.
“I think our industry could learn a lot from [Metellus’] experience,” Debbağ said. “What intrigues me is…the storytelling part of your story, and this industry holds so many stories. So I think that’s, right now, the tipping point in our industry, we’re seeing all kinds of stories get together. And how we can make more stories together.”