In the midst of a large patch of land some 40 miles from the Vietnamese metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, sits a recently opened state-of-the-art fabric mill that is employing some unusual methods to make it carbon neutral by 2025.
The expansive mill, opened by Saitex, is ecologically innovative in myriad ways.
Industrial sludge is used to generate 40 percent of the facility’s steam power. Greywater is collected at the industrial park and run through a custom reverse osmosis ultrafiltration recycling system for a production network that doesn’t need fresh water to operate. Rainwater is used to flush toilets at the mill and to irrigate crops raised on the surrounding land.
The roof reflects sunlight, adhering to LEED Gold Certified specifications, and has 15,000 solar panels with 3- to 4-megawatt capacity that reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 2,000 tons every year.
The mill is totally vertical, set to incorporate spinning, weaving, dyeing, and fabric finishes while employing 680 people. In the future, there will be up to 1,000 workers in a facility that produces mostly denim but also non-denim prepared for dying. Twenty percent of jobs will be dedicated to people with disabilities.
“The vision from inception was to create a transparent, circular operation that not only mitigated negative impacts but improved the lives of those who we employed,” explained Sanjeev Bahl, founder and chief executive of Saitex. “With the mill, Saitex transforms itself into a vertical system that gives us complete transparency and control from seed to shelf, ensuring the cotton is grown, processed, manufactured and finished to the highest of standards, both in terms of environmental and human impact.”
With a soft launch in December, the mill is almost 100 percent complete. The spinning section of the factory is still not operational, but is expected to be completed in upcoming months, said Hakan Anuk, the U.S. sales representative for Saitex Mills.
Currently, brands including Everlane, Madewell, J.Crew, Frame and Rag & Bone are some of Saitex’s existing customers using the new plant, Anuk said. These same brands are also clients at Saitex’s large cut-and sew factory 40 minutes away with 1,300 sewing machines and 3,000 workers.
Everlane said it spends months finding the best factories in the world dedicated to helping the environment, reducing global warming and providing a fair wage. That’s why the apparel company became a Saitex client.
“The energy Sanjeev brings to improving the apparel industry and minimizing its impact on the planet is infectious,” the company said.
Saitex, which was founded in 2001 and moved to more sustainable manufacturing in 2010, is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a non-profit alliance for the consumer goods industry working to reduce the environmental impact on the climate and promote social justice.
With sustainability in mind, dyeing at the new Saitex Mill takes place at the yarn phase, using the Smart-Indigo system to develop hydrosulfite-free indigo dye baths that only use indigo pigment, caustic soda, water and electricity.
The Smart-Indigo system utilizes an electrochemical dye bath preparation that emits 90 percent less carbon dioxide, consumes 70 percent less energy, and 30 percent less water where the only waste product is oxygen.
The mill uses Karl Mayer rope dyeing machines, using less energy to achieve the same result by dipping the rope into fewer dye baths than with standard machines. This results in a 30 percent reduction in indigo and chemical usage.
Weaving machines use high-efficiency rapier looms, creating quality woven fabrics. Finishing mechanisms, also using the latest technology, include singeing, mercerizing, pad batch dyeing, pad steam dyeing, stentering, sanforizing and fabric tumbling.
The mill’s machinery uses less energy, fewer chemicals, and less water creating the most environmentally friendly processes with the capability to produce 2 million yards of fabric and 750 tons of yarn a month.
Some 40 percent of the land the mill sits on–100,000 square meters or 1 million square feet–is reserved for organic farming as well as a hydroponic farm system, which will produce six tons of vegetables every year for employees and the local community.
In addition, 6,000 trees were planted around the industrial park and nearly 125 acres of mangroves established in the country to offset carbon emissions.
The mill is in the process of obtaining certifications for ZDHC, Oeko-Tex, GOTS, GRS, B Corp. and LEED.
Saitex has been very busy putting together a system that reduces the environmental pollution created by the apparel industry. Just last year, Saitex opened a new “Factory of the Future” in Los Angeles–its first outside of Vietnam.
The L.A. denim factory incorporates responsible manufacturing with the latest laser-cutting technology, semi-automated sewing, robotic spraying, 3D laser detailing and one-step wash machines connected to a water-recycling system.
At full capacity, the Los Angeles facility is expected to produce 3,000 pairs of jeans a day and employ 300 people.
The addition of the new Vietnamese fabric mill adds to Saitex’s manufacturing portfolio that includes its cut and sew factories in Vietnam and Los Angeles, and Stelapop, an upcycling project in Thailand, which converts textile waste from Saitex’s production facilities into home products.