Sanko Textile, Isko, executive commercial director
Mehmet Akgunlu
Sanko Textile, Isko, executive commercial director

Deep Dive

Isko has been at the forefront of denim sustainability and performance for years now, and the Turkish denim mill hasn’t let up thanks to leadership from execs such as Mehmet Akgünlü.

The mill has recently expanded its line of fabrics produced by its R-Two platform, which mixes reused cotton and recycled fibers from its production loss. Additionally, Isko revealed it was joining the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign project, confirming that 85 percent of its entire fabric production will consist of recycled material content.

And Akgünlü himself says: “We have always thought that collaboration is essential within our industry. The unprecedented circumstances we have been experiencing in the past year have proven how important it is to support each other and be accountable for our actions.”

Such collaborative efforts are continuing to manifest for Isko, which now is teaming up with globally recognized fashion school Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) and luxury giant Kering to develop a 10-week course dedicated to sustainable fashion for professionals and students alike. Isko also is partnering with MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab as part of the lab’s Alliances program, enabling it to research and develop smart textiles and wearable technologies with the help of the program’s researchers, students and industry partners.

What is the biggest misconception that consumers have about sustainable denim?

We understand consumers today, especially millennials, are prepared to walk away from companies that do not demonstrate corporate social responsibility. They know that every single one of their choices has a social and environmental impact and they want to save the planet.

This is obviously very positive, because it’s a strong push for businesses to create a better industry and embrace a responsible approach to both the market and the planet. But ‘sustainability’ as a word can be rather vague and, when it comes to denim, it is usually considered from a water consumption point of view. However, if you look at the big picture, there’s a lot more that needs to be considered. Every single step of the supply chain has effects on denim fabric production and each of these steps should be tackled to understand and address where better choices can be made.

The confusion and misunderstanding around what sustainability feeds into the practice of greenwashing. Global standards and proven figures would benefit processes as well as decision makers. They would allow the industry to be equally measured on their responsible denim practices, which could then be communicated efficiently and clearly and support consumers in the understanding of this delicate, yet crucial topic.

What can the denim industry do to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound?

At Isko, we feel it is our responsibility to provide industry leadership and to be a force for good. With this urge for accountability in mind, we always make sure to continue our improvement in part through external stakeholder engagement and partnerships with the most credible and leading organizations and experts in the world. Our entire history is testament to that. An example of this is how Isko was the first company to create an ingredient brand that offered its customers the added value of intellectual property protection, as well as its pioneering responsible innovation approach.

Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?

Skinny jeans could be a new staple as we begin to go back to normality and everyday life. Even though the pandemic made clear that there was a growing demand for comfort, denim is and always will be an extraordinary versatile material that can cater to every need, from style to comfort. This means that, with the right denim ingredient, even skinny jeans can perfectly suit this new trend for comfort without compromising on aesthetics.

How can denim retail improve?

Denim retail could benefit from a higher level of transparency. Awareness is growing in every sector of the business and it’s important to keep in mind that consumers are involved in this dynamic. They are searching more and more for sustainable products. People are ready to walk away from companies that do not demonstrate how they are working to be good corporate citizens, and this affects the retail sector as well.

As a leader in this industry, we do everything we can to support our brand and retail partners on their sustainable journeys, helping them to correctly and efficiently communicate sustainability credentials to end consumers.

How many pairs of jeans do you own?

I have around 50 to 60 pairs and some of them are very valuable to me. For example, selvedge or handmade styles are firm favorites and jeans that I have worn on memorable occasions are also very special.

Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?

I am a serious denim lover. And as a veteran in this industry, I’ve gone through my fair share of styles and technologies in denim. I’ve developed a particular fondness for jeans with a vintage look and high stretch—it’s the perfect combination of style and comfort for long working days.