Neslihan Sebla Önder’s journey to Orta’s sustainability lead was a circular one. Prior, she worked with the company as a consultant, joining full-time as sustainability lead four years ago, where she’s been driving their sustainability initiatives since.
Önder helped set Orta’s sights on regenerative agriculture as a “new” frontier, despite the practice’s ancient roots in preserving soil health. “Regenerative cotton is the modern and pragmatic way to help stop climate change before it’s too late,” she said. “We are getting behind it to help this movement grow. Healthy soil helps draw carbon back in the ground; hence regenerative agriculture has the potential to change the way we grow cotton fiber and restore the health of our soil and climate.”
Orta is also securing a regenerative cotton certification from the industry-leading Regenagri, and donates profits from its Orta Blueskyer NFT sales to support regenerative agriculture initiatives in Turkey.
The NFT is one example of how Orta shines in the forward-looking virtual world. “We entered into the metaverse world by creating The Metadenimverse of Orta,” Önder said. “You can experience your denim in real life with the collection kits and physical garments and you can experience your denim in the virtual world with our VR journey. And today, we are offering a multiplayer VR experience with avatars of Orta people.”
Back in the physical world, Orta’s “patent-pending magical stretch technology” Torque fabrics—which contain zero elastane or petroleum-based fibers—offer sustainable comfort. “Torque pushes the limits with new alternatives that solve the synthetic fiber usage and micro plastics problem.”
What do you wish more consumers knew about the jeans they buy?
How much work is involved behind the scenes. Since I’ve first visited a denim mill way before I started working for Orta, my perception on jeans changed completely. I used to only check the look and the fit. Since I saw the steps involved in production—the amount of work, resources and human touch put into a pair of jeans—I now check every detail on the label and then the brands’ approach on responsible production.
If we choose to buy a pair of jeans for $9.99 or $19.99, simple math means we waive something involved in the production, and that is usually the worker’s social conditions and welfare. I believe that the true value of denim should be communicated to the consumers so that they can make conscious purchases.
If you had one request for denim brands, what would that be?
Don’t slow down the innovation—give new materials and processes a chance. There are amazing new innovative solutions harnessing biology or finding solutions for textile or food waste, but they often stay at the development level as companies jump to search for new ones immediately.
Using around 20 percent recycled content in cotton-rich denim can save around 450 to 750 liters (120-200 gallons) per jeans depending on the weight. If you sell 1 million jeans annually, you can potentially save 120 million gallons of water (180 Olympic pools) annually just by adding recycled cotton to your mix. We must look at the bigger picture and scale innovation.
What can other apparel categories learn from the denim industry?
Denim has always been a front runner in innovation and advanced technologies and practices in the textiles sector. Despite a bad environmental reputation, denim was and still is a great action taker in terms of better and healthier production. This also applies to the fight against climate action. Denim producers were among the first ones in the sector to take action to use energy more efficiently, reduce their emissions and focus on low-impact fibers and other technologies to reduce their climate change impact.
What was your most recent denim purchase?
A pair of rigid stone-washed, 12 oz. mom jeans, bought out of necessity as my size changed drastically.
What is your first denim memory?
I remember wearing denim overalls when I was 2 or 3 years old. How fun it was to wear them! They offered mobility while also being a challenge for a child to open and close the hooks.