With a PhD degree in Textile Technology and Management and more than a decade of experience as a sustainability advocate, Orta Anadolu director Sedef Uncu Aki knows the ins and outs of responsibly made denim. In 2009 while working at Turkish denim mill Bossa, Uncu Aki published a book entitled “Customized International Investment Decisions: An Exploration into the Textile and Apparel Decision- Making process,” which provided readers with a structured decision-making model they can turn to when considering working with companies in different sectors with completely different organizational cultures.
At Orta, she is responsible for directing the company’s product development and R&D to launch new ideas and collections where art, technology and sustainability meet. During the pandemic, the Turkish textile mill immediately got to work creating solutions that would make it easier for its customers to do business remotely. It introduced a new sales kit featuring concept boxes, each with a fabric swatch and information card equipped with a QR code. By scanning the code, users gained access to the fabric’s wash gallery to see exactly which washes are available for the specific material, as well as the Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) of the garment.
Innovations like these are what Uncu Aki envisions to be the future of sustainable apparel. She believes extending information on a product’s LCA to consumers is the next step. “If we can provide the tools and resources for shoppers to make more informed decisions, they would be more in power to push the industry to do better,” she said.
What is the biggest misconception that consumers have about sustainable denim?
I don’t think that consumers have a detailed knowledge of sustainability. They’re constantly bombarded by greenwashing within the industry and therefore have a difficult time distinguishing what is true. Most of the time they take the numbers brands are sharing as fact without reading the details of it. These are not the only indicators of a product’s sustainability.
What can the denim industry do to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound?
This pandemic has taught us how fragile our systems are, and to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound, we must rethink our ways. Fashion is part of this transition and will only grow in an environment that is thriving.
Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?
Trends show the rise of comfort and rigid qualities. However, skinny jeans still account for nearly half of the jeans sold. We see that the decrease will continue to spiral, but skinny jeans will remain as a category with additional features. The need for softer, more innovative denim blends will arise. Now, people want to look stylish but also expect comfort and that is dictating the market.
How can denim retail improve?
My vision for denim’s future is a net-positive one. As an industry, we will continue to develop more bio-engineered alternatives to reduce our usage of natural resources, while helping people to realize that everything—including their favorite pair of jeans—will not just have a second life, but an eternal life. Together, we can use less to create more abundance and a longer, healthier life for us and the planet. Brands and retailers should track environmental and social performance of their suppliers and report on these issues in a way that consumers can use them as a decision-making performance indicator for their purchases.
How many pairs of jeans do you own?
I’ve collected quite a good number of jeans over the years. This is my passion and my job to experience life in different jeans. However, at the end of each season, I donate some and keep the ones that I connect with most. I always keep my vintage pieces and raw jeans.
Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?
I wear my raw jeans the most. I really like the way I feel inside them and the feeling that we change and evolve together over the years.