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ESG Outlook: Mike Simko of Hyosung on Sustainable Textile Solutions

ESG Outlook is Sourcing Journal’s discussion series with industry executives to get their take on their company’s latest environmental, social and governance initiatives and their own personal efforts toward sustainability. In this Q&A, Mike Simko, global marketing director of textile solutions supplier Hyosung, explains why celebrating the great strides the industry has already made toward sustainability (instead of just lamenting the challenges) will accelerate  change even further.

Mike Simko Hyosung
Mike Simko, global marketing director, Hyosung Courtesy

Name: Mike Simko

Title: Global marketing director

Company: Hyosung

What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement over the last 5 years?

As a textile solutions supplier, we enable mills, brands and retailers to better meet their customer’s and consumer’s requirements. And we have extended this into ways that they can improve the apparel they bring to market. Within our creora® spandex, Mipan® nylon and polyester yarn portfolios, which are some of the most sustainable and innovative fiber technologies at the moment, we provide textile solutions that use 100 percent recycled materials, bio-based materials, yarns that can save energy and water during fabric formation, and ones that can help extend the life of a garment.

What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes?

Some time back, I read that if you wear an article of clothing for twice as long, you will reduce your apparel carbon footprint in half. A simple statement but the math is there, so garment longevity is important to me. On a personal basis, I am willing to spend a little more to ensure that my apparel is well made from a reputable supplier. From a business perspective, the use of synthetic yarns can add to the quality and longevity of many apparel categories; I wouldn’t think of hitting the gym with anything else.

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One of my favorite pieces is a performance tee made with our Mipan aqua-X nylon. It has a cooling technology inherent in the fiber, thus eliminating the need for chemical finishes. As for longevity, we know that swimwear is often disposed of when it loses its fit. The use of our creora® HighClo spandex can keep the fit of that swimsuit longer.

How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping? 

I almost feel I need to recuse myself from this question! The role of our team at Hyosung Performance Textiles is to call on brands and retailers, so we know most of the key ones across the globe, and we work to help them meet their social and environmental objectives. So, we know those that are sincere about their practices, and we support them both business-wise and personally. Outside of the textile business, I will not purchase fuel from two companies as I did not like how they handled certain oil spill incidents.

Anything new you are doing to boost sustainability beyond the fashion industry?

There are many minor activities that can add up to make a big impact, and I trust that millions of others feel the same way, such as reducing single-use plastic pollution by using compostable trash bags and reusable grocery bags. I’m also committed to be a better recycler, by washing out recyclables and removing caps and lids, and making sure that I’m only putting into the stream what the local recycler is set up to manage.

What is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?

Admittedly, coming from someone who has spent his career in the synthetic fiber business, some people believe that natural fibers are better. Whether it is synthetics like nylon, polyester or spandex, or naturals like cotton and wool, these products have competed for decades to gain favor with the consumer. They all have found their place in the textile business and oftentimes benefit from one another. In the industry, we are always discussing what is the best textile for a given application, so it is more about cost and benefit discussions rather than clarifying misconceptions.

What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the Covid crisis?

The need to have more focus on supply chains. Over the years we have evolved into an efficient and seamless global supply network, almost running on its own in the background.  Whether it was the significant supply and demand swings at the start of the pandemic, or the shortages and delays that we encountered in the last 9-12 months, it is clear we need to pay more attention to our supply chains. Reliability. Transparency. More strategic relationships.

What is your company’s latest sustainability-related initiative?

We are focused on providing solutions that help our brands and retailers provide sustainable garments to their consumers. While recycled nylon and polyester have been available for over a decade, the environmental fabric story was not complete because there was not a sustainable spandex available—and nearly all fabrics these days include spandex.

Last year, we commercialized creora® regen spandex, which is a GRS certified yarn made from 100 percent recycled waste. This completes the sustainable story for stretch fabrics. Additionally, this year we are commercializing creora® bio-based spandex which replaces petroleum-based raw materials with ones that are made from corn. Both of these creora® yarns are great alternatives to lower one’s carbon footprint. Equally exciting, we are collecting fishing nets and will commercialize Mipan® regen Ocean nylon this year, which will recycle these discarded nets into new, high-quality apparel.

What is the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change? 

I would not so much classify as a missed opportunity, but more as initiative that is just getting started. Circularity is the future of the textile industry. Synthetic yarns allow us to make great-looking and great-fitting apparel that can last a long time, but we need to further garment end-of-life solutions. Key needs are to develop the collection processes and separations technologies for blended fabrics. Once we get these into mono-polymer streams, the recycling technologies are already developed for Hyosung to turn these streams into high quality yarns.

Lastly, while we  are rightfully identifying the issues that are stopping us to become a more sustainable industry, we should also celebrate the great stride that we have already made, which will motivate us to accelerate change.