Eileen Fisher. Everlane. Madewell. G-Star Raw. If a sustainability-minded brand makes jeans, chances are it’s working with Saitex.
The only B Corp-certified apparel manufacturer in Asia, the Vietnam-based factory produces an average of 18,000 pairs of jeans every day. But while denim production is a notoriously polluting process, Saitex has blazed a different, eco-friendlier path. It cycles 98 percent of its water back into its production, runs on alternative energy and turns its waste-treatment sludge into bricks for building affordable housing.
Last year, the company opened a fabric upcycling facility in Thailand capable of processing 12,000 garments per month. It began as a way to tackle Saitex’s own production waste: garments that did not pass quality-control muster, sampling stock, offcuts from partner brands and old fabric inventory that “has aged past usage,” said Aummy Ninkamhang, who leads the company’s STELAPOP—the acronym stands for “Save Trees, Eliminate Landfills and Protect Our Planet”—division.
“Every day we have been seeing repetitive cycles of fashion waste without an end,” Ninkamhang said. “We could no longer wait to take action to find immediate solutions for our industry.”
Through its STELAPOP program, Saitex is experimenting with different end products, including wall panels, flooring tiles and home furnishing. So far, its fabric composites have been deployed to create a facade for a Christian Louboutin flagship store in Dubai and to make office furniture.
Unlike comparable items, Saitex’s recycled fabric tiles feature a patented polymer binding agent that “hardly has any petroleum-based product in it,” which keeps their environmental impact at a minimum. The company also employs techniques commonly used in the plywood industry to create long sheets that can be cut to size depending on the needs of the project.
“Depending on final usage, the recycled materials could be combined with technical materials with knowhow from different sectors,” Ninkamhang said. “These additional materials could extend durability, exposure to sun and certain stresses of the building process.”
Saitex designed the facility and its technology and processes with scalability in mind. Eventually, the manufacturer says it hopes to acquire waste from other sources, churn it into new products and then sell them to both industry partners and consumers. But first it has to finesse its system to more easily accept blended fibers and multiple, disparate components, including clothing labels, pocket linings and hardware.
“The next challenge that we want to tackle is how to deal with trims, buttons and zippers in the most sustainable way,” Ninkamhang said. “It is a difficult subject because of the wide variety of input materials and there are very few options of how we can recycle or reuse them.”
Saitex says it has no universal solution for textile waste; it just has to solve what it can on a case-by-case basis. But it isn’t shying away from the challenge.
“Our dream is to locate ourselves where the waste is. So we can clean up and reduce carbon footprint on logistics,” Ninkamhang said. “This means mainly the U.S. and Europe for post-consumer waste, and all over Southeast Asia for pre-consumer waste.”
For more on Sustaining Voices, which celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action, visit sustainingvoices.com.