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How Apholos’ Innovative Recycled Trims Cut its Carbon Footprint

Even companies with a lengthy heritage can shake up traditional processes with sustainable alternatives. This is the case with 100-year-old Argentinean trim maker Apholos Brand Identity, which has put resource conservation and clean production at the heart of its strategy.

“We understood many years ago that there’s no efficiency without being sustainable,” said Luciana Botner, creative director, international business development, at Apholos. “It required a great vision from our CEO Zack Holodovsky, who understood that investing in systems that were good for the environment was on the long run good for the company. Perhaps being a 100-year-old ‘kid’ gives us the long-term mentality.”

Part of what has bred sustainable innovation at Apholos is necessity. Driven by strict environmental regulations in Buenos Aires, the company’s factory in the city built a water recycling plant in 2010. Water is sent through a reverse ion exchange process to clean it for reuse. Following the introduction of this recycling program, Apholos cut its water consumption by 90 percent.

Because the company reuses water, it looked more closely at the chemicals being used in manufacturing to protect its employees. This, coupled with bans on heavy metals, eventually led Apholos to introduce electroplating-free offerings.

“When sustainability became part of the fashion menu, Apholos had already gone from the entrée to the main course,” said Botner.

This commitment to reuse has also extended into Apholos’ work with metals. The producer—which counts Gap, Frame, J Brand and Rag & Bone among its customers—uses Zamac alloys to make trims such as buckles, rivets and buttons. Originally it was sending scrap from its die-casting to local companies for repurposing, but once Apholos’ Zamac offering scaled, there wasn’t enough local demand for the volume of fragments generated during production. This need for a new circular channel for these scraps led the company to create a recycling plant for the material and launch a tack button made of 100 percent recycled Zamac. By using recycled Zamac, Apholos reduces its carbon emissions tied to logistics.

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Taking this circular commitment further, in 2016 Apholos inked a joint venture with a local copper recycler to repurpose scraps from a nearby electric wire producer. Today, about 80 percent of Apholos’ brass and copper trims are made from recycled materials.

There are still some limitations to what can be achieved aesthetically through an eco-friendly process. For instance, Apholos’ engineers have been able to develop 10 shades of copper that can be created without electroplating, but one of the colors that cannot be replicated through this process is nickel. The entire color card for electroplating-free finishes is approximately half the size of Apholos’ basic color card, which features around 72 options. Given these restrictions, Apholos has had to educate its sales staff and its clients about accepting compromises that come with choosing sustainability.

One of the factors that Apholos credits with its ability to more effectively accomplish its eco goals is control over its manufacturing. The company is vertically integrated, with every step from mold making to finishing handled on-site at its factory.

“Controlling the process makes it easier for a company to guarantee sustainable practices,” Botner said. “An honestly committed and conscientious management is the key for individual companies to generate a sustainable supply chain. Sustainable products do not have to be more expensive, but they do require investment and planning.”

What’s the most important issue the fashion industry has yet to address?

“To understand and act accordingly that disposable clothing is no longer an option. That quality and circular processes must be taken to the next level to create a common international criteria and new sets of compliances to be followed. To act with the following thought in mind: “If everyone does the same as I do and how I do it, will the planet be a better or worse place?” —Carlos Holodovsky

Sourcing Journal’s Sustaining Voices 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.

See more of our Sustaining Voices honorees and their stories, here.