Tiziano Guardini, Isko brand director Fabio Di Liberto, Creative Room designer Selin Akman and Isko senior CSR executive Ebru Özküçük Güler.

There’s a denim revolution coming — and sustainability is at the crux of the movement. And as more denim brands commit to operating a wholly transparent supply chain, companies such as Isko, a denim and textile manufacturer, distributor and ingredient brand based in İnegöl, Turkey, are moving the needle while speedily working to exceed even the most conscious consumers’ expectations.

Sustainability, today, could perhaps be synonymous with efficiency. According to a report from financial services firm HSBC, its survey of more than 8,500 companies in 34 markets found that 31 percent of businesses globally are making sustainability-related changes across their supply chains; and of those businesses, 84 percent cited cost efficiencies and improved revenues, as well as financial performance, as the primary motivations for change, all according to the report.

And Isko, a family-owned company that was founded in 1983 as a division of Sanko Textile Industries, emphasizes that its sustainable manufacturing processes enable greater efficiency and supply chain accountability. Its new distribution center that opened this year at its headquarters in İnegöl, a bucolic city in northwest Turkey surrounded by snow-capped mountains, is a nod to a new era of sustainable design and function. As the largest denim manufacturer with 30 offices worldwide, the firm is unsurprisingly also one of the top sustainable denim suppliers — working with brands such as Reformation, ReDew, Donovan and Madewell, among many others — with a production capacity of over 800 million feet of fabric annually.

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Rosey Cortazzi, the global marketing director at Isko, told WWD that its sleek, futuristic facility is “absolutely state of the art”; some areas look like a scene out of “The Matrix.” The space is over 38,000 square feet with 128,000 “cells,” or locations, that can each contain a fabric roll of up to 1,600 feet of material, according to Cortazzi. “Seven automated robots process every single order, in a controlled environment where oxygen levels are kept at 16 percent to prevent oxidation and fires, as normal oxygen levels in the air are at 21 percent. The warehouse is fully automated and no human beings are employed inside the distribution center,” she noted.

Stonewashing jeans at Iskoteca, the firm’s research and experimentation division based in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy. (Photo courtesy of Isko.) 

Part of Isko’s solution-oriented approach to sustainable manufacturing is meeting the niche market needs of each client from production to distribution. Cortazzi continued, “No one has a crystal ball and is able to predict every fashion trend. We see that retailers, brands and particularly e-commerce players are wanting to shorten lead times and deliver product closer to market. They also want to rapidly repeat winning styles. Our new distribution center will help us to increase our productivity efficiency helping our customers to ensure that they have the right stock, at the right time, and in the right place. It obviously makes sense from a carbon footprint point of view to have the warehouse in İnegöl, adjacent to our production facility.”

Cortazzi added that all of Isko’s fabrics “are manufactured in a responsible way. At Isko, to produce has always meant to take care of the environment, the people and the improvement and evolution of our sector. All of our products, from the traditional denim fabrics to our patented technologies, as well as the processes involved in their production, are the result of our ‘Responsible Innovation’ approach.”

Isko said it recently became a signatory member of the Roadmap to Zero Program, or ZDHC, which reaffirms the company’s pledge to refrain from the use of harmful substances throughout the supply chain, in addition to receiving Life Cycle Assessment (LCAs) certification for 25,000-plus products in its portfolio, Cortazzi said. “By doing this, we have become the first denim manufacturer to obtain precertified Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), thus assessing the lifecycle of products and providing the water usage and carbon footprint of 10 feet of fabric to allow our customers to make responsible sourcing choices.”

Cortazzi continued, “We also have an Environmental Management System in place, certified to an international standard, to ensure the management of the environmental impacts at our production facilities. Under this system, we manage energy, water, waste, chemicals and emissions.” The firm is also a member of Sedex, a supply chain platform that allows brands and retailers to see how their suppliers are meeting their social and ethical responsibilities, the company noted.

Isko’s off-white Earth Fit denim. (Photo courtesy of Isko.)  SEMIH

Isko strongly differentiates through its commitment providing research and design resources as a service to its clients that aim to help brands gain a competitive edge. While the firm has a laboratory charged with developing new denim technologies filled with engineers, scientists and even geneticists on its premises in Bursa, its Creative Room, based in Castelfranco Veneto, Italy, is solely focused on design and style research. Led by Massimo Munari, art director, its Creative Room offers tailor-made services for brands to enhance fabrics through solutions ranging from trend and product development to raw material testing or research niche topics, such as on print and embroidery. And Iskoteca, its division that specializes in research and experimentation based in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy, provides customized services for brands that include garment traceability, workshops dedicated to product culture and industry developments, and a sharp focus on “exploration of new treatments and finishings,” the company said.

Especially for denim — which is notoriously known as of the apparel industry’s biggest pollutants — attaining a handful of certifications does distinguish the “sustainable” from the rest. Certifications can verify the sustainability of production processes; health and well-being of workers; the use of organic and recycled materials to meet sustainable fiber requirements, and verify that dye and colorant requirements are fulfilled. But for Isko, perhaps its greenest product yet is its Earth Fit collection, which is described as a top-end and fully integrated sustainable approach to denim.

Through the use of fibers such as organic cotton, pre-consumer recycled cotton and post-consumer recycled polyester from PET bottles, Earth Fit is the first fabric collection ever to receive both the Nordic Swan Ecolabel and EU Ecolabel certifications. Isko’s Ebru Ozkucuk Guler, a senior sustainability and CSR executive, told WWD that the firm is most differentiated by its sustainability initiatives because of its ongoing philosophy to “[Be] humble and still [be] curious about what we have to do for the next step. I would never say that we are competing with someone or that we’re doing the best, or the greatest work.” She continued, “[In sustainability], there is never a peak point. You have to develop day by day, and think about the next step,” adding that “self-assessment is [an important] topic for us.” 

Colorful bright yellow denim produced at Isko’s Iskoteca. (Photo courtesy of Isko.) 

From a luxury apparel perspective, the “seduction” of sustainability is also significant, as appeasing the consumer-led demand for premium sustainable denim has become a top priority for brands in the sector. “Currently there is a seduction around sustainability, which holds huge opportunity for brands,” said Sam Trotman, a denim trend consultant for Denim Dudes, a Los Angeles-based consultancy firm. “The luxury sector is re-branding our aspiration through a new conscious and visionary approach to manufacturing and marketing that is adding a greater sense of what luxury should stand for. No longer is the simple premise of buying high-end fashion and luxury goods just for the sake of ownership a valid business model for brands. Customers are seeking meaning and value and fashion brands are having to embed purpose and ethics at the core of what they are doing.” Trotman added, “In 2020, the notion of quality over quantity — less is more — will be the reigning ideology.”

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