Sustainable premium denim ingredient brand ISKO insists it’s not easy being green – and that’s why it continues to challenge the industry’s status quo through the adoption of influential new initiatives with an inimitable eye for meaningful advances in the sustainability space.
For ISKO, that means participating in The Jeans Redesign, a project established by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative, which encourages and guides the denim industry to transform the way jeans are made and drives the development of a circular economy for fashion.
ISKO meets requirements for participation in the program and has made a commitment that 85 percent of its entire fabric production will consist of recycled material content made from pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled materials, independently verified by Textile Exchange audit bodies. This feat is made possible as a result of its R-TWO™ technology created through a patented, exclusive yarn spinning technique that embodies durability, material health recyclability
As part of its R-TWO™ program, it is also working to develop fabrics with a guaranteed minimum 50 percent+ GRS (Global Recycled Standard) recycled content blend, which significantly reduces the carbon and water footprint of a fabric, as well as simplifies consumers’ ability to trace a garment’s journey step-by-step through the entire supply chain. Also, the use of fabrics with 50 percent+ recycled content through R-TWO™ enables brands to add the GRS certification hangtag on their garments.
The idea is to create denim that can be used more, made again, and is created from safe and recycled renewable inputs, the company explained.
What’s more is its recently signed licensing agreement with research and development company Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) for usage of its Green Machine, a technology that fully separates and recycles cotton and polyester blends at scale, allowing ISKO to improve and commercialize its recycling techniques – and the end goal is to offer a 100 percent post-consumer recycling solution to all its customers.
The Green Machine employs an ultra-efficient hydrothermal treatment method that decomposes cotton into cellulose powders, enabling the separation of polyester fibers from blended fabrics. Its process is closed loop, using only water, heat and less than 5 percent of biodegradable green chemicals; naturally, the method maintains fiber quality and uses clean and toxic-free cellulose powders.
ISKO said that investing in this technology is part of its “ongoing drive for advancements in sustainability.”
Mr. Edwin Keh, Chief Executive Officer at HKRITA, said that “The Green Machine is a ground-breaking recycling technology. Seeing this project become truly commercially viable is wonderful. We are excited to learn that ISKO recognizes our innovation and applies this recycling solution into its production. The Green Machine will definitely become another green credential of ISKO.”
Here, Ebru Özküçük, Head of Sustainability at ISKO, talks to Fairchild Studio about joining the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign project, its new licensing agreement with HKRITA and ISKO’s advances in sustainability.
Fairchild Studio: Tell us about ISKO’s participation in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign project. How does it impact ISKO’s commitment to circularity?
Ebru Özküçük: Like many other companies, we want to follow through and not only show our commitments, but also the tangible projects that are supported by EMF. And that’s why, not only in textiles, but in many industries, EMF aims for real results with great partnerships. And it’s not just talk, but a lot of action, too.
That’s why we like that there are two steps in The Jeans Redesign program. We totally respect what they aim to do, and we want to add value with our standards, not only with the use of organic materials, but also with circularity – and it can be done with recycled material.
We are using 85 percent recycled content in our collections, and not for a specific item or for a limited collection – it’s across all our co-productions and commitments.
Sustainability and responsibility are very important – but, at the end of the day, shoppers should like the product. They should have the option to choose sustainability when shopping, and when they’re talking about reducing consumption, we must provide them with high quality products that offer sustainability through longevity and live up to our promise of responsible materials, manufacturing, and
Design inspires sustainably minded people to sit at the same table and think about what we can do next. Instead of one by one deciding who’s doing it better, we’re deciding together.
Fairchild Studio: What’s involved on ISKO’s part to be able to bring sustainability to the next level?
E.O.: That’s why we say, “recycled content” – we know we can keep improving, and we will. We always work with certified, verified materials, which is very important for us – just labeling a type of fiber as “sustainable” or “responsible” is simply not enough.
This is personally what I believe, and it’s why ISKO seeks continuous improvement. That’s why all the recycled methods we implement comply with the Global Recycled Standard. We will continue to follow Textile Exchange, Global Recycled Standard Certified Material, and other initiatives and organizations that help us hold ourselves accountable.
Fairchild Studio: How are ISKO’s most recent advancements changing the way jeans are made?
E.O.: It’s better to explain why we do it rather than what we do. Our R-TWO™ technology has a high percentage of recycled content, which we are very proud of. The recycling of a PET bottle can be done a maximum of two times; recycling paper can be done around five to seven times; but after collecting the bottles and making the fibers, how many times can you really recycle the product?
The life of recycling must be longer. This is the aim of our project: through recycled content, with a high percentage of recycled material and polyester, we make fabric that lives with you. If your denim can be worn let’s say 30 times, it cannot be considered to be “responsible.”
We also offer the industry the idea that we can close the loop together.
Fairchild Studio: How else has sustainability evolved of late for ISKO? What other technologies/materials/initiatives differentiate its products in the denim market?
E.O.: I’m so proud to say that we are a century-old company rooted in sustainability, and what we do today in terms of sustainability was established many years ago. Now we are just shaping it, and watching it evolve.
We run a huge facility and achieving a high level of sustainability is not easy. You’ve read about supply base management, water management, renewable energy management – these are all big investments, and these investments will continue today and into the future.
That’s why the primary mindset of our management team was to be ready and welcome any kind of strategic investment. Also, at the engineering level, we can always adopt emerging sustainable and responsible processes or technologies to our existing procedures.
In the denim business, to label it “sustainable” or “responsible” based on the type of fiber that is being used is insufficient. Your process should be sustainable and responsible, but also effective, and efficient. It should be noted that responsibility does not start and finish with the product, but it is something that permeates the whole corporate vision – this means that a corporate carbon footprint is just as important. We were well prepared over the years, and when the time came to be ready, we were thrilled we were ahead of the game. When many other companies were thinking about how to become sustainable, we had already met many of our goals for 2020 and managed many of them independently. And now, we plan to meet 25 new sustainability targets by 2022.
This is important: not only targeting what customers want, but in the meantime, showing customers what they should request and expect from the industry. We can do it, and if we can do it at this scale, other brands can do it as well. We believe in being a good role model for the industry. Not a competitor, but rather a big brother for the industry’s betterment.
Fairchild Studio: What is ISKO’s perspective on greenwashing and its impact on brands’ genuine sustainability efforts?
E.O.: Like I mentioned earlier, we simply cannot refer to a brand as “sustainable” because they have an ecofriendly facility or use recycled materials. ESG at the corporate level and data that proves some level of sustainability is important, but the low carbon footprint of a product does not make a company “sustainable.”
Also, for a production facility, a carbon footprint should suggest that not only the product, but also the process, is executed responsibly. The average scoring through ESG is important – otherwise, you cannot control greenwashing. But it’s not enough to look at, say, the marketing of a product and call it “sustainable.”
In the denim industry, we were one of the first companies to lead in sustainability, and we did it because ESG is a great methodology for self-assessment. In our business, our investors are our customers.