Vietnam based manufacturer Saitex has been making cleaner denim by cutting down on its water usage, properly disposing of dyes and chemicals (and using less of them), and collaborating with brands such as Madewell, Outerknown, and Everlane stateside to bring issues in the fashion industry to the forefront.
Now it’s expanding, by opening a new facility outside of Ho Chi Minh City that aspires to the first of its kind in the industry. This fabric mill aims to marry Saitex’s vision of an ethical workplace with its drive to make cleaner fabrics in a transparent supply chain. Encompassing 100,000 square meters, 40 percent of the area is actually reserved for farming, food that will be used to feed the hundreds of workers who help the company run everyday. But as a fabric mill it will offer spinning, weaving, dyeing, and finishing fabric sourced from cotton producers using eco-friendly machinery.
“We feel, as a denim manufacturer, that our mission is to change the way fashion is made,” says Florian Stretz, CTO and General Director of Saitex Mill. “Our way of achieving that is the vision of circularity, to close the loop on all our operations and move from a sustainable garment manufacturer to a fully circular one. The addition of the fabric mill into the Saitex value chain is a very important step in regard to sustainability, transparency, and our holistic contribution to society.”
Thus far, the mill has created 630 jobs, and aspires to increase that workforce to 1,000 with 20 percent of jobs dedicated to people with disabilities — a move that hasn’t been done in the industry at-large. In addition, through Saitex’s now vertically integrated operations, brands can now have a “seed to shelf” process, he argues.
The Mill itself, Stretz explains, has an exhaustive list of eco-forward attributes: a roof that reflects sunlight, natural ventilation, materials that adhere to LEED Gold Certified specifications, a solar panel system of nearly 15,000 panels with 3 to 4 MW capacity, energy derived from industrial sludge used to generate 40 percent of the facility’s steam power, and greywater collected from the industrial park that’s run through a custom reverse osmosis (RO) ultrafiltration recycling system (which means the mill can operate without using freshwater, and thereby achieve a closed water loop).
Within the mill compound, a hydroponic farming system and organic farming fields will produce an estimated 6 tons of vegetables per year to feed employees and local communities. In addition, 6,000 trees were sowed in the industrial park and 50 hectares of mangroves were planted in the country to offset carbon emissions, which will help to progress the mill towards carbon neutrality by 2025— a goal set forth by Saitex itself.
That is just limited to the structure itself. Then there’s the actual manufacturing process which Stretz says is also aiming to be as eco-friendly as possible: “Cotton fibers are spun, dyed, woven, and finished on the most advanced and sustainable technologies on the market.”
These include dyeing at the yarn phase using the Smart-Indigo™ system, pictured above, which relies on hydrosulfite-free indigo dye baths made with indigo pigment, caustic soda, water, and electricity. This system Stretz says emits 90 percent less CO2, consumes 70 percent less energy, and 30 percent less water where the only waste product is oxygen.
“It has been our long-term vision to close the loop on our operations. With the opening of the mill and the upcoming launch of our textile upcycling facility, Stelapop, our vision will be complete,” states Saitex CEO and Founder, Sanjeev Bahl. “We will close the circle, allowing us to provide unprecedented transparency in denim production and the ability to turn apparel and textile waste into high-quality goods. Our target is to become the most sustainable fabric mill on the planet making fully circular production possible for our customers.”
This includes a continuous research for sustainable alternative fibers as well as increasing the content of recycled fibers , especially for post-consumer waste allowing products to move from seed to shelf and back, says Stretz. Besides that, Saitex is aiming to produce fabrics that allow the laundry to use fewer chemicals by increasing the use of lasers.
All of this has come at a cost, undoubtedly. Stretz notes that it was with the support of a private equity partner that the company was able to expand and pursue these new avenues.
The question is if this can be replicated across the industry to produce more manufacturing facilities with a similar mission to make fashion circular.