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Denim giant Isko's quest for greener jeans

The world’s largest denim supplier, Turkish manufacturer Isko, is prioritising sustainability.

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Turkey’s Isko has a production capacity of 250 million metres of fabric per year, and works with high street brands including Topman, Diesel, Guess and Barbour International. Senior corporate social responsibility executive Ebru Ozkucuk Guler explains its sustainability initiatives. 

What is Isko doing to work sustainably?

Isko was the first denim mill in the world to be awarded the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, which evaluates all the environmental issues in the life-cycle of a product, for our Earth Fit range in 2016. We are also the only mill in the world to obtain life-cycle assessments, which assess environmental footprint, for all our products.

Currently, mills and garment makers can say “we’re working more sustainably” or “we’re using less water”, but the truth is we don’t know which methodology they’ve used to support those claims and can’t compare how more or less eco-friendly the products are. I don’t want to see sustainability just being used as a marketing message.

We have done assessments on all our 25,000 products, so we know exactly how much energy and how much water each one uses. These numbers will be published for the industry to see in November. Everybody has to speak the same language when talking about sustainability, and we encourage the industry to compare apples with apples.

Sustainability has become a hot topic in the fashion industry over the past 12 months. Why do you think that is?

I’m in total agreement that sustainability has really come to the forefront. Environmental charity Greenpeace has done some great work to raise awareness and encourage consumers to think about who is making their products.

There is also a growing understanding of the working conditions in many places, and consumers on the street are starting to become aware of the social impact.

The [denim] industry itself is growing faster and faster, and every single company has sustainability targets, which means we have to be clear on what we’re doing and convey that to customers.

Sustainability is a must now, but having said that, it isn’t necessarily what customers are looking for when they go to a shop. I work in sustainability and even I still think more about whether the product looks good and whether it feels good when I’m out shopping. That’s why sustainability is not something to be underlined in a big advertising campaign, but just something that has to be included [in the business].

Regardless of the collection retailers are making, they need to make sure the working conditions are the same for all employees.

What are some of the barriers preventing a more sustainable denim industry from emerging?

One of the challenges facing denim mills, when it comes to being more sustainable, is that some big-name brands and retailers are pushing their buying teams to think about price – and that’s it.

We’ve been a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition since 2015, which is a place that all parts of the industry can come together around the table to look at better ways of doing things. If, one by one, brands start to take action, then we can begin to change things for the better.

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