Last week I had the privilege of visiting Saitex International, one of the most (if not THE most) sustainable denim manufacturers in the world. They take a holistic approach to business and manufacturing and I was blown away by all of their social and environmental initiatives. Take a walk with me through Saitex's factory in Vietnam and find out how they have closed the loop!
The first thing that caught my attention was the reason for opening Saitex in Vietnam. When Sanjeev Bahl, founder of Saitex, was thinking about starting this factory, Vietnam was top of mind because of the way women are respected here, as 80% of garment workers are female. I thought that was really cool of Sanjeev.
Saitex now employs 4500 people over 5 locations, producing 20,000 pieces a day using the most ethical and environmentally sound methods out there, while being Bluesign, Fair Trade, B-Corp, LEED, and Oeko-Tex certified. Let's cover its environmental aspects first.
Saitex uses 98% recycled water and the 2% that's left is evaporated meaning there is 0 discharge. On average they use 1.5 liters per pair of jeans versus the traditional 80 liters, thanks to their closed-loop water system, which saves 430 million liters of water and $400,000 every year. They use an effluent treatment plant that uses a reverse osmosis process to clean the wastewater and put it back into the system. They have an in-house lab that tests the water and industry area, as well as third party verifications to ensure their claims. They also have 11 lasers, 3 ozone machines, and e-flow in every washer on-site to help reduce the amount of water used in finishing.
All wastewater treatment plants create a toxic sludge, but Saitex has developed a system where this sludge is mixed with sand and concrete to create bricks, so the toxic material can no longer leech into the environment. One exciting advancement they're working on right now is turning this sludge into fertilizer! Aside from water and wastewater, Saitex also makes use of all its fabric waste. Unfortunately, offcuts from production are unavoidable, so they have partnered with a company that turns denim waste into tiles! You can even bleach the tiles with ozone to get pure white tiling. It also has the same properties as MDF (an engineered wood product) so it can replace wood in furniture production and avoid the risks of deforestation.
To help the brands they work with and the industry become circular, they have also partnered with Atelier & Repairs (on my Top 10 Upcycled Brands list) to turn pieces that have not passed quality control into new products. With this partnership, Saitex has the capacity to upcycle 12,000 pieces a month. Once these pairs can no longer be repaired or renewed, Saitex will take them back and turn them into tiles, like their offcuts.
Famous for air drying their jeans, Saitex has committed to conserving energy by using an aerial drying system, recapturing heat, using natural lighting, and using solar energy. This has reduced their energy usage by 13 million kilowatt-hours a year, and reduced CO2 emissions by 80%. They are also using biomass energy, which creates steam without fossil fuels. This system means that 5,833,575KG of fossil fuel is avoided. It looks something like this (see pic below) and is derived from agricultural waste - from coconut shells to wood. Saitex is also striving to be carbon neutral by the end of the year by planting trees and choosing alternative transportation methods for their associates. So far, over 6000 trees have been planted, which has absorbed more than 120,000 KG of CO2 in 2019! They have also begun to work with FibreTrace to enable a fully transparent supply chain, which also allows them to see what is exactly in a garment they are taking back for reuse or recycling.
Aside from all of Saitex's eco-initiatives that have allowed them to close the production loop, they also engage in a number of different social impact activities. The two that stood out most to me were Saitex Farms and Rekut.
Saitex Farms gives their employees access to affordable organic food through their very own hydroponic and clean farming system. The system uses 90% less water, with absolutely 0 pesticides producing 6 tons of clean vegetables per year. The Rekut initiative really warmed my heart. I first got into sustainable fashion because of my concern for the people working in the industry, so this one really hit home for me. Saitex renovated a whole section of their production floor to make it fully accessible for differently-abled people. In Vietnam, people from disadvantaged backgrounds are looked down upon and almost shunned from society. They are seen as incapable and unable to do things for themselves. But, Rekut provides training for these communities giving them a sustainable job, their own income, and friends. You can read more about their other social initiatives here.
As Saitex is constantly looking for ways to improve, they are in the midst of 2 new exciting projects.
A new mill located a short distance from the 5 factories in Vietnam. Using cotton from Australia, California, and Texas, all of the cotton will be sustainably sourced (ex. BCI, organic, Pima). This mill will spin, weave, and dye allowing them to have complete control. This means that they can produce a fabric with the end product in mind, helping brands choose the more suitable options. It will also allow lower MOQ's to help reduce overproduction. 40% of the area of the mill will be dedicated to the expansion of Saitex Farms, and it will be all LEED gold certified and covered in solar panels.
A new automated factory in LA. With automation, allows sustainable production at a cheaper price. It generally takes 200 workers to make 1000 pairs, but at this factory, only 50 workers are needed. By adopting automated processes for sewing and finishing, Saitex will reduce waste associated with human error and quality issues.
The last bit I want to mention is their MEE Creative Lab. This concept store is all about customization curbing overproduction and useless trends. Basics are the only thing produced and you design what YOU want to wear. I see this as part of the solution to fast fashion, where only basics and classics are produced, meaning they won't go out of style, resulting in no deadstock items. They have everything from embroidery, printing, heat press, lasers, and finishing touches like patches and buttons.
If there are any questions you have that I haven't covered here, do not hesitate to ask in the comments here or on Instagram. Follow my stories today for more photos and video footage of the factory! STAY DILIGENT FRIENDS!