Saitex revamps impact of denim with U.S.-based production

Responsible for the production of denim lines for 18 brands
including Everlane, G-Star Raw, Polo Ralph Lauren and Target,
Vietnam-based factory Saitex recently made headlines when J.Crew and
Madewell announced its introduction of fair trade lines produced
through the facility. The “world’s cleanest denim factory,” as
Everlane describes Saitex on its website, is bringing its ecological
denim production to American soil.

Saitex founder Sanjeev Bahl sat down with FashionUnited to discuss
his plans for Saitex plants in the U.S., currently slated to open in
LA in Q1 of 2019, and in New York’s Tri-State area in Q4 of 2020.

The Vietnam factory, which has been in full operation since 2010,
has transformed the impact of denim production through ingenuitive
technology and an exclusive process that recycles 98 percent of the
water used. Overall, Saitex uses about 0.8 liters per jean for the
18,000 pairs it produces annually. It hopes to decrease water used to
0.5 liters by the end of this year.

Saitex has proven that sustainable denim production doesn’t need to
raise costs for the brand, as the Blue Sign-approved, Fair Trade and
LEED-certified facility spends 350 thousand dollars annually on water,
compared to 750 thousand dollars spent by most competitors.

For its next challenge, Saitex aims to resolve costs of
U.S.-produced denim through creating an automated process in its
upcoming American plants.

“It’s a very modern format. More robotics, more automation, less
people,” Bahl said. “ We have been incubating this part in [the
Vietnam] Saitex for the past five years. It’s a great opportunity for
us to put all those components that we’ve assembled in bits and pieces
and put it all under one roof in Los Angeles. So effectively, to make
1000 jeans per day, in Vietnam, we need 100 people. In LA, we can do
it with 50 people.”

In which areas can denim brands focus to promote sustainability?

You can keep on addressing one thing at a time, but you’re not
solving the problem. If you ask me, I hate the word “sustainability.”
It’s the most abused word.

Instead, I use “impact.” I would encourage, not only brands, but
factories and businesses to start mapping out impact. It’s a gradual
process, so long as the positives outweigh the negative. You are
creating a net positive impact. If everybody gets back to the drawing

When we talk about impact, the pillars of impact can be social,
environmentally, financial, fiscal impact. You have to be financially
sound, profitable, because if you are not, there is only so much you
can do to creative positive impact on a social and environment side.
When you look at third-world countries, it’s about bettering the lives
of the workforce and creating positive impact around people beyond the
boundaries, beyond the white-picket fence.

You come back to developed nations, like the U.S., when business
start migrating because of cost, then is a dilution of talent because
regaining those jobs does not exist as investments into that sector
have gone overseas.

If you have to create impact, it has to be universal, it can’t just
be isolated to one part of the world.

How do you create social impact in developed nations?

For us it’s really interesting to build a model, here in the U.S.,
which is built on automation, efficiency. You could use a lot fewer
people to do as much as you do with labor. So technology has advanced
and there is a great opportunity right now to deploy that technology
and re-deploy it the U.S. or Europe to creative positive social
impact, and regenerate those jobs that are being lost.

Our mantra is straightforward. We would position product at
probably the same prices that the brands are sourcing out of Mexico
today. Our first objective is to be on par with western hemisphere
pricing, but made in the U.S. That’s something we believe we can do.
The second we do that, I guess it’s a no-brainer for everyone that is
producing in Mexico, to want to produce here instead.

Have you found that American denim brands that have been missing
that “Made in U.S.” component since the closure of Cone’s White Oak

That’s very sad, what happened. White Oak was a brand in its own
right, and an institution. So the beacon, just disappeared. Having
said that, there are still some mills that are operational her, it’s
not like that was the last man standing. With every product, we need
an ecosystem around it, if you’d really like to make sure it was made
in the U.S. We are talking about the ecosystem in fabrics, trims, you
need wash houses, you need production sources. I think somebody has to
bring back that hope, that this can be a scalable model. Once we bring
back that, it’s our job to make sure the ecosystem gets formulated and
gets funded. I think it’s possible, but it will take a lot of

How long do you would it take to rebuild that ecosystem?

What Saitex is doing right now is building our own ecosystem. While
we encourage others to participate in this area of change. We are
advancing pretty rapidly into verticalization and becoming a circular
economy player. Part of that area of change is massive investment.
Building a fabric mill would allow us to build raw materials for a
purpose. That fabric from our own mill can get integrated into
manufacturing facilities in Vietnam, or the one in LA, for now. Then
let’s see how it all goes. Then phase two could be, once we have
scaled up in the U.S. on the manufacturing side, is the U.S. a
standalone entity by itself? Instead of transporting fabric all the
way from Asia to the U.S., does it make sense for us in the next phase
to look at setting up a fabric mill here. The possibilities are
endless. But we have to start somewhere.

Photo: Pexels


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