A day in the denim kitchen

On a cold and snowy day in February, Gina Tricot travelled to Malatya in eastern Turkey to learn more about jeans manufacturing.  Together with Engin, Head of Production Planning and Marketing, we looked at the supplier's new factory and discussed how jeans are manufactured.

Each month, they manufacture approximately 450,000 pairs of jeans at two factories, one in Malatya and one in Istanbul.


How many steps are there in the process of manufacturing a pair of jeans?

There are 4 main steps: cutting of the fabric, sewing, washing and finishing. Sewing consists of 14 steps. Washing can consist of as many as 9 steps, depending on the result you are trying to achieve.

Finishing is when we put on the labels, rivets, buttons, etc.


Approximately how much water is consumed during the washing process for a pair of jeans?

It varies, but it is usually around 40-50 litres of water per pair.


Do some types of washing consume more water than others? Are there alternatives that require less water?

Vintage washing, stonewashing, snow washing and chemical treatments require more water. Raw, unwashed jeans only require a small amount of water and today, there are new types of indigo dyes that require less water during the bleaching process. Another method that is fairly new on the market is ozone washing, where the jeans are treated with ozone that bleaches the indigo dye in the fabric using less water and chemicals.


Can any water used during the process be reused? What type of water treatment system do you have? 

Right now, unfortunately, it's not possible to reuse the water, but to conserve it, we combine several processes. We have our own two-step system[1] and all water from this industrial area is treated at a joint facility with a three-step system[1]. The water from there is then used at the apricot farms in the area. 


What requirements do your government and customers have on water treatment?

Both the Turkish government and our customers have very strict requirements. The government regularly checks the water from our own treatment system and from the area's joint treatment plant. If the water doesn't pass inspection, we are charged high fines. The regulations are the same for all types of industries in this area.


What are the most commonly used chemicals in your denim manufacturing process? Which treatments are the most common?

The most common types of chemicals used are sodium carbonate, alpha-amylase, calcium hypochlorite, sodium hypochlorite and potassium permanganate. We also use a lot of enzymes. Fabric softener is used during the final stage.  Our most common treatments are enzyme washing, various types of bleaching, stonewashing and manual distressing.


How do you inspect your chemicals and where do the ones you use come from?

All chemicals that we use meet the REACH requirements and our suppliers regularly check that the standard is followed. On behalf of our customers, we also carry out tests on the finished garments to ensure compliance with the chemical restrictions. We purchase the chemicals that we use from Italy and Germany.


Sandblasting was officially banned in Turkey in 2009. Which methods are used instead of sandblasting? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

We stopped using sandblasting already in 2007. Today, we use potassium permanganate

to chemically distress the fabric. The advantage with sandblasting was that no chemicals were used in the process. But, a ban on sandblasting was absolutely necessary, since those working with the process were at risk for silicosis.


Which washing methods and treatments are the most environmentally friendly? Which are the most labour intensive?

Untreated jeans (i.e. "rinse" jeans), have less environmental impact and are the least labour intensive. But ozone washing also has a relatively low environmental impact. Less distressing, bleaching etc. would reduce both environmental impact and the required labour. Unfortunately though, jeans fashion is going in the opposite direction right now, with more treatments, distressing and bleaching.


How have your operations changed during the last few years? Which changes have you implemented to achieve a more sustainable manufacturing process?

A lot has happened over the last few years. For example, we've been audited by both BSCI and Sedex. We've also set up our own CSR department to actively work with sustainability issues.  Having opened a second factory, we can now use fewer subcontractors and thus obtain better control of our entire manufacturing process.  As far as chemicals go, we've started using biodegradable chemicals much more than we did before. Also, all of the chemicals that we use meet the REACH requirements.

Additionally, we've started using ozone treatments to fade jeans in a more environmentally way, since ozone rather than bleach is used.


What do you think about the future for denim and denim manufacturing? What types of improvements are still possible?

Our customers, consumers and independent organisations are all becoming more aware and they are placing increasingly stringent requirements on sustainable manufacturing. The machines being developed are improving all the time and an increasing number of environmentally friendly dyes and chemicals are becoming available as well. We're convinced that sustainable jeans manufacturing is possible during all stages of the process. But everyone involved has to do their part.