While sustainable denim manufacturing technologies have been accelerating over recent years, replacing old and outdated practices on a mass scale has proven to take a whole lot longer. As is often the case with launching a new brand: it’s easier to build anew than it is to try and update a dinosaur, especially when the dinosaur is loath to change!

When discussing the obligation of sustainable and ethical practices, rather than a collaborative plan of action, the industry has tended to pass the buck of responsibility between brand and manufacturer: design teams are so stretched for time and resources that it’s easier to repeat old habits than shake things up and risk their lead-times. Manufacturers are cautious when making large investments in new machinery with hesitation the processes won’t be adopted by design teams.  Add to that the complexities that come with streamlining production, avoiding subcontracting and outsourcing and reducing carbon footprint, it’s no wonder the apparel industry has been stuck in a stalemate.

However, a new generation of factories from Los Angeles to Pakistan and beyond are breaking the cycle, creating denim hubs with progressive ideologies and an unwavering commitment to measurable and sustainable practices. They are born with the values many in our community are desperate to backpedal towards, shouldering the headaches involved in setting up ethical and sustainable production practices. This model of partnership is proving to be an enticing asset to brands wanting to up their sustainability game without the foresight to know how.

MK Sons, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

“My understanding of sustainability comes from the textile industry.  In fact, I first heard the word sustainability when my Father was installing an ETP plant in his factory in the early 2000s.”

- Muhammed Erkan, MK Sons Denim Founder

Whilst Los Angeles is becoming a new hub of sustainable factories and laundries, MK Sons Denim are opening their doors in Faisalabad, Pakistan, spearheading accessible, sustainable and quality production in one of the denim industries most developing regions. According to a recent Business of Fashion deep dive into the region’s growing potential, Pakistan’s denim exports to the US have already overtaken China’s thanks to vertically integrated manufacturing hubs popping up in the South Asian area (Casey Hall & Maliha Rehman).  MK Sons Denim geographical proximity to some of the leading mills will be a game changer for brands trying to minimize their carbon footprint while producing overseas. We recently talked with MK Sons Denim CEO, Muhammed Erkan about his foray into denim, his approach towards sustainability and thoughts for the future of denim manufacturing.

MK Sons samples hang in the modern industrial facility.

Launching under extreme adversity has been the making of MK Sons Denim. They set up their facilities just before the pandemic ensued shut-downs in early 2020, but were nevertheless determined to become part of the new breed of denim manufacturers. Equipped with state of the art technology, MK Sons Denim is backed by over 35 years of textile experience from its parent company MK Sons PVT. LTD. whilst having the advantage of a young and disruptive CEO, Muhammed Erkan. Erkan is the innovative force behind the new venture for the family-run vertical manufacturer. At only 27 years old he is committed to a philosophy of positive change and greater accountability around how our jeans are made.

“When you live in a city where the major source of commerce is textiles, you see the impact of this industry on the ecosystem, the farmlands, and the general pollution levels first hand. When you see the colour of water bodies change in your city there is no way to avoid the issue anymore. So my resolve comes from what I have witnessed and the commitment comes from the generation before me”

- Muhammed Erkan, MK Sons Denim Founder

MK Sons Denim sewing floor.
MK Sons Denim sewing floor.

With focus on R&D, high quality production, expert quality control, raw materials, and fully equipped with a Jeanologia Smartlab, MK Sons Denim has the capacity to cut, sew and wash 3.5 million pieces annually. They use state of the art cutting techniques and automatic sewing, coupled with real-time data systems for tasks such as fabric inspection to evaluate efficiency and quality, while a centralized industrial engineering department drives process innovation and enables quality production along with cost and energy savings. All this is a far cry from a traditional denim factory of ten years ago, a sign that Erkan’s approach to denim manufacturing is forging a new and more efficient path.

“It’s much easier to find sustainable resources today than it used to be” muses Erkan “but we still have a long way to go to make these resources more economically efficient and commercially viable and this is where resistance to change stems from. The matter of sustainable manufacturing is much more complex than what’s on the surface. We live in the age where a consumer pays more or less the same for a t-shirt and an iced coffee. So it’s definitely more about money than fear of change. The fashion supply chain needs more commitment… not only from the industry but from the consumer itself”

“Industry 4.0 and business for good has actually opened up the minds throughout the fashion supply chain” he continues “You do come across people who want to continue working in the old ways, but even they have started understanding how irrelevant they are. If you have a strong resolve it’s not hard to filter out the noise” 

Tech Partners Include: Tukatech, brother, SIP Italy, Jeanologia, TGI /Triveneta, Brongo, VI.BE.MAC, INA.

The definition of sustainability extends far beyond just production methods. People: the employees and the community, sit at the intersection of all ethical and sustainable business practices. The emphasis and awareness of caring for one’s workforce beyond the daily 9-5 or government requirements is a defining ideology driving the MK Sons Denim approach to sustainability. Currently over 30 acres of facility land is used to grow food for employees, providing a farm to table approach to their cafeterias and canteens. By implementing training, education and community outreach programs and paying workers a fair wage they are able to build and retain a skilled and diverse workforce.

“Community is the foundation of MK Sons. Fair and timely wages is something that we take very seriously. Creating the apparel division gave us a chance to bring a new skill to the community which was previously employed primarily in the home textile industry. And we are committed to equip people with these skills”

- Muhammed Erkan, MK Sons Denim Founder

High quality fabric inspection systems to state of the art cutting rooms and automated sewing lines ensure quality production.

So why denim? With a family business in interior textiles, it’s interesting to learn how and when Muhammed Erkan caught the denim bug and what drew him further into the sector.

“The history of cotton and Indigo in this region dates back to 3000 B.C.E., so denim is a natural fit for Pakistan with its cotton, water and abundantly skilled human resources. If I had to pinpoint the exact moment, it would be Kingpins fall 2018 show. I was exploring new avenues in the textile industry and during my visit to Amsterdam I found the denim industry to be extremely dynamic and forward thinking. I also saw an opportunity to innovate in product and process which hasn't been a huge part of traditional textiles. "

- Muhammed Erkan, MK Sons Denim Founder

He has gone on to pull in a team of aficionados to run the facility, drive the R+D and design departments and grow the business. This close-knit team seem to mirror Erkan’s enthusiasm. 

“If the MK Sons Denim product development team are denim nerds, then our design team is denim-obsessed! They live and breathe denim. They get excited about the perfect fit or back pocket placement. Small details like properly busted outseams, breaks in the chevrons where they actually belong, and natural mending can really make their day. The company supports this obsession with resources: 45 operators in the sample room, 35 in the laundry, and state of the art tools to responsibly give life to our creations.”

MK Sons Denim Team

With this much passion, innovation and creativity at the heart of the new facility, MK Sons Denim looks set to be a major player within the already reputable industry of Pakistani denim. This hub of mills, manufacturers and laundries seem to be leading the way towards a new vision of jean making with sustainability folded in from plant through to finished product. So what are Erkan’s thoughts on Pakistan as a future denim hub and his plans for MK Sons Denim in the future?

“The textile industry in Pakistan, perhaps, can see the writing on the wall much more clearly than others. It’s a generational commitment to take these businesses forward and this is the only way to go. Hopefully as the world finally opens up in 2022 and there is more trade and business, we will be able to bring more projects to fruition. In the future we hope to partner with brands with a greater commitment to better business practices in order to grow and sustain this community and eventually the business. We are working towards becoming a B-Corp and to achieve zero water waste by 2030."

MK Sons Denim vintage inspired wash sample.
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