California drought: How SoCal fashion manufacturers are using new water-saving techniques

Over 87% of California is experiencing either extreme or exceptional drought conditions, but here's how they're making it work.

Phillip Palmer Image
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
How SoCal fashion manufacturers are using new water-saving techniques
The California drought, along with the high cost of the clothing dying process, is driving the fashion industry out of that part of their business.

VERNON, Calif. (KABC) -- Over 87% of California is experiencing either extreme or exceptional drought conditions.

That's not something you generally think of when you think of fashion, but the industry certainly has it on its mind.

According to Sean Zahedi, the president of Lafayette Textiles in Vernon, water plays a key role when making their products.

"A lot of people don't realize how much water goes into just making a simple, plain T-shirt," he said.

Lafayette Textiles has been making high quality fabric for more than 30 years, but in the past, they would also dye their material.

However, in order to dye the fabric for 1,500 T-shirts, it requires about 3,200 gallons of water.

The state's drought conditions, along with the high cost associated with the dying process, drove the company out of that part of their business.

READ ALSO | As California struggles with drought, could mandatory water restrictions happen sooner?

"I think there has to be more attention put onto this, because us as manufacturers, we're ready to change," said Zahedi. "We're ready to innovate, but we just don't have the means to do it."

Making denim uses as much water as any fabric in an industry that is the third largest user of water globally, but Saitex USA, who built a new manufacturing plant in Vernon for denim, may have created a new water-saving blueprint for blue jeans.

The company said it's ready to share the process with anyone who wants to know how they did it.

Saitex USA founder Sanjeez Bahl feels it's the right thing to do.

"The population continues to increase, and our resources continue to get depleted," Bahl said. "So if there is a methodology to conserving and preserving, we have to showcase that."

Using lessons learned from its plant in Vietnam, Saitex USA built its Vernon plant in 2019, using water-saving equipment to create a more environmentally friendly way to make denim products.

"We recycle water internally 98%," said Saitex USA President Kathy Kweon. "Obviously, that 2% will evaporate, but 98% of water gets circulated internally to use over and over again, and we discharge the clean, recycled water once a month."

The company saves between 50% and 60% of water costs, but the initial investment is significant and likely won't pay for itself for six to seven years.

But it's not just water recycling.

Along with traditional methods used to create denim products, Saitex USA has invested in high-tech solutions, like laser treatment of fabric, and provides manufacturing and design under one roof for its customers while creating roughly 200 jobs last year.

"There's something to be said about creating long-term value," said Bahl. "Everything that you see, not only the water recycling system, the kind of machines, you know? The automation that you've seen, these are all very long-term, you know, propositions."

Zahedi hopes these changes will become readily available across the industry.

"I think we're all on the same boat," he said. "If we can find a way to save water, it will be a win-win for all parties involved."