By  on August 5, 2013

Unifi Inc., aiming to expand its footprint in the sustainable textiles market, has inked a manufacturing and distribution agreement with Palmetto Synthetics to expand its Repreve line into staple fibers.

A leading U.S. producer of multifilament polyester and nylon textured yarns and related raw materials, Unifi launched its recycled line of products under the brand name Repreve in 2007. The product line utilizes recycled materials including preconsumer manufacturing waste and postconsumer plastic bottles. The Repreve fiber components are used in fabrics for apparel, automotive products and medical applications. In addition, many U.S. retailers and brands, including Patagonia, The North Face and Haggar have incorporated Repreve products into their apparel lines.

The company has been expanding Repreve over the last five to six years and in 2010 opened a 50,000-square-foot recycling center for Repreve in Yadkinville, N.C. The recycling center produces 40 million pounds of recycled fibers and is poised to expand capacity in mid to late 2014, according to Jay Hertwig, vice president of global branding at Unifi.

Building on that success, Unifi hopes to reach more customers through its agreement with Palmetto.

“This is one of the first agreements signed for Repreve and especially for staple fiber,” Hertwig said. “It enables Unifi to expand Repreve’s product offering and has opened up Repreve opportunities not only for the apparel market, but also for socks, hosiery, automotive and industrial end uses that traditionally we might not participate in as a filament supplier.”

Under the agreement, Palmetto will be a licensed manufacturer of Repreve staple fiber. The company will buy the Repreve polymer chip from Unifi, run it through a staple-fiber extruder and sell the Repreve staple fiber in natural forms and solution-dyed color forms, Hertwig said.

Palmetto is a staple-fiber producer based in Kingstree, S.C., that sells products to some of the largest U.S. yarn spinners and the new agreement will give Unifi a new range of customers.

“It gives us the ability to extend the Repreve product offering to more markets than we would have in the filament world,” Hertwig said.

He said Palmetto will replace its Nature Spun recycled brand with the Repreve brand in the next year and run programs ranging from men’s knit and woven apparel to automotive and industrial end uses.

Unifi, which posted an increase in net sales of 1.3 percent to $714 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, is banking on the growth in sustainable products. The company, headquartered in Greensboro, N.C., plans to expand the Repreve business, which accounts for 15 to 20 percent of polyester production, to represent a third of the company’s overall business over the next two years, Hertwig said.

Apparel brands also continue to expand their recycled offerings, Hertwig said, pointing to Haggar’s use of Repreve component in its Life Khaki brand.

“As a company, we have definitely invested in recycling technology and the green movement,” he said. “We believe it is here to stay.”

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