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NEW YORK — Sustainability and environmentally friendly fabrics and production methods are going from secondary concerns to the forefront of textile sourcing.

This story first appeared in the August 2, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The need for innovation and integrating inventions and research into the mainstream of manufacturing was a major theme at last month’s round of fall-winter 2012-13 textile and sourcing fairs here, with companies touting such materials as recycled polyester, antibacterial fabrics, eco-dyed goods and organic cotton.

Ann Gillespie, director of Industry Integrity at Textile Exchange, conducting a seminar on sustainability at Texworld USA, gave some dramatic statistics on the need for more sustainable and environmentally sound business practices, while offering insight into the latest developments in textile innovations.

“It takes 700 gallons of fresh water to make one cotton T-shirt,” Gillespie said. “In 2009, the world used 3 trillion gallons of fresh water to produce 132 billion pounds of fabric. According to the World Bank, 20 percent of industrial fresh-water pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing.”

She noted advancements in renewable and biodegradable materials, such as Avantium’s YXY process that converts biomass into bio-polymers that can be used in fibers, Rilsan polyamide derived from caster beans, Rudolf Chemie’s use of canola oil for textile dyeing and finishing and enzyme technology for textile processing. There is also a revived interest in natural fibers and their development, Gillespie noted, such as nettle projects in the Netherlands and the Himalayas, and the use of alpaca, kenaf, kapok, coir, pineapple and banana fibers.

Also important are closed-loop production systems for waste reduction, as employed by Lenzing Fibers in its production of cellulosic fibers Tencel and Modal, as well as methods to limit or eliminate water in the manufacture or processing of fibers and fabrics. Innovations here include Huntsman Textiles Effect’s Avitera SE dyeing system for cellulosic fibers that reduces water consumption and increases dye consumption; CO2 dyeing, such as employed in the The Yeh Group’s DyeCoo Textile Systems waterless dyeing; laser technology, as in Marithé et François Girbaud’s Wattwash line that uses a 97.5 percent water-free denim washing technique; plasma technologies to effect surface modification of different kinds of fibers, and digital printing.

In a sort of letter to the industry, Paul Hulme, president of Huntsman Textile Effects, said, “It’s time that all of us in the textile industry take stock of the current situation and work in partnership to implement a change that will lead toward a more sustainable textile processing industry. Only collectively can we truly have any impact to reduce the environmental impact in key markets such as India and China — the very communities that are most affected by access to water.”

Noting that the global textiles dyes market is expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2015, Hulme said Huntsman’s Productivity Improvement Program is aimed at developing innovative solutions to create products and technologies with intelligent effects to reduce water and energy consumption.

To that point, Gillespie said, “Companies are in a dynamic situation of embracing sustainable development through innovative solutions throughout the supply chain. There is a need for an integrated approach where designers, marketers, technologists and manufacturers can work together.”

Gillespie has joined with Andrew Olah, founder of the Kingpins Show, and Stuart Adams, co-founder of Continuum Textiles, to create The Continuum Show, a boutique trade show that intends to bring together the most progressive and innovative solutions to textile sustainability. It is set to bow in New York in January and run concurrently with the Kingpins denim show.

Throughout the shows, companies were promoting how they have gone from the drawing board to the selling floor with these next-generation products.

There was Akin Tekstil’s recycled cotton and polyester, Ruentex Industries’ anti-U.V. and antibacterial fabrics, and Textil Santanderina’s work with the University of Cantabria to create and implement methods to decrease sludge discharge at its factories, and chemical and water use in its production. The Spanish company has also worked with chemical company Clariant to create Eco-Sandye, which uses biodegradeable colorants and a dyeing process that allows for 90 percent water savings, and separately produces Supreme, a Tencel and cotton blend fiber spun in a way to reduce energy consumption.

Terry Turner, product development director for Unifi Inc., discussed the firm’s Repreve line of recycled polyester made from used water bottles. Unifi, which recently invested $8 million in a new recycling facility in Yadkinville, N.C., that will produce 40 million to 50 million pounds of recycled filament annually, is committed to developing more sustainable materials and better environmental manufacturing methods.

“We need to develop higher-quality fibers so recycled fabrics have a better image,” Turner said. “Polyester is the most used fiber in the world and…offers the largest opportunity for recycled products.”

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