Material matters, according to shoppers — and an unexpected outgrowth of the pandemic is a reevaluated perspective on sustainable fashion in the form of self-imposed education, and conscious consumption.

In other words, all that time at home has led consumers to rethink their relationship with their clothes, according to researchers at Edited. “Lockdown led to a surge of DIY tutorials on TikTok, educating consumers on upcycling or repairing goods, as well as refreshing clothes through crafting to increase the item’s longevity,” the firm said. “Additionally, 65 percent of consumers plan to purchase more long-lasting, high-quality goods. This will lead to future demand for timeless, investment pieces that will retain value over time and can eventually be resold.”

Shoppers taking a closer look at quality and moving forward with a more thoughtful approach to consumption means brands must do it, too. And the timing couldn’t be better: Edited reports that according to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than one percent of materials used to produce garments are recycled into new ones. What’s worse is that despite the 40 million tons of textile waste sent to landfills or incinerated each year, not all can be recycled or repurposed, the researchers said — which means that brands and retailers prioritizing circularity will “need to experiment and invest in alternatives to traditional recycling techniques to recover original fibers at a high quality.”

Enter Lenzing. The firm’s portfolio of sustainable fibers — both recycled and upcycled — is well-known, but now is its moment to shine as the industry takes a vested, long-term interest in going green.

Here, Tricia Carey, director of global business development at the Lenzing Group, talks to WWD about its eco-fiber innovations, creative partnerships, and the sustainability industry at large.

WWD: Lenzing has a long-standing history with sustainable fiber creation. What is the brand most proud of?

Tricia Carey: Lenzing is most proud of our more than 80 years as leaders of wood-based cellulosic fiber innovation over three generations of wood-based cellulosic fibers. Throughout the company, there is a high regard for worker safety across our seven global production facilities, as well as business offices. Producing 1 million tons of fiber and growing, our branded fibers Tencel Lyocell and Modal, as well as Lenzing Ecovero Viscose, stand for value, quality, and low environmental impact. Our Tencel and Lenzing Ecovero brands are far-reaching to the consumer through co-branding with retailers and brand partners.

WWD: How would you describe the state of the sustainability market? What notable changes or trends have emerged in the past year?

T.C.: The state of the market for environmentally and socially responsible fibers and textiles continues to grow.  I am purposefully eliminating the word “sustainability” from conversations because the textile and apparel industry can now define impacts with greater clarity. We are in the decade of action and can now specifically express the goals and commitments toward climate action, transparency and circularity.

Over the past year, the awareness toward carbon footprint reductions has increased and become even more crucial to reaching global goals of -1.5C under the Paris Agreement. For Lenzing, we started setting goals for climate action in 2018 with the UNFCCC and continued in 2019 with approved Science Based Targets. In 2020 we persisted with a CDP ranking class A for climate action and even brought these commitments to a product level launching true carbon-zero fiber with Tencel Lyocell and Modal.

It is now required to know where and how products are being produced. Transparency connects both raw material and social aspects of the apparel industry. Lenzing supports this with our fabric certification and licensing through a digital platform. We have also partnered for more than two years with TextileGenesis, a blockchain transparency and traceability platform, which continues to grow with mills, makers and brands.

Tricia Carey, the director of global business development at the Lenzing Group. 

In the past year, we have seen a greater awareness of consumption and questions around resource reduction. With more than 50 million tons of textile and apparel waste discarded every year and 16.9 million tons in the U.S. alone, the realization hits that we need to build new business models to think and act differently. This has led to commitments from brands and collaborations within the industry like the Ellen MacArthur Jeans Redesign Project and Accelerating Circularity Project. Lenzing celebrates four years of leading in circularity with the commercial production of Refibra Technology which utilizes cotton waste to make a new Tencel Lyocell fiber.

WWD: What are some recent collaborations Lenzing has worked on with sustainable fashion brands?

T.C.: Lenzing has a wide range of collaborations with global brands which can be found on the “Where to Buy” tab on our Tencel.com homepage.

2020 caused a pivot for many toward connecting with customers even more heavily through digital, Lenzing included. We were able to augment our brand partnerships through our ongoing #FeelsSoRight Campaign with brands like Alternative Apparel, Bella Dahl, Camper, Jockey, and more. We also launched a variety of digital marketing and social media-based influencer campaigns with brands including Mara Hoffman, Boyish, Athleta, H&M, and more.

Organically we see more brands, especially direct-to-consumer brands, developing engaging storytelling about Tencel like the recent Levi’s blog post titled “The Softest Tree You’ll Ever Wear.” Besides apparel, we also have strong collaborations in the home textiles market with The Company Store, West Elm, and Farm to Home.

WWD: Would you share some of the most creative ways fashion brands have used sustainable fabrics and fibers?

T.C.: The creativity of the spinners to develop innovative fiber blends transforms the market as they mix low-impact, recycled, or renewable fibers. We also see Tencel Lyocell used as a substitute for other longstanding fibers due to its lower resource impact and aesthetics. Brands seeking traceable viscose options incorporate Lenzing Ecovero viscose. Another example is Refibra Technology mixed with mechanically recycled cotton creating fabrics using no new cotton.

Fabric mills also seek ways to layer technology and innovation in dyeing and finishing using less water, chemicals, and energy leading brands to build a garment with overall lower environmental impact.

WWD: Were Lenzing’s operations significantly impacted during the pandemic? How did customers react?

T.C.: First and foremost, Lenzing prioritized the safety of workers and suppliers during the pandemic. We maintained our production and also collaborated with Palmers Textil AG to start a new company “Hygiene Austria LP GmbH” for the production and selling of protective masks for the domestic and European markets.

WWD: What’s next for Lenzing?

T.C.: Lenzing continues with several major projects including the expansion of Tencel Lyocell production in Thailand, marking the launch of our Asia production of Tencel Lyocell. We are also expanding with a dissolving wood pulp plant in Brazil, with partner Duratex.

We link our activities to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and support partnerships for the SDGs. Expect to see more collaborations and innovations addressing the key needs of the market, including responsible forestry, traceability, and collaboration with industry stakeholders. Over the next several months, watch out for our annual sustainability report and our upcoming 2021 Earth Month campaign in April.

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