Sustainability is swiftly sweeping through the fashion industry, with brands and retailers eagerly participating in a global movement to catalyze a critical and vital transformation. And for The LYCRA Company, sustainability is realized through its Planet Agenda platform, which provides a wide array of solutions that contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry.
Jean Hegedus, Sustainability Director, The LYCRA Company, talks to WWD about its Planet Agenda framework, and its China-based clients, including Jiangsu Dan Mao and Haining Bafang Weaving Co.,Ltd., discuss how the firm has helped develop their own sustainability initiatives.
WWD: What led to the development of Planet Agenda?
Jean Hegedus: Back in 2007-2008, as part of our business planning process, we were working on developing a point of view on the future of the textile and apparel industry. From this work, several things became clear. The world’s population was growing, and more consumers were projected to enter the middle class. Based on middle class growth, the need for more apparel was likely to follow. And finally, over time, meeting that demand would put a strain on limited resources. We knew as a business we had to do something and some of our customers were coming to similar conclusions. That point of view led us to develop the Planet Agenda platform, which is still our framework for sustainability today.
WWD: How does Planet Agenda differentiate from comparable initiatives in the sustainability sector?
J.H.: Planet Agenda represents a holistic, science-based approach to sustainability that touches every aspect of our business. It is not a program, but a true operating framework centered around product sustainability, manufacturing excellence and corporate responsibility.
As both a global materials and solutions provider, we focus not only on fibers, but also on technologies that can help address industry challenges such as garment recyclability and the circular economy. Given our unique position toward the top of the value chain, our sustainable innovations can have a broad positive impact on the businesses of many brands and retailers throughout the world.
WWD: Which products from The LYCRA Company are specifically pioneering sustainability?
J.H.: In 2014, we introduced the world’s first bio-based elastane product, with 70 percent of the content derived from industrial corn. We are the only elastane producer who is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and LYCRA® fiber is the only elastane featured in the Higg Sustainability Index. We also pioneered the development and commercialization of LYCRA® T400® EcoMade fiber, the only stretch offering combining recycled and plant-based materials.
This product will be included in the latest edition of the Higg Index which is due out in August. LYCRA® fibers for apparel made at all of our manufacturing sites around the world have achieved STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, Level 1, Appendix 6 certification. In addition, LYCRA® T400®, COOLMAX® and THERMOLITE® fibers have also been certified. This means the fibers have been checked against a list of over 350 harmful substances and successfully tested for safety in human ecological terms.
WWD: How does The LYCRA Company strategically promote sustainability by value-chain collaboration?
J.H.: In terms of sustainability, The LYCRA Company is working up, down and across value chains. We collaborate with our raw material suppliers on both chemical safety and development of new, sustainable options for fiber feedstocks. We are working with a variety of entrepreneurs and NGOs on technologies to enable a more circular economy, including those for garment to garment recycling. And of course, we work with our valued mill partners and brands and retailers to bring new developments to consumers such as our LYCRA® EcoMade fiber.
WWD: Are there any significant trends in sustainability that emerged during the coronavirus pandemic? If so, how will these trends impact the industry moving forward?
J.H.: We are seeing several trends that have implications for sustainability. Early research shows that consumers are becoming more mindful of what they are purchasing. They are seeking quality and durability, preferring fewer, better quality garments that will last, versus cheaper, trendier items. To capitalize on this, brands and retailers will need to consider how to design garments for longer life, and that starts with raw material selection.
The LYCRA Company has a variety of offerings to assist in this area, such as our LYCRA® XTRA LIFE™ fiber that brings durable fit to swimwear – lasting up to 10 times longer than unprotected elastane. Similarly, our LYCRA® dualFX® technology combines two stretch offerings – LYCRA® and LYCRA® T400® fibers – in a single yarn to bring durable shape retention to jeans, even those with high stretch. A complete listing of our innovations that provide enhanced durability can be found on our website.
Another emerging trend is that consumers are demanding greater transparency into the products they purchase. They want to know about the ingredients, that the people who made their garments were treated fairly and ethically, and that the products are safe. One of the best ways to ensure this is through third party certifications, and The LYCRA® Company has achieved a number of these including GRS certification, STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, and Gold Level Material Health Certification.
WWD: What’s next for The LYCRA Company?
J.H.: The LYCRA Company continues to work on solutions that support a circular economy, focusing on options that we believe can be both impactful and scalable. The platforms we are investing in include: Our EcoMade family of products (recycled offerings, both pre- and post-consumer); Garment Recyclability; Safe, Screened Chemistries; and Increasing Garment Durability/Wear Life.
Here, Qiu Jianqiang, General Manager at Haining Bafang Weaving Co.,Ltd., and Peter Wu, Vice General Manager at Jiangsu Dan Mao, talk to WWD about sustainability initiatives and partnerships with The LYCRA Company.
WWD: What sustainable products does your brand offer, and how are they uniquely positioned in the market?
Qiu Jianqiang: Bafang has spent a lot of energy on the research and development of stretch denim. In this field, we have close collaboration with The LYCRA Company, who provides us with many excellent stretch fiber products, such as LYCRA® dualFX®, LYCRA® FREEFITTM, and functional fibers such as COOLMAX® ALL SEASON. With the growing demand for sustainability in recent years, we have upgraded our products by adopting LYCRA® EcoMadeTM fiber that is made with 20% pre-consumer recycled content, making our products comfortable, with added sustainability – and it is loved by many consumers.
Peter Wu: Sustainable products and functional products are the two most import- ant product directions of Jiangsu Dan Mao, which are also the two types of products that distinguish us from other wool spinning companies. We have always been loyal users of LYCRA® fiber and the combination of wool + LYCRA® fiber provides a comfortable stretch worsted fabric for the wool spinning market.
Recently, The LYCRA Company launched its GRS certified, recycled LYCRA® EcoMadeTM fiber, which can further expand our product line and cater to the current market demand for sustainable prod- ucts. At the same time, we are also vigorously developing and promoting functional fabrics suitable for wool, such as COOLMAX® EcoMade fiber, made from 100% post-consumer recycled content, and wool + COOLMAX® ALL SEASON technology series, hoping to provide more functional and sustainable products for the market.
WWD: How has the sustainability movement impacted manufacturing and product development? What changes have been made?
Q.J.: We made changes in two aspects: First, in the production process, we achieved sustainable development through equipment upgrades, integrated management, technical training and other measures, such as water recycling and use of solar energy. Equipment is also regularly maintained to reduce energy consumption, optimize manufacturing process, and reduce chemical use. Secondly, is the use of sustainable raw materials. We use sustainable fibers in the development of a series of new denim fabrics, especially the stretch denim collection inspired by The LYCRA Company’s EcoMade family of technologies and their sophisticated and reliable technical support.
P.W.: Consumers hope to reflect their commitment to social responsibility through their own purchasing behavior, so sustain- able development will be a long-term direction, not just a hot topic. Every year we develop sustainable development plans, hoping to continuously reduce the environ- mental impact of our production process. At the same time, we are also doing more sustainability certifications, such as the GRS certification we have obtained, RWS cer- tification, and so on. We will continuously reflect our pursuit and efforts in sustainability in the selection of raw materials, product development and production.