Upcoming textile trends are forecast as sparkling, cosmic and sustainable, naturally — but nonetheless, the textile market is one that remains poised for change.
And while consumers and brands have begun to authentically prioritize sustainability, other emerging issues remain. As far as stability is concerned, the outlook for textile mills is somewhat in flux due to changes in policy and ongoing trade wars. Tricia Carey, director of global business development apparel, Lenzing Fibers, told WWD, “In discussions with global textile mills I am hearing a strong sense of uncertainty. There are order reductions and delays from brands, trade wars, and shifts in sourcing. Mills have to work even more diligently to produce new product lines with storytelling to achieve the same results at lower price points.”
Carey pointed out that shoppers’ behaviors have also changed, partly due to social media exposure and education about sustainable fashion. “Consumers are bombarded with messages on social media, lackluster retail service, and purchase based on price. [However], more brands are educating consumers about initiatives to lower the environmental footprint of denim from fiber to finish, like with Tencel Lyocell or Tencel x Refibra.”
And in denim, as consumers become more and more sustainability savvy, it seems that the lines for what deems something “sustainable” have been blurred — or maybe just misunderstood by the industry itself. “For denim mills, there is a struggle to differentiate in product developments and marketing. The efforts to reduce environmental impact continue, but there is inconsistency of definition. The term sustainability is overused and misused.”
But in spite of instability on the brand side, denim is trending up: U.S. sales of men’s jeans increased 2 percent in the 12 months ending July 2019 to $5.7 billion, while women’s jeans grew at a slower pace, maintaining U.S. sales just shy of $9.1 billion, according to NPD’s Consumer Tracking Service.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry adviser, The NPD Group, told WWD, “While apparel continues to struggle and to barely make an appearance as of yet for back to school, denim shows some signs of life — albeit a glimmer of hope. Men’s jeans are up so slightly and women’s are just barely making last year’s numbers, but growth — versus no growth — is good news. Finish and fabric still dominate the trends, but it’s innovation that’s driving the growth with styles and finishes that strike the right chord. Cohen continued, “The real growth driver is waist and rise height — consumers want their higher waists and unique finishes to look good, and they will build new fits and finishes to their wardrobe.”
NPD’s “Denim Evolution” report also noted that for consumers today, both women and men shoppers are seeking perfect fit, reasonable prices, and comfort in the jeans they purchase. Premium female buyers are willing to pay extra for style, while premium male buyers will pay more for high-quality, comfortable jeans. And almost 75 percent of women and over half of men identify fabric as the number-one influence when deciding what pair of jeans to buy; interestingly, for both genders, sustainability is more important among premium buyers, all according to the report.
That’s why companies such as the ultra-cool Reformation stand out with their approach to denim. The brand’s new denim collection for fall features organic, regenerative and recycled fibers, such as organically grown cotton, recycled elastine, Tencel Lyocell and Refibra Lyocell. Kathleen Talbot, vice president, operations and sustainability at Reformation, told WWD, “Denim is a mainstay of most closets. It’s also one of the most resource-intensive and polluting pieces of clothing to make. So we launched Ref Jeans in 2017, one of the first full collections of sustainable denim on the market. Our goal is to make great products with the smallest environmental impact possible.”
Talbot continued, “Because we’re trying to make sustainable production the status quo, we work closely with mills to develop our own sustainable fabrics and allow other brands around the world to adopt them into their designs too.”
And from an eco-conscious perspective, for denim mills such as Orta, based in Turkey, sustainability is “business as usual,” according to the brand. The firm incorporates the use of organic cotton and today, approximately 15 percent of its cotton consumption is “better cotton” — including blends with an impressively long list of sustainable fibers, recycled polyester and recycled denim — which aligns well with current consumer preferences.
Renee Henze, global marketing director at DuPont Biomaterials, told WWD, “The conscious consumer is becoming more prevalent — taking a hard stance on the need for longer-lasting, eco-friendly materials — and so are brands. The textile market continues to make strides toward more sustainable standards, understanding the need to establish practical objectives for reducing the environmental impact. This was demonstrated most recently at the G7 Summit in August when some of the world’s most iconic fashion houses joined forces to make clothes more sustainable, and on the runway at New York Fashion Week in September.”
Henze continued, “We’ve begun to see a shift of supply chains and manufacturing from China to countries in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Central America. We are tracking consumer habits to understand if shopping brick-and-mortar versus online plays a role in the eco-conscious consumer’s decision and, if so, does one outweigh the other in terms of its full-circle, environmental impact? As the market moves in this direction, there is still consumer demand for cheap, fast fashions, which in many ways is counter to our push for progress. So education, combined with better and higher-performing materials, is still a critical component to making long-term impact across the entire supply chain, including the end-user.”
But branding oneself as “sustainable” has its own set of challenges when considering consumer psyche. Citizens of Humanity’s women’s design director, Alaina Miller, told WWD, “Overt branding and easily identifiable products are gaining popularity. When consumers purchase a product, they want it to come with a sense of inclusivity; to feel like they’re part of a community who shops the same brand. At the same time, they love exclusivity when it comes to what they are buying. Limited editions, special collaborations, etc., all do extremely well in today’s market. In terms of actual product, touch is key. A pair of jeans needs to feel as good as it looks. We have noticed some stores placing an importance on sustainable product and an even more noticeable effort from mills to create better, more sustainable fabrics, so hopefully this is something consumers begin demanding in a more meaningful way.”
And Henze agreed that sustainable alternatives, such as luxe faux furs, are experiencing significant growth. “On the horizon are more sustainable, high-performance alternatives to in-demand applications, including today’s newest trends. For example, as stretch continues to weave itself into ath-leisure, ready-to-wear, high-fashion and beyond, DuPont Sorona is offering a replacement to Spandex — with permanent stretch and recovery that’s recyclable at its end of life. We’re also exploring collaborations for faux fur, which is a rising eco-conscious trend that we’ll continue to see grow.”
So, what else is new? Well, upcycled textiles are in focus, with companies such as Marine Layer pioneering its atypical business model where 100 percent of its materials are made from upcycled, donated apparel. The company also recently introduced Re-Spun Fleece, made from 100 percent recycled materials.
In wool, select mills are taking it up a notch to make their green commitments known. For example, the Reda Group created an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) that lays out the impact of its products to help advance its efforts in environmental protection and monitor its consumption. Or take Botto Giuseppe, which offers technical wools replete with finishing applications that enable water repellency, performance, anti-stain guarantees and protection from UV rays — and are blended with silk, cashmere, cotton, linen, viscose or bamboo.
Meanwhile, brands such as Invista focus on fabric longevity and quality as key pillars of their sustainability solution. Cindy McNaull, Invista, Cordura brand business development director, explained, “There’s no denying that ethical purchasing is high on today’s agenda for consumers, and many experts agree that consumers are now turning to more holistic practices of simplification and purchasing of fewer, higher-quality items. Less is definitely more.” McNaull added, “Consumer education to understand sustainable choices will be key to the long-term success of brands. A driver for Invista’s Cordura brand fabric is in providing solutions that are durable and long-lasting in order to help minimize waste and reduce water and energy consumption.”
And participation in initiatives that help drive sustainability forward has gained notable popularity throughout the industry. Take fabric innovation firm Tintex Textiles, who recently joined the United Nations Global Compact to pledge its commitment to “responsible business action.” The company is well-known for its partnership Asahi Kasei and its sustainable Bemberg product, Cupro, a regenerated fiber made from cotton linter, a raw material that is pre-consumer waste. Tintex told WWD, “Things in the trend areas and markets are changing rapidly…consumers are changing, so it is compulsory to find the right, appropriate support in order to work in the right direction with an appropriate strategy. Many consumers want to be informed, especially when it comes to Millennials. It is all about storytelling and making a connection between the brand and the consumer.” The brand explained, “Our role is to provide brands and retailers with a full package of values inside each of our products: contemporary design, innovation and sustainability — all in one.”
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