PARIS — A Balenciaga garment made from the recycled fibers of a Max Mara camel coat. That’s the reality for a growing number of brands embracing the circular economy, a hot topic at recent Première Vision Paris and Texworld shows here.
“You see mills that are starting to weave fabrics with fibers recycled from plastic bottles, discarded clothes, discarded polyesters. Materials are freshly rewoven with these fibers and they look really luxurious, they look perfect,” said Olivier Theyskens, jury president of the 10th anniversary of the PV Awards.
Held Sept. 19 to Sept. 21 at the Parc des Expositions in Paris Nord Villepinte, the show for the first time exceeded the 2,000 exhibitor mark, with 190 new companies. The edition also saw the launch of the Marketplace Première Vision via a physical space, allowing visitors to experiment and test out the platform.
One of the main challenges for recycled fibers, explained Francois Souchet, director of Make Fashion Circular at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is the loss of quality and lack of real technologies available at scale.
“When we talk to luxury brands, one of the main concerns is, ‘Is this fabric very durable? Can it compete with the level of quality that we want to project and deliver to our customers?’” he said, adding that scaling up the process could dynamize the industry.
“We have mountains of clothes at the bottom of our wardrobes that we don’t really do anything with and it’s a massive missed opportunity for the economy,” he said.
“When we started to analyze how the industry works, we found that in a circular economy where the materials would be safe and renewable, clothes would be worn much more than they are today, and never end up being waste. It would create economic opportunity for the industry to the value of over 500 billion British pounds.”
German polyester-based membranes specialist Sympatex Technologies, which has seen a spurt in demand for recycled fabrics, and counts Rossignol and Pyrenex among its clients, has been working with a circular economy since less than a year.
“We are now able to recycle a garment made from our fabrics to create a new yarn,” said Pablo Delafonte, marketing and sales director for France and southern Europe.
Founded five years ago, Italy’s Reverso, one of the buzziest exhibitors in PV’s Smart Square space dedicated to responsible production, which had doubled in size, launched its circular economy project a year ago, and works with brands including Balenciaga, Gucci and Stella McCartney. The supply chain was formed by five partners, each specialized in one area of the process, including selecting and dividing the fibers, and producing yarn.
Over at Texworld, exhibitors were transparent about the strain that the demand for sustainability has put on production. “Working with recycled fibers is not perfect, as it really limits the yarn making. As microfiber is very fine, it means the quality isn’t stable,” said John Wang, vice president of sales at Jujie Microfibers.
The company specialized in recycled polyester microfiber to satisfy customer demand, offering up to 78 percent recycled fabrics. “Recycled microfiber is popular with North European brands; IKEA is a big client of ours,” added Wang, who also counts H&M, Inditex and Express in his client base. “But collecting and recycling uses a lot of energy. The real problem is within the industry: if brands weren’t asking for collections so often, things would be different.”
The team at Bangladesh-based textile manufacturer Zaber & Zubair was more optimistic. “We set up a caustic recovery plan to reuse chemicals,” said general manager Subodh Talukder. “It was a $50 million investment, but we’ve found that nature gives back and that it saves money in the long run.”
The company has also invested in an energy-saving gas generator, which helps win over clients as they make the switch from production in China to Bangladesh. “Customers are asking for lower prices every day; there is a lot of competition,” said Talukder. “We’re telling our customers about our steps toward sustainability. We need their cooperation.”
Attendance was slightly down for Texworld and sister shows Avantex and Apparel Sourcing, which drew in a total of 15,075 visitors over the four-day event, ending Sept. 20, 400 fewer visitors than the equivalent last year edition.
This season marked the introduction of Leatherworld to the roster of shows under the “Fairyland for Fashion” umbrella, which featured not only leather manufacturers but also animal-friendly fur alternatives such as Ecopel.
A stand-out exhibitor at Avantex was Pyratex, the Madrid-based textile manufacturer created by 26-year-old Regina Polanco. Pyratex crafts natural-fiber fabrics with health benefits, such as an algae-based fiber with antioxidant properties. The brand has just been chosen by Asics to be part of its talent incubator for textile innovation in ath-leisure.
At Première Vision, Botter’s Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh, winners of the 2018 Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography and the new creative directors of Nina Ricci, presented a DIY silhouette made up of a jacket hand-woven from plastic bags with silk and mohair yarns; a plissé top made from folded plastic bags and hand-painted denim made from recycled plastics.
“The challenge for us is to find manufacturers who are also thinking this way. We don’t want to be activist designers, we just want to do it quietly, to integrate it in the fabrics,” said Herrebrugh.
Lanvin men’s designer Lucas Ossendrijver, who had spotted a nice recycled cashmere at one of the show’s mills, said the fact that fabrics made from recycled fibers were lower priced was a “double plus.” The designer was also scouting two-for-one “double-faced fabrics, that you don’t need to line, or with two different colors or patterns.”
During a talk at Avantex about eco-fabrics, Elodie Ternaux, founder of textile consultancy firm Hyloh, insisted that the fabric choice wasn’t the only source of environmental issues. “The original material counts, but sometimes that’s not where the problem lies. What makes things difficult is what we do to it, how we wash it, how we get rid of it once its life is over.”
The solution for Ternaux was simple: “Manufacturers need to appeal directly to designers and say, ‘No, we will not create this garment for you as it is not recyclable.’”
This implies better awareness of sustainability issues when actually training to be a designer. Avantex put forward the research labs of two European fashion schools: Aalto University in Finland and the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI).
At Aalto University, the ChemArts program has developed a sustainable water-repellent coating made of a nanocellulose wax mixture. The research program regularly organizes workshops to get young designers interested in innovative materials.
“Some students get very overwhelmed about the impact that fashion has on the environment,” said Pirjo Kääriäinen, a professor at Aalto. “It’s important for us to show that there is hope and that we will go forward. We will not have solutions in a week, a month, a year, or even 10 years, but we’re actively looking for them.”
The AMFI chose to tackle the issue of prototyping, a huge source of textile waste. The school’s Fashion Technology Lab developed a digital prototyping program, teaching students to design garments in 3-D. “It saves a lot of textile waste: you no longer have to go back and forth with the manufacturer,” said Lisette Vonk.
Students taking the course graduate with both a digital and physical collection. “Digital prototyping could be a first step toward a made-to-order fashion industry, where clothes are only produced once selected from an online digital catalogue,” said Vonk.
Another major area of interest at Première Vision was the Sport Tech section, with movement in active sports driving technological innovation in textiles and garments.
“There is a growing fluidity across our daily lives and this mobility is translating to fashion. From outdoor-meets-city wear to ath-leisure-infused everyday wear, fashion and sport continue to interact faster and faster,” said Ariane Bigot, the fair’s deputy fashion director.
“The explosion of new ways of living and getting around the city are calling for a new way to connect comfort and elegance. Lifestyles are changing, we’re doing more things and going to more places in the same day, so we need more functionality in our everyday garments,” she added. “Consumers want their fabrics to be more functional, better looking and more sustainable.”
Key fall 2019 trends at the show included discreet reflective fabrics; down fabrics with less puff; workwear inspirations; russets, neutrals and mock primaries; rich density; full suppleness and airy softness.
Trends from the British mills included a focus on browns with red, wine, cream, caramel or rust nuances and new spins on navy, “with a lot more attitude,” said Beryl Gibson, a textile and color consultant for the U.K. Fashion & Textile Association.
Among the novelty fabrics, Gibson highlighted a new take on Scottish tartan but with rubber yarn and Lurex by Linton Tweeds, which works with Chanel. She also cited growing demand for fabrics embodying “bad-taste-good-taste, but it works.”
Eurojersey, the Italian manufacturer of the patented Sensitive Fabrics, which has seen massive growth in the activewear segment according to general manager Andrea Crespi, launched a new bio-ceramic print geared to medical application.
Highlights at Ratti SpA, which published its first sustainable report in April, included a quilted nylon with a color-blocked landscape print, a shaggy monkey hair-style fabric in neon threads, and a flock with a fur handle.
The company, which produces all the organic cotton for Balenciaga’s shirts and had its fabrics feature in around 20 looks in Burberry’s spring 2019 collection, for 2018 is projecting 25 percent growth in the luxury area, which represents almost 50 percent of its activity, coming off sales of around 99.4 million euros in 2017, director Mario Ratti said.
Japan’s Debs introduced a polyester with a crinkled surface interest and a sustainable Cupro yarn for drapes.
“Customers are finding it more difficult to buy the quantities that they are used to, so the volumes have shrunken a bit but they buy more variety,” Soubhi Debs, the company’s president said.
Theyskens, for the selection of the winning PV Awards fabrics, set out to “make choices that were not so personal, but are more materials that I feel are bringing a vision. That it has modernity, something new like, ‘Hmm, that’s tomorrow.’”
The PV Fabrics Grand Jury Prize 2018 went to Marini Industrie. But Theyskens also flagged Spanish FC Creacio, which scooped two prizes in the leather section, including the main award.
“I’m very excited about them. They’re very creative but with a real sense of the perfection of the final product with this aspect of the eco-sensivity and modernity,” he said.
In the show’s leather section, Mark Oaten, chief executive officer of the International Fur Federation, said they’re “in the middle of a fight back” to promote fur’s natural qualities, in reaction to the highly polluting faux fur alternatives that have surfed the wave of the anti-fur movement.
Founded in 1949 and based in London, the trade body counts members in 52 countries.
“Obviously with Gucci, Versace and a couple of weeks ago Burberry announcing that they’re giving up fur, we feel it’s time for our voice to come out fighting on several fronts,” said Oaten. A campaign has been sent out to 25,000 designers across the globe, in nine different languages, with a 2 million British pound spend on a campaign with Vogue, he said. “We are also working with social media, targeting the 18- to 25-year-old group. So far, we’re on 4 million Facebook purchases, with five different films talking about fake fur versus natural fur,” he said.
By 2020, he added, all fur sold by the world’s four fur auctions will be from certification programs.
Pacing the aisles, bag designer Jérôme Dreyfuss agreed that fake fur “is breaking the planet.
“I’m just looking for more and more eco-friendly product seeing as we are the second most polluting industry in the world. We really have to think of ways to change that. Not by doing fake leathers or fake furs that are based on oil,” he said.