These are exciting times for the textile industry. Over the past decade, there has been a huge push to go green with fabrics, leading to new sustainable textile and fibre innovations. There are more than 40 new textile-relevant sustainable fibres that are ready to be industrialised or are already in the early industrialisation phase. Soon we will have plenty of new raw material options including oil-based polymer fibres, traditional manmade cellulosic fibres, and natural fibres. It’s hard to wait for the implementation of all these amazing options into new and exciting sustainable textiles.
Luckily some of the early developments are already available. The Italian and Spanish recycled nylon fibres made out of old fishing nets and cutting leftovers have already established themselves within the fashion industry. The high-quality of the fibre invites innovations to fabrics and fully fashioned knitwear. The US companies Dupont and Eastman have been reinventing their fibres in Europe for some time now. We have seen interesting developments in fur and silk imitation materials. I love their material made out of a mix of the plant-based Du-Pont polymer Sorona and the cellulosic fibre Naia. This blend creates the perfect sustainable textile for a modern and agile wardrobe.
Many sources around the globe offer pre-consumer waste recycled cotton. In finer weights, the mechanically recycled cotton needs to be combined with recycled polyester, organic/ virgin cotton, or a cellulose fibre. If you go for these options it’s good to check where the secondary fibre is coming from to make sure the fabric really is a sustainable option.
Scandinavian countries have moved ahead in the development of new manmade fibres. Thanks to state-supported innovation programs, new fibres like Spinnova, a material made from wood, Infina, described as a superfiber produced by the Infinited Fiber Company from Finland, and Circulose by Renewcell from Sweden. These three are now at early stages of production. The fibre companies are working with chosen vertical partners to help scale the production. It’s going to be exciting to see the first commercial offering of those raw materials over the next few years.
The vision for the future of sustainable textiles
With more than three decades of experience in the fashion industry and fifteen years of involvement in sustainability projects, I couldn’t be happier to witness these developments in sustainable textiles. Even twenty-five years ago ecological textile in fashion was already a hot topic for academics like myslef in Holland. Unfortunately at that time consumers and the world were not ready for the change. Today successful early adopter brands and brave sustainable fashion start-ups are pushing the movement.
Textile business opportunities in the European Economic Area, including the UK, are encouraging circularity. Within a couple of years, brands will be asked to organise recycling for their leftover production. We shouldn’t be waiting for the Asian industry to develop recycled polyester based on our textile waste. It would be an economic and ecological benefit to produce a high standard of recycled polyester fibre and yarn here in Europe locally out of our own waste.
In the EU, we talk a lot about local production today. In the UK it could mean going back to its strong tradition of spinning and knitting. The new fibre producers are searching for collaborations in the field of sustainable textiles. Being a pioneer in spinning and knitting of the new raw materials would benefit local brands keen on implementing more sustainable practices locally and help to stop reliability on imports, especially in the wake of Brexit.
How to make an informed sustainable choice
We need to wait a little longer before official regulations of sustainable products come into effect. Luckily many governments are working on defining the laws and regulations. Until there is full transparency in the production chain, it remains challenging for a consumer to evaluate if a brand is honest with its ‘green’ communication. A sustainability report is the first source of information to understand a brands’ sustainability. This is an obligatory part of annual reporting for some of the bigger companies, reports can generally be found on brand websites.
As a matter of fact, it’s more of a challenge for the larger brands to change collections to fully sustainable than for startups to build sustainable brands. This is because there’s still a lack of greener options for all products, lead times can be too long and prices too high.
When purchasing sustainable fashion check if the fabric is made out of recycled, or certified materials, and find out where the piece has been produced. Sustainable companies must communicate openly about their production facilities if they wish to be a credible sustainable brand.
Sustainability is not only about the raw materials but also about social compliance. Factory workers need to be treated fairly and paid a real living wage.
This article was written by Marjo Hartikainen of Responsible Textile Consulting
If you would like to know more about how Marjo can help or if you need help in other sustainability areas for your brand then take a look at the Sustainable Services that Sustainable UK Fashion can offer.