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              IMPRESSIONS from a Cross-section

              Topic

              Do you think there are far too many different fibres in the market that makes apparel makers as well as end-consumers stand confused?

              Sustainable and eco-friendly fibres remain in the minority
              The textile industry is flooded with announcements about new fibre innovations/developments every other day. Fibre2Fashion spoke to few fibre brand advocates to understand what really is creating confusion amongst apparel makers as well as end-consumers when they go looking for a new fibre or product respectively.


              There has been an understandable concern about greenwashing claims in the industry over the past few years, but consumers and brands are smart. Innovative fibres with proven claims and eco-credentials speak for themselves and we welcome the introduction of sustainable fibres which will only make it easier for brands to implement them across their supply
              chains.

              From a consumer perspective, the growing ecosystem of certification mechanisms and credentials for guaranteed sustainability are starting to cause confusion. To avoid this, sustainable brands must subscribe to clear and comparable standards to avoid greenwashing and ensure consumers understand what goes into the production of their garments, and its associated environmental credibility.

              Additionally, whilst there are many different fibres available in the market today, sustainable and eco-friendly fibres remain in the minority.?

              Indeed, there is no lack of fibre innovation and development in the market, but many have not moved beyond proof of concept because investments and scale are not happening at a quick enough pace. Other drawbacks include the quality and availability of feedstock in volume.

              While there may be a host of different innovations and new products that could possibly lead to confusion, we see this as positive forward momentum. A concerted effort across the industry is necessary for moving the needle on fashion circularity with immediacy and urgency, working with partners like us to provide the incentive and financial means that can contribute to accelerating the pace of transformation and achieve systemic change.

              Nowadays, we discover new brands of materials every day and, even if we consider it very positive when they can offer good solutions for a new generation of virtuous materials, this can create real confusion especially within brands, retailers and final consumers. For this reason, transparency and traceability, both at company, product and process levels, must be part of the storytelling and in this sense third party analysis and certifications become fundamental to demonstrate to consumers that what we declare is true and trustable.2

              I think people are really confused about what’s going on because in terms of fibre, I don’t think there really has been much innovation. And as far as I know, in the last 12 months there has only been our company that has brought a new fibre to the market. Everything else is about finishes, topical treatments, chemistry—everything that has been put on top of yarns, fabrics and everything else. You are very right in your assessment that there is such a clutter and such a lot of misinformation that nobody really knows what to turn to first. There needs to be more direction in terms of what is out there. I think the number of fibres itself has not increased, but the number of treatments which are being offered in the market. Nobody knows what they are going to use and what is it really against. People are branding things which are not quite true if you go into the fine print in the end. I think it’s a complete clutter out there.

              Consumers are looking for products that enable them to lead more eco-friendly lives. They want to minimise waste, their carbon footprint and reduce their use of plastic. That is why it is important to continue working on different research and development initiatives. Innovating new products and materials and scaling them up for commercial use take time.

              No, I don’t think so. The industry continues to develop, and many solutions are created along this path—some of them become established and others do not. I doubt whether the technical composition of a fibre is relevant to the normal customer. I rather think that functionalities/properties that a fibre gives to a fabric are relevant for the customer and arouse a correspondingly higher willingness to buy/pay.

              Yes, there are more options on the market, and that requires more research and testing at all levels of the design and production process, but this abundance and choice is necessary for progress. The weaker innovations will not make it in the market and until a new development can be scaled up it will not be adopted. Sometimes it is a crisis that drives change, and we are at one of those moments in time. As an industry we have learned that change can sometimes cause new issues and it would behoove us to analyse and try to predict future impacts as much as possible.

              We believe that, for end consumers, it is hard to follow the many new trends and innovations and especially hard to judge which developments are truly sustainable and which are only marketing. Therefore, the issue of correct labelling and traceability of the whole chain from fibre to finished product is very important to really know the footprint of the product. For example, there are differences between polyester and polyester depending on where the oil (fracking vs more responsibly oil production) comes from which makes a big difference when it comes to sustainability and this is not being fully taken into consideration today.

              In contrast to a scenario from maybe 100 years ago, the expectations of consumers have grown tremendously. We don’t wear clothes to keep from freezing. We expect clothes—and other products–to deliver an extra of functionality.

              Depending on the intended use, there are many different functionalities a textile or a nonwoven can offer, from sportswear or well-being textiles to incontinence, femtech or medical products to name just a few. The abundance of new developments is an answer to the abundance of different needs. The focus of our innovation activity lies on the combination of sustainability and performance: we want to facilitate the shift from a fossil-based to a bio-based economy but consumers will only choose a sustainable product when its performance is comparable to that of a synthetic one. With our speciality fibres there’s no need to choose: Consumers can have both!

              You’re right, I think there is a lot of confusion for sure. Textile fibres are not a topic that has really had very wide general appeal. Most people know very little about the fibres used to create the textiles they wear or use, even when it comes to the common conventional fibres like cotton or polyester. And, if you don’t know anything about the production processes for manmade fibres, it’s really easy to get confused. In terms of the manmade cellulosic fibres used in textiles—there aren’t actually that many of them—for a long time it’s been viscose, lyocell, modal and cupro.?

              For most of the innovations we’ve been reading about, the essence is in what happens behind the scenes: what raw material is used to produce the fibre or how the material is produced. These are wonderful and important innovations that are taking circularity and sustainability forward; but the fibre that’s produced is still a traditional fibre like viscose or lyocell. For most people, this is too much information and it’s not necessarily an easy thing to communicate in simple but explicit terms, especially as you move down the line from fibre to yarn to fabric to garment. This means that labelling often leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and this makes it difficult for someone who just wants to make a sustainable purchase to understand the nuances. For sure there is a need for clarity, and regulation on labelling will likely play a role here in the future.

              Fashion brands as well as end consumers are confused about the variety of information available in the market. There are opportunities for apparel brands to provide more transparency and promote their sustainable offerings across the consumer shopping journey. More and more consumers are looking for information about how their clothing is made so that they can feel empowered and comfortable in their purchasing decisions.

              But shoppers today are not only seeking out sustainable fibres; they’re also looking for fabrics that deliver on comfort, style, and performance. So sustainable fibre choices which do not compromise on quality and style can help to address the growing needs of fashion consumers.

              There have been many fibres that have been brought to the market in recent times and this creates an opportunity. The key, however, is to have fibre options that can be delivered on a commercial scale. Sustainable fibres in capsule or specialty collections are a great start; the objective needs to be to have sustainable fibres in core collections, and sustainable fibre manufacturing needs to be done at a commercial scale for this to happen.

              We fully agree. What is happening in the apparel industry is similar to what we have been experiencing with cars: in the recent past each car manufacturer has been experimenting with different power supplies—from hydrogen to solar panels. Today, there is a clearer line towards electric supply. Soon the fashion industry will probably have more clarity on its ways too. Everyone is looking in different directions and for different sources in terms of materials, textures, etc.

              We couldn’t agree more. Sometimesthe simplest solution is the best—in terms of both performance and sustainability. There is also an elegance to the economy of gesture. But that doesn’t mean innovation should be abandoned. We see a real opportunity for purpose-driven innovation. I think what we will witness in the post-pandemic era will be a lot more focused in what is special about each and every innovation—from textiles to insulation. There has been too much innovation for innovation’s sake leading to a lot of confusion in the marketplace.


              We are starting to sense a movement away from attempting to use something different just for the sake of saying you are doing it. We are often asked if we can develop certain insulations using different materials, natural or synthetic, and we always have to first start with the question of who would this benefit and how? We always try to stay away from developments just for the sake of having something “new and different” if it is not bringing anything to the party.

              No, I do not think that there are too many different fibres in the market. As brands, retailers and consumers are looking for more customised textile solutions, it is better to have all of these options to be evaluated for cost, performance and environmental impact. I will concede that there is too much information and too many claims, which can lead to confusion. To counter this, the industry will need to rely on trusted partners.

              This article was first published in the March 2021 edition of the print magazine.

              Published on: 24/05/2021

              DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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