Switch was not 100% pandemic related
There have been widespread calls for a green recovery of the fashion industry from the destruction wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. In some ways, this recovery needs to start from the fibre stage itself. Fibre2Fashion spoke to some fibre industry professionals to ascertain their views about what they have noticed in fibre development/innovation in the last one year.
Hoi Kwan Lam: I must say 2020 was not a year of fibre innovation. Most companies held on to cost-cutting. When you cut cost, the first thing you cut is marketing, second is R&D-that is obvious. Brands normally engage with us throughout the year for innovation ideas. But last year, it was not the case. Most have switched their innovation budgets to something cut to the pandemic-like antiviral textiles. Many converted their manufacturing facilities for facemasks. So, the innovation side was skewed towards pandemic-related subjects. One of our partners was developing (from March to September) a new fibre that had super particles embedded in. According to me, that was one of the biggest innovations that happened. What they did was a zero-pollution fibre that does not release microplastic particles through the washing or in the air. If a lot of transmission is happening with aerosols, fibres floating in the air can carry viruses too. So, this is a technology which does not allow that to happen. Apart from that, the fibres embed particles-meaning the fibres were antiviral in themselves, and also last 150 washes. That's a major innovation I have observed in the market. To switch to a fibre of choice is difficult because it is not (like cotton) something that you can plant today and have it tomorrow; there is a whole value chain behind it. An example is the problem with Xinjiang cotton in the last two quarters. American brands are not able to import cotton from China because of the trade war and the Xinjiang humanitarian issues. In this case, the choice of fibres was more of a political reason than a sustainability one. Yes, so there was a certain switch, but it was not 100 per cent pandemic related.
Sharon Chong: The covid-19 pandemic and falling prices of virgin raw materials slowed down fibre development/innovation over the last year. Travel restrictions impaired our ability to conduct face-to-face meetings which are critical in complex technical projects. Innovators also faced fundraising challenges as private equity investors tread cautiously in a global economic downturn. The high capex costs and long-term nature of R&D and innovation projects to bring new fibres from niche to mainstream makes it even more challenging. The pandemic also resulted in a drop in off-take commitment from current and prospective customers that posed a significant challenge for producers.
Robert Jarausch: The fashion industry was probably the hardest hit because nobody was looking out for fashion; everybody was looking for protection. So, in terms of fibre innovation, there has not been a lot. But we have developed a new fibre. Also, there has always been this fashionable "follow" function, and in future we will see a lot more of that. Even if you are dressed in a leisurely manner you would have that need for clothing that would protect you in one way or another. When people start travelling in trains and aeroplanes, they will look at clothing as well as other textiles which have some sort of protection. In the future, it's not only going to be about fashion, but function as well.
Roxana Barbieru: Innovation efforts are increasingly focused on sustainability and circularity. More sustainable fibres produced through cleaner, resource-efficient production processes, as well as recycled materials have the potential to significantly reduce upstream emissions in the textiles value chain. We see growing efforts in developing and scaling up of new fibre technologies, especially in manmade cellulose fibres. We see efforts to increase the share of circular business models too.
SY Huang: With consumers buying fewer apparel items during the pandemic, a few things have taken place. We saw orders for fibres drop in the second quarter of 2020 as brands, product managers and designers rethought and redesigned their future lines. This was difficult on the industry economically, but the pause gave brands the room they needed to build time for specifications at the fibre level to their design and production timeline. In the past, brands have relied on fabric mills to source the fibre, and the options were limited to virgin vs recycled PET in the case of polyester fibres. But now, the fibre industry is offering more choices including recycled PET from bottles collected from more fragile ecosystems such as Saya Coastal-a Saya 365 programme which collects bottles from coastal areas before they are washed out to the sea. This pause also gave fibre manufactures time to further develop green options. Saya used this time to explore new sources for recycled PET including fabric scrap and over runs, which required us to develop a new technology to return it to the fibre level.
Ulrika Bj?rk: For Polygiene, most of the development during the pandemic has been around topical treatments of fabrics and not so much fibres yet due to the flexibility and timing both in fabrics and readymade products. Going forward, we see a lot of opportunities in fibres as well, both for traditional materials and as an alternative in fully recycled materials with the increased interest in more hygienic features such as anti-bacterial and antiviral performance.
Published on: 01/06/2021
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.