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  • IMPRESSIONS from a Cross-section

    Topic

    What have you noticed in fibre development/innovation in the last one year? Has there been anything remarkable so far?

    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.

    Florian Heubrandner: Even before the pandemic, we had seen a gradual shift towards the production of garments at a lower volume and higher quality with more holistic oversight across their supply chains. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this shift, as many brands were quickly forced to better understand the value of more tightly controlled supply chains to ensure they were adapting to social distancing in addition to changing production practices as demand slumped. Currently, one of the most urgent and pervasive issues for our industry and planet at large is tackling carbon emissions. More brands have set carbon reduction targets and implemented procedures to increase transparency and quantify carbon emissions throughout the apparel's or home textile's production cycle.

    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.

    Kazuki Morise: The pandemic is working as an accelerator of a transformation inside the fashion industry, laying the basis for a more sustainable world. Not only the whole fashion business, but the consumer too is changing; people are more and more aware of what they buy to satisfy their new generation values. They are moving towards the purchase of sustainable clothes and want brands to be more transparent, starting from materials used to create clothes. The Bemberg fibre is perfectly fitting this profile of new generation of consumer. Being made from the smart-tech transformation of cotton linters pre-consumer materials and converted through a traceable and transparent closed loop process, Bemberg is participating in some of the most cutting-edge design innovations. But a real game changer needs to align the whole supply chain in order to be able to reach the consumer, and in this sense we have been working to form strategic collaborations and partnerships both at fabric producers and brands levels.

    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.

    Michael Lüthi: One interesting thing is that contrary to the predictions of critical voices, the topic of green/sustainability has remained one of the top-of-mind topics among consumers despite an extreme downturn in the global economy. Sustainability is therefore definitely not just a short-term topic, but a steady customer demand which must be met.

    Innovations that we have seen are so far more a continuation of the topics that were already relevant before the pandemic, such as the processing of recycled materials. Directly in our business, we see innovations above all in fibres with a hygiene function-which offer the consumer more hygiene, well-being, freedom from odour (e.g. in facemasks) or even an antiviral functionality. We are in contact with innovative fibre manufacturers, and the first such fibres are already available in the market and have a great demand.

    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.

    Kirsi Terho: People-consumers-want change, they want sustainable choices, and they are demanding these from the brands. And the brands are responding. That is remarkable, in my opinion, because it means that there seems to be stronger commitment to action on this front now. In terms of fibre development and innovation, I would say that the awareness and excitement around the different technologies and their potential has grown significantly over the past year. There have been more stories in the media about the various plant-based fibres, recycled and regenerated cellulosic fibres, recycled polyester fibres and so on. Renewcell's successful IPO was of course a remarkable development for the industry as it indicated that there is investor interest in innovations like the Circulose pulp they create out of textile waste. This also strengthens our view that novel, regenerated textile fibres, like Infinited Fiber Company's Infinna, are increasingly seen as a hot investment opportunity.

    Ruth Farrell: There is an increasing demand for sustainable and specifically circular solutions in the fashion industry. Consumers are also demanding more sustainable fibre choices. Naia launched Naia Renew last September, produced from 60 per cent sustainably sourced wood pulp and 40 per cent certified recycled waste plastics. It is an innovative next generation solution and a circular solution that we have introduced at a full commercial scale. Naia Renew uses waste plastics as feedstock-a broad range of hard-to-recycle materials that would otherwise be destined for landfills.

    Daniel Uretsky: The pandemic has opened brand and consumer eyes to importance of the entire supply chain-from fibre through distribution. Sustainability, through this pandemic, has changed in meaning. It has gone from how "green" a product might be to how does one sustain a socially conscious, meaningful and efficient supply chain so that brands can survive and ultimately offer products that people feel better about buying. And, this doesn't happen without a deep dive into one's upstream supply chain.

    Innovation has also followed suit. Innovations seem to be more about how to make products last longer-or focus more on the end-of-use cycle. Before the pandemic, innovation seemed to be more concerned with increasing performance and origin stories (i.e. recycled materials). Now, we see a shift to innovate to make products last longer and towards what happens at the end of their use.

    Further, for us specifically, our heritage is in down, which is a natural insulation that when sourced and processed properly can be sustainable in its own right. Therefore, for us, we like to think of it not so much as changing the game but making our product better and addressing its shortfalls such as performance when wet, etc, so that we can make this wonderfully sustainable product more accessible for all end users which itself will promote better sustainability.?

    Mike Simko: This is more of an acceleration of sustainability, rather than a change in direction. Ever since nylon was invented in the 1930s, synthetic fibre producers have been offering newness by changes in fibre physical properties like denier, filaments, cross-section, additives and polymer modifications. Many of these improvements have been played out. Over the past decade, innovation at the fibre level has become increasingly more difficult. Sustainability has opened up an entire world of opportunity to innovate and bring value to the industry and newness to the consumer.

    In the last year-actually, the last couple of years-the discussion around sustainability has become more sophisticated. As brands and retailers have more fully developed plans, they have moved from simply saying: 'I want a sustainable material to asking for materials that meet certain criteria'. 'I want to lower our carbon footprint'. Or, 'we want to reduce our energy consumption.

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

    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.

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