New York – In the recent past, “performance” products simply wicked moisture or repelled benzoyl peroxide stains. Consumers considered cotton and bamboo inherently eco-friendly just by dint of being plants and most major retailers had zero interest in textile certifications.
A lot has changed fairly rapidly — and more change is in the pipeline. A certain amount of baseline sustainability is mandatory now, and products that take the concept even further are true differentiators. No surprise then that the menu for “Intel Inside” solutions is expanding to meet the demand.Bureau Veritas, which develops test methodologies to support product claims, is seeing the evolution first-hand.
“Since last year, microfiber pollution has gotten a lot of attention. It is not a flash in the pan. At some point in time there are going to be some regulations. We look at this as a budding problem,” said Srini Venkataraman, global technical specialist.
Also on the hot list: substitutes for harmful chemicals used in textiles production, waterless dyes, recycled fibers and biodegradation.
“The younger generation is much more aware of these things in the marketplace than older generations were,” he said. “As things progress, there will be other technologies.”
Evolved by Nature is one of them. Its Activated Silk technology offers natural chemical finishes for synthetic textiles. The company collects ethically sourced, discarded silk cocoons from Japan, China and South America, then extracts the residual fibroin — silk’s pure protein — and converts it into liquid form. Evolved by Nature can tailor the silk molecule to more than 75 different sizes to achieve a range of features and benefits for fabrics.
Greg Altman, CEO and co-founder, described the operation in Boston as “a building full of geeked-out scientists,” and added: “Our technology is a means to an end — and it’s the end we care about. We ended up creating an entire new green chemical platform.
“The most important part of our promise is not only what we’re selling but what we’re testing,” said Altman. “We’re working with manufacturers who produce products that touch skin. We will work to ensure the fabric is safe for contact with human skin.”
Circular Systems plans to begin marketing its Texloop and Agraloop technologies to the soft home sector this summer, expanding beyond its current work with fashion apparel. The clean-tech new materials company is focused on the development of innovative circular and regenerative technologies.
“We’re at this juncture where the fashion industry has finally recognized that it’s critical not just to habitat and the human species but to the survival of the industry to achieve resource efficiency,” said Isaac Nichelson, CEO and co-founder of the Los Angeles-based company. “The supply chain is responding to that. There’s a big opportunity for home textiles to engineer real circularity.”
Its Agraloop technology transforms food crop waste into high-value natural fiber products in a cost competitive and scalable way, providing sustainable and regenerative benefits. Feed stocks include oilseed hemp and oilseed flax straw as well as pineapple leaves, banana trunks and sugar cane bark. Its blending agents are organic cotton, recycled poly or Tencel.Texloop is a recycled product made from pre- and post-consumer waste, industrial waste, staple fiber and filament fiber. Texloop and Agraloop are doing scaled production in China, and the company signed its first production license in Portugal this past spring.
“We’re realizing some pretty amazing scale economies. When the materials are scaled we’re going to see they will eventually cost less than cotton,” said Nichelson.
PrimaLoft is also developing into the circular model. Its latest fiber, PrimaLoft Bio, claims to be the first 100% recycled, biodegradable synthetic insulation and fabric fiber proven by a third party to be renewable for use in a circular economy. The process breaks down polyester to its basic components so that it can be rejuvenated into a new high-performance material without compromising its original integrity.
“It’s an arduous process,” said PrimaLoft president and CEO Mike Joyce. “We have to make an array of fiber sizes, and we have to put them in a biodegradable environment to make sure they do what they should do.”
The Latham, NY-based company’s new technology is both a recycling and a biodegradability story, he added. Even though the fiber can be reused over and over again, some discarded finished products are bound to get out of the continuous production loop and into landfills.
PrimaLoft Bio fibers are made from 100% post-consumer recycled material and break down when exposed to specific environments — such as a landfill or the ocean. PrimaLoft has enhanced the fibers to be more attractive to the naturally occurring microbes found in these environments so that they eat away at the fibers at a faster rate, returning the fabric or insulation to natural elements. Fibers will only biodegrade when exposed to these naturally occurring microbes in landfills or bodies of water, thus, the insulation or fabric remains highly durable throughout its usable life cycle in a garment.
“Biodegradability is an end-of-life solution that works in harmony with the circularity model. With the ability to renew our fibers, we are changing the conversation to circularity,” said Joyce. “Circular economies are the next frontier in sustainability and we have proven our capabilities in this space.”
Lenzing’s Tencel fibers have long been produced in a closed-loop manufacturing process, and its Refibra fiber involves upcycling a substantial portion of cotton scraps in addition to wood pulp to produce virgin Tencel lyocell fibers. The cotton waste is pulped and mixed with Tencel pulp. The two are extruded together to create the new fiber.
“Refibra has been pretty popular for sheeting,” said Ericka Gutierrez Garcia, Lenzing’s New York-based US marketing manager. “More developments are coming for key brands.”
She noted consumers are now looking not only at how sustainable a finished product is but what kind of company made the product.
“More people are looking at that ‘About Us’ page. Does the company have a bigger purpose? What are they doing to implement social responsibility? Do they have commitments to the SDGs [the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals]? Are they showing a five-year commitment? A 10 year commitment?” she said. “Consumers feel those things can validate their purchase.”
Venkataraman said Bureau Veritas is seeing a tremendous amount of work being done to move sustainability and circularity forward. “Things are really progressing at an incredible pace,” he added. “It’s an exciting time to be in today’s marketplace — and a very active one.”
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