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Let There Be Light

From its inception, environmental responsiblility was always the unique selling point for TENCEL®, however that counted for very little in those early days. Since the turn of the 21st century, the ethical production of textiles—improving both its impact on workers’ health and on the environment—has become increasingly important. And today, according to Lenzing Project Manager Michael Kininmonth, as those considerations are also now valued by both brands and consumers, sustainable production has grown in importance to garment manufacturers and apparel brands.

Although there has been continuous evolution in laundry processes over the last 30 years, from the “Black Art” of the 1980s to the use of robotics in the 2000s, there has been little or no focus on environment responsibility. The denim industry is amongst the worst culprits when it comes to environmental excess, in part because of the high water use and use of toxic chemicals in the laundry processing.

Traditionally fashion laundry has been a low-tech industry driven by manual labor and poor environmental standards, however the last few years has seen a mini revolution in the industry in the adoption of digital technology—not only to reduce its reliance on workers, but also to drive new product development and new environmental thinking.

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“We know there’s been a need to address past ills,” Kininmonth said in a recent webinar presentation on laser finishing techniques. “But it’s not just about aesthetics… about the look. It’s about how garments are produced. It’s helping garment companies differentiate their products and reputations. That makes it imperative for garment manufacturers to keep in touch with what’s new in laundry technology.”

The laser works by creating heat. Within a very precise area the fabric is subject to very intensive heating. This energy is absorbed as heat and leads to a phase change from solid to liquid or even solid to gas. This digital technique replaces the physical or chemical techniques which were previously employed on denim jeans. These include excessive use of water, chemicals like hypochlorite bleach or potassium permanganate, enzymes, sand blasting, hand scraping and hand brushing—all of which were potentially detrimental to the environment, workers, or both.

Every project that we undertake at Lenzing, we’re trying to ally ourselves in terms of sustainability.

Jeanologia, one of the leading thinkers and suppliers of sustainable laundry machines and techniques, and Lenzing, with its own history as a manufacturer of environmentally sustainable fibers, have worked together for over 20 years. Through their latest technical collaboration they have discovered that fabrics made from TENCEL® are particularly responsive to laser treatments—this they call “Light Sensitive”. Both 100% TENCEL® as well as blends with other fibers provide the level of photosensitivity that allow garment manufacturers to take full advantage of Jeanologia’s laser finishing methods. TENCEL®’s recycled-content fiber Refibra™ has also been found to be as effective as TENCEL® itself in providing the desired photosensitivity.

The laser finishing machines allow garment finishes of many types to be produced efficiently and effectively on an industrial scale. But not all fabrics react the same way, depending on fiber type, yarn type, the twist of the yarn, the dye type. Fabrics must be analyzed individually to understand the reaction they’ll have in order to obtain the desired effect, Kininmonth said. A washing and finishing “recipe” can then be developed for the garment.

While the laser technology hardware is very well developed—most leading garment finishing laundries have the Jeanologia laser machines—what is not so developed is that link between the technology and the fabrics, say Kininmonth and Begoña Garcia, Senior Technologist at Jeanologia. That puts the onus on fabric mills to understand the technology and develop fabrics that can be specified as “light sensitive” fabrics, they said. Levi’s, for one, has done that, developing a score through the testing procedures from Jeanologia. Now Lenzing has created a technical brochure called Light Sensitive, detailing the advantages of using laser laundry technologies in conjunction with the latest TENCEL® fabrics and garments.

“Every project that we undertake at Lenzing, we’re trying to ally ourselves in terms of sustainability,” Kininmonth said. “In the area we’re talking about today, which is the denim casual laundry area, there’s a lot of work to do. We’re at the start of a revolution. Although we’re taking about laser today, other technologies also hold a lot of potential. What we doing internally to develop the idea of colored fiber is very interesting–by adding pigment at the fiber manufacturing stage there is potential to make significant savings in water, energy and chemicals. And for Jeanologia, that is their total focus in the marketplace. They won’t do it if it’s not environmental or sustainable.”

Demonstrations, swatches and the technical manuals developed by Lenzing will be available at Kingpins in Amsterdam and New York. To find out more visit or contact: Tricia Carey, Lenzing Global Business Development