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Expansion Mode: Companies Are Reinvesting In the Denim Supply Chain

Fiber and fabric firms, operating in a complex and fluid economic and trade environment, are showing no hesitation when it comes to expanding their capacities and upgrading their facilities.

These manufacturers are making major investments in factories from the U.S. to China to meet market demands and, particularly, to improve their environmental footprint in the process.

Mills make moves

Vidalia Denim, for one, has opened in a 900,000-square-foot facility in Vidalia, La., in the cotton-producing region of the Mississippi Delta. The mill will begin full commercial operations during the first quarter of 2019. It will employ more than 300 full-time workers to make denim, which it’s working to produce sustainably.

As part of that effort, its indigo dye technology employs an environmentally friendly chemistry that allows for filtration and water reuse, curbing total water usage by more than 60 percent compared to a legacy mill. Vidalia Denim will also use e3 sustainable cotton exclusively in its operations, sourcing its cotton from across the U.S. farm belt from farmers enrolled in the e3 sustainable cotton program.

In Bayer CropScience’s e3 cotton program, farmers commit to growing cotton in a less impactful way. Independent auditors certify a farmer’s commitment to grow e3 cotton in an environmentally responsible, economically viable and socially equitable manner in the U.S.

“This is a significant development for e3 and marks a watershed moment for our program as for the first time a textile mill will use our program as its exclusive source of cotton,” said Malin Westfall, U.S. Cotton business lead of FiberMax and Stoneville Brands, both Bayer CropScience seed brands. “By utilizing e3 cotton, Vidalia will offer its customers complete transparency of leading grower sustainability practices.”

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In China, more mills are setting the tone for sustainability in the supply chain. Chinese denim mill Seazon has plans to expand its capacity by 50 percent in 2018, growing its number of looms to 630 from 420. In line with that, Seazon will also introduce a new intelligent wastewater recycling system to its dyeing and finishing process, which will reuse more than 80 percent of its wastewater.

The system applies a biological treatment on effluent, which complements Seazon’s clean production process with a solar power system that saves roughly 20 percent industrial power consumption and helps reduce close to 75,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

Fiber firms aim for the future

Major fiber firms are building up their capacity and global reach, driven largely by shifts in sourcing patterns and increasing demand for sustainability.

Invista’s Cordura brand, looking to expand its solution-dyed nylon (SDN) 6,6 fiber business, launched TrueLock, a next generation of durable colors. TrueLock fiber is made from Invista’s nylon 6,6 multi-filament fiber that is solution dyed, locking the color in at the molten polymer extrusion level to create deep, durable color throughout the fiber. The company said the development marks a major milestone for Invista’s Camden, S.C., facility, which expanded last year to increase U.S. capacity of high-tenacity, specialty fibers for Cordura fabrics.

The Camden investment has accelerated the development of new SDN capabilities that complement the facility’s existing high tenacity nylon 6,6 filament fiber manufacturing processes. Plans currently being put into action at the Camden site include expansion of the Cordura TrueLock filament product line to introduce additional standard colors and deniers, as well as the flexibility to fulfill smaller minimum order quantities and custom colorways.

Invista is also entering the final design phase for a $250 million project at its Victoria, Tex., site to upgrade its manufacturing technology and increase production of adiponitrile (ADN), a key ingredient for nylon 6,6 fibers and plastics. Construction for the project is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2019.

The new technology, developed and in use at the Invista facility in Orange, Tex., brings improved product yields, reduced energy consumption, lower greenhouse gas emissions, enhanced process stability and reduced capital intensity compared to existing technologies. These improvements in performance have enabled the Orange facility to set production volume records since deployment in 2014.

“We’re proud to deploy our most advanced ADN technology here and expect this investment to further strengthen the Victoria site’s competitive position as a global leader in the manufacture of nylon intermediate chemicals,” said Bill Greenfield, president of Invista Intermediates.

In China, Invista will invest $1 billion to bring its latest ADN technology there to meet strong demand in the country for the intermediate chemical used to manufacture nylon 6,6 fiber. Engineering for a minimum 300,000-ton capacity plant has begun, with construction slated to begin by 2020 and production planned for 2023.

The Lenzing Group, a major producer of wood-based cellulosic fibers, is in the midst of investing in growing its capacity and upgrading its facilities. The company is expanding its environmental commitment, investing more than 100 million euros ($116.5 million) in sustainable manufacturing technologies and production facilities through 2022.

Lenzing said the investments underscore its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as guiding principles for its sustainability agenda. One of the most significant SDGs for the company is SDG 12: Responsible Production and Consumption.

“With our Refibra technology, Lenzing is innovating to support a more circular, bio-based economy, contributing in particular to SDG 12,” Lenzing chief commercial officer Robert van de Kerkhof said.

The company’s Refibra technology takes cotton scraps collected from apparel production and wood pulp from responsibly managed forests and transforms it into virgin Tencel lyocell fibers. The fibers are manufactured in a closed-loop production process using bioenergy.

A key aspect of the multifaceted investment focuses on closed loop production technologies for the expansion of sulfur recovery systems. It’s also expected to improve effluent treatment units and upgrade Lenzing’s energy usage to more sustainable solutions, including reducing its greenhouse gas emissions through the construction of a gas boiler at its viscose fiber site in Nanjing, China.

Lenzing has also formed a joint venture with Duratex, a major producer of industrialized wood panels for the Southern Hemisphere, to investigate building the largest—a 450,000 ton capacity—single line dissolving wood pulp (DWP) plant in the state of Minas Gerais, close to São Paulo, Brazil. DWP is the key raw material for the production of Lenzing’s bio-based fibers, and the company will hold 51 percent in a future joint venture. The estimated cash investment for the construction of the DWP mill is expected to be slightly more than $1 billion, and the joint venture will supply the entire volume of dissolving wood pulp to the Lenzing Group.

For Hyosung Corp., it’s all about expanding its share in the spandex market. The South Korean company is making a $100 million investment in its first spandex plant in Maharashtra, India, which is expected to be operational by 2019.

The move is expected to lay the foundation for making inroads into the country’s domestic market, as Hyosung aims to increase its share of the Indian spandex market to 70 percent from the current 60 percent. This would bring the company’s total number of plants to nine globally, with additional investment planned for total capacity of 390,000 tons globally by 2020.

To support market driven innovation and speed to market, Hyosung has appointed new global marketing team members in all regions and has created a new fabric development center at its headquarters in South Korea.

Hyosung sees India as an ideal location, since it’s the world’s second-largest market, with a population in excess of 1.3 billion, and it possesses cutting-edge IT technology and an educated and experienced workforce. India’s emerging economy is growing by more than 7 percent annually and the country is expected to become one of the top three economic powers in the world, after China, by 2030.

Also looking at Vietnam, Hyosung has committed to using the country as a global production base for all of its core products. Since Hyosung established Hyosung Vietnam in the Nhon Trach industrial complex near Ho Chi Minh City in 2007, the company has invested roughly $1.5 billion, making it the largest investor among the South Korean companies in the complex.