When it comes to sustainability in fashion, what’s hidden on the inside counts, too.
That’s what Chargeurs wants apparel companies to keep in mind as brands of all stripes attempt to pivot toward responsible sourcing. The 147-year-old French maker of apparel interlinings is launching the Sustainable 50, a collection of interlinings and components made from a range of better-for-the-earth materials including recycled polyester, cotton sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative, hemp, Bemberg and recycled plastics.
Angela Chan, managing director of Chargeurs PCC fashion technologies, says that with all of the talk about fashion brands ditching traditional materials in favor of sustainable alternatives, interlinings often get lost in the conversation—and it’s time for that to change. The company has worked since 2012 to develop eco-responsible interlinings at the request of luxury companies including Kering Group and Burberry, which sought an eco-smart interlining to shape a 100-percent-sustainable version of its iconic trench coat, Chan told Sourcing Journal.
Different components offer different use cases. Brands might favor a sustainable cotton interlining for use in a shirt collar because it offers a certain kind of stiffness. “You want that crispness on a men’s shirt of even a French cuff on a women’s shirt,” Chan explained.
And Chargeurs, which maintains 7,000 clients globally, is thinking about the full garment lifecycle, investigating ways to recycle interlinings at their end of life and close the loop. “We’re constantly partnering up with different facilities and different brands to think of new ways and new technologies to make that happen to truly become fully circular,” Chan explained.
Chargeurs endured many rounds of “trial and error” developing sustainable interlinings that maintained their performance qualities, Chan said of the components that form a garment’s “inner beauty” and provide substance and shape.
Innovation has become second nature to Chargeurs, which operates 40 offices, owns eight factories around the globe, and conducts business in 90 countries, in addition to a 7th Avenue lab filled with sewing machines, cutting tables and fusing machines, and the company’s new offices in Chelsea Arts Tower.
Chargeurs, which grew last year through the acquisition of Precision Custom Coatings’ apparel business to cement its position as the world’s largest manufacturer of interlinings, is dabbling with a host of new initiatives including waterless dyeing and smart apparel, Chan noted. “Performance 2020 is my new launch,” she said of a larger push into the intelligent fabrics arena.
But on the sustainability front, Chargeurs is partnering with the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) on a student competition using its sustainable recycled interlinings as “the chief material of a wedding gown,” Chan explained. “I think this would be a great way to teach students what interlinings are.” After a round of judging in January, the winner will receive a six-month global apprenticeship, which will include shadowing Chan for a week on her global travels to one or more of Chargeurs’ international locations.
For now, the Sustainable 50 interlinings collection comes with a premium price tag, though economies of scale will bring costs down as the eco-friendly components go mainstream, Chan noted.
Chargeurs plans to unveil its new collection at Première Vision in Paris on Sept. 19 followed by an event in China next week timed to coincide with the Shanghai Textile Fair and expected to attract more than 200 company customers. Better Cotton Initiative and Esquel Group executives, along with former VF Corp. global vice president of innovation Soon Yu, are set to address attendees on some of the most timely topics facing the fashion industry today.
The trade war looms large for virtually any fashion company with ties to China. Chan said she’s seeing that the tariff-fueled trade spat between the world’s two largest economies is affecting a small percentage of customers but “even more so it’s affecting people’s confidence.”
Chargeurs’ U.S. imports business is bowing under tariff pressure but that represents a minor portion of its overall operations, she added. In her previous role as chief sourcing officer for DXL, the big-and-tall men’s wear retailer, Chan worked to ensure the company was evenly represented around the globe rather than being overinvested in China.
“It’s impossible to just move your supply chain out of China elsewhere immediately overnight. A smart sourcing professional would know five or 10 years ago that they needed to diversify because the prices in China were going up already,” Chan explained. “You should always have a balanced portfolio in terms of your supplier base and always have a backup strategy. So the smart ones have already protected themselves.”
Given than so many apparel players are signing on to new fashion pacts and pledging to meet ambitious sustainability goals, Chargeurs’ new collection can help brands make the switch to components that tread lightly on the planet. And with apparel rentals catching on among working women and young consumers alike, companies banking on this access-economy subscription-based model will need to offer high-quality, well-crafted garments that hold up between washings or turns at the dry cleaners.
Clothing has to be made with long-lasting components in order to maintain value as a rental that constantly changes hands, Chan added.
Chargeurs has spent considerable time and effort offering the fashion industry another pathway toward sustainable design and production. “The Sustainable 50 is our highest priority this year, and we’re so excited to be leveraging our technology and innovations to provide global brands with a complete solution for sustainable fashion production,” Chan concluded.
“This is just the beginning of a significant change in how we look at the apparel industry.”