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New Textile Exchange Report Shows Apparel Companies Balance Material Mix for Sustainability

A growing number of apparel brands are stepping up their sustainability games, but polyester still reigns supreme.

That’s according to the just-published 2016 Preferred Fiber & Materials Market Report (PFMR) from Textile Exchange (TE). The nonprofit’s third annual report, released Thursday, shines a light on the positive developments in the preferred fiber and materials landscape, with a focus on growth and changes in the industry.

Eighty-nine companies contributed this year, up from last year’s 56, and TE’s “leaderboards” welcomed the return of some familiar faces as well as a number of new entries. Notably, this increase in participation occurred even as global events continued to challenge the textile and apparel community, like the 70 percent decline in oil prices between July 2014 and January 2016 and unrest on the Syrian border.

But it’s been an uphill battle. Though the global textile industry generated sales of about $750 billion in 2015—a growth of more than 5 percent—polyester consumption was more than double that of cotton. In fact, polyester is the only fiber that has gained market share since 1990. Cheap oil has impacted the landscape considerably, reducing staple and filament prices by 34 percent on average, while falling polyester prices have cut the price of cotton by a quarter.

That being said, TE is projecting the use of special polyester and wood-based fibers will grow, thanks to consumers seeking more comfort and high-tech clothing. In particular, the market for cellulosic fibers is expected to grow as much as 6 percent per year to 2020.

“Collective action continues to be at the core of driving transformational change, and for this reason, our industry has made progress through collaborations on several fronts,” La Rhea Pepper, TE’s managing director, said in the report’s forward. However, she also noted that a lot still needs to be done.

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She continued, “This year’s events have made it easier to see our vision of a global textile industry that protects and restores the environment and enhances lives. We’ve seen work toward a world where brands and retailers can specify products that are circular in nature, suppliers in the textile supply chain that are developing processes that leave no trace, and fibers being grown and developed that heal the land and use waste as feedstock.”

To that end, PFMR paid particular attention to TE’s identified “lead” fibers: recycled polyester, lyocell, certified down and preferred cottons. These are fibers that TE perceives to be ecologically and socially progressive. The report also features the standards that are being developed in the preferred fiber sector, including the recently launched Responsible Wool Standard (RWS).

Recycled polyester (rPET)

Market update: Plunging oil prices, a key ingredient in the production of polyester, have put pressure on rPET. But TE pointed out that there have been instances where product branding has allowed rPET producers to maintain prices at a premium or similar to those of virgin polyester. As such, the unstoppable athleisure trend presents strong growth opportunities for the raw material.

Leaderboard: Nike, H&M, The North Face, Patagonia, West Point Home, Williams-Sonoma, Volcom, Woolworths, Prana, Lindex.


Market update: China, with 90 percent of the fiber market, is driving the demand for rayon with 62 percent of global mill consumption. But it’s also working hard to clean the production process. In addition, several new fibers are in development using garment and cotton waste.

Leaderboard: Inditex, H&M, G-Star Raw, Lindex, Eileen Fisher, Williams-Sonoma, Patagonia, Continental, Fjallraven, C&A.

Certified down

Market update: The Responsible Down Standard certified 239 units in 2015, while the Traceable Down Standard has five suppliers and manufacturers. The report said that global costing remains low and steady due to soft demand worldwide and strong supply. Meanwhile, advances in PFC-free durable water repellent (DWR) performance seems to have taken over traditional C6 applications.

Leaderboard: H&M, The North Face, Patagonia, Kathmandu, C&A

Preferred cottons

Market update: The preferred cotton space has expanded over the past five to 10 years, thanks to the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Cleaner Cotton, CottonConnect’s REEL (Responsible Environment Enhanced Livelihoods), Bayer’s E3 and Fairtrade cotton.