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Premium Fibers: A Gateway to Sustainability in Apparel?

Without a common language for sustainability, it’s no wonder that expectations can vary wildly from apparel brand to apparel brand, or from consumer to consumer.

It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what consumers have in mind when they say they’re interested in eco-friendly clothing. Do they want something that’s made of recycled fibers? Or an item that’s biodegradable? Is it the impact of the carbon footprint from its manufacturing that’s most important to them? Perhaps it’s all of these things or maybe just a cherry-pick of some?

“Sustainability needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind who is involved in the lifecycle of a garment,” Kirsten K. Harris, Nilit’s vice president of marketing for North America, said. “Design is critical, from the polymer or plant all the way down to the end consumer. Making a garment last and be relevant for a longer period of time gets rid of the ‘fast fashion’ phase that sends a garbage truck full of clothing to the landfill each second.”

To address this important subject from a new angle, Nilit has developed two Sensil® Nylon 6.6 yarns for use in premium multipurpose garments, both of which can reduce landfill waste. Sensil® EcoCare is made from recycled post-industrial waste, while Sensil® EcoCare Breeze is a recycled yarn with an added cooling benefit that keeps the wearer comfortable during warm weather and intense exercise.

Nilit’s development of these fibers not only helps brands achieve their sustainability goals, but also reduces the company’s own environmental impact: Manufacturing these fibers translates to a 55 percent energy savings at the company’s plant, as well as a decrease in CO2 emissions of 700kg per ton of yarn processed. About 830kg of water per ton of yarn process is also saved.

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Both Sensil® EcoCare and Sensil® EcoCare Breeze provide mills with the inputs brands seek for today’s modern consumers, and Nilit now also offers them in a variety of luster and count ranges. All of the company’s recycled materials are made from its own waste and are regulated by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS), said Harris. Its fibers, meanwhile, are certified by Oeko-Tex 100 Standard to ensure that they don’t pose a risk to health and environment.

Fighting false claims of sustainability is also important. Harris cited the reports of companies manufacturing new plastic bottles just for the purpose of breaking them down for recycling in order to fulfill their claims of using recycled polyester.

“Not all recycling is what it appears to be,” she noted. “This type of greenwashing isn’t helping our environment—it’s just filling a media illusion of what’s good. Also, a plastic bottle that is recycled can continuously become a plastic bottle, use after use.  However, when a plastic bottle becomes a garment, it breaks the recycling chain.”

The need for greater supply chain transparency led Nilit to create its brand Sensil®. Doing so, said Harris, lets companies trace their product all the way back to the polymer and know that it was made in quality factories with quality fabrics.

In addition to the development of its Sensil® EcoCare product line, Nilit is also working on a host of other initiatives to ensure it is producing responsibly. Chief among these efforts is the reduction of the carbon footprint of its plants with decreased transportation emissions, as well as the dramatic decrease of energy and water required for cleaning and drying throughout the value chain. The company is also exploring the development of post-consumer recycled and other more sustainable fibers.

“Sustainability is Nilit’s main focus—it’s not a fad or a fashion, but rather a way of life,” said Harris. “When we say ‘We (Eco) Care,’ it means we’re evolving every day to ensure that we meet and exceed our own expectations of both ourselves and the environment that we live in. Nilit and our employees want to be good stewards of the earth and the industry.”

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