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Preferred Fiber Growth Outpaces Conventional Textiles

The market for fibers like recycled polyester, organic cotton and Lyocell has seen a faster rate of growth than conventional textiles as consumers become more responsible buyers. New production facilities to manufacture these fibers are going up and more preferred fibers and materials are storming the scene.

Textile Exchange released the second edition of its Preferred Fiber and Material Report for 2014 outlining the increase in use of preferred fibers and detailing which brands are using the “better” (more sustainable) raw materials.

Global textile production volume increased 3.4% in 2014, with synthetic fibers rising 4.9% for the third year of growth and natural fibers up 0.7%. Synthetic fibers accounted for 67.5% of the production volume, while natural fibers held a 32.5% share.

“Preferred,” as defined by TE, is fiber that is more ecologically and socially progressive.

And recycled polyester, or PET, is a popular choice among increasingly eco-conscious companies. The fiber comes from packaging materials like plastic bottles and containers that are then transformed into polyester yarn.

According to the report, PET produced by domestic reclaimers from U.S. bottles totaled 974 million pounds in 2013, a 24 percent jump over the previous year. The recycling rate for PET hit 31 percent in 2013.

Outdoor clothing company Kathmandu said sustainability is one of its core values and its efforts are geared toward responsible product development. As part of those efforts, the company has increased its use of recycled polyester (rPET) in its apparel and equipment.

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“Using rPET, lessens our dependence on petroleum as a source of raw material, and we also keep plastic bottles out of the landfill,” Kathmandu fabric development manager Manu Rastogi said. “To create a more customer-centric story, we quantified our use of rPET in terms of the number of plastic bottles reclaimed from going to the landfill. For FY15, this number was over 840,000 plastic bottles, and we have plans to increase this number year on year.”

Textile Exchange outlined the top 10 users of recycled polyester including: Nike, The North Face, Target, H&M, Puma, Williams-Sonoma, G-Star Raw, Mountain Equipment Co-Op, Volcom and yoga brand prAna.

In looking at Lyocell, the market saw positive demand but a continued pressure on price, and according to the report, growth in manmade cellulosic fibers, like Lyocell, “is expected to stay sustainably high due to the lack of availability of cotton in the long run.”

The top five brands tapping into Lyocell are Zara parent company Inditex, H&M, Target, G-Star Raw and Eileen Fisher.

Demand for more sustainable cotton has also ticked up in recent years and programs like the Better Cotton Initiative, Cleaner Cotton and Cotton Made in Africa are helping to fuel the market with their eco-efforts.

According to the report, Cotton Inc. has seen a 6 percent decline in global conventional cotton production, from 27.8 million mt in 2011/12 to 26.2 million mt for the 2013/14 season.

“This year marks a turnaround for the organic cotton sector. Production is up 10 percent after three years of decline,” the report noted. “The boost to supply comes mainly from a response to market demand, which is very good news since it shows the market is starting to respond in an encouraging way for producers. There is also evidence of in-conversion cotton coming on- stream and further growth is expected next year.”

For 2015, Textile Exchange wants brands to do three things to move the market toward even greater adoption of preferred fibers and increased sustainability: participate in sustainable textile developments, build the supply chain from fiber to finished garment and make commitments to the community.

“The preferred fiber market is coming along. Each year we have seen progress in the industry’s knowledge of what is truly more sustainable,” the report noted. “There is no going back.”