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Bio-Materials Are Advancing Circularity in Apparel Supply Chains

New bio-based sources for fibers are changing the way textile suppliers develop products and helping to move the industry closer to circularity.

As Texworld USA and Apparel Sourcing opened their three-day run on Sunday, the focus was on innovation, particularly where raw materials are concerned. Offering a real-life sense of what’s taking shape in the industry, Tara St. James, founder of Re:Source Library and owner and creative director of Study NY, led a tour of Texworld USA’s Innovation Spotlight, aimed at showcasing new innovations in bio-synthetics, smart textiles, and circular design solutions. The Re:Source Library offers sustainable textile sourcing and supply chain consulting.

Established fibers and fabrics are evolving to meet the demands of circular and sustainable design needs. Participants in the spotlight included Dr. Luke Haverhal, CEO of Natural Fiber Welding; Mike Savarie, sustainability enterprise catalyst at Hemp Black; Daniel Mota Pinto, assistant director at Scoop, and Ericka Gutierrez, manager of business development and marketing for North America at Lenzing Group.

The origin of raw materials is vital to what happens along the supply chain when it comes to making the final product circular in the environment, St. James said. Most of the companies’ feedstock involves pre- and post-consumer textile waste, particularly cotton, such as Lenzing’s Refibra technology by Tencel, which involves upcycling cotton scraps from garment production, and Natural Fiber Welding’s processing of recycled cotton yarn for reuse and additive products.

“We’re also focused on hemp, but in a new form, such as Hemp Black, which is a carbonized hemp, and Natural Fiber Welding’s Mirum, which is using hemp as a substrate for its alternative to PVC,” she said. “It’s very conventional bio-materials that are used in unconventional ways.”

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Hemp Black carbonizes hemp waste, like stalks, and blends it with recycled polyester for a variety of uses including conductivity for smart textiles. The company has also developed a hemp-based printing ink.

Other materials in the showcase included Brrr’s embedded technology, which uses recycled polymers like post-consumer polyester chips and post-consumer nylon resin to spin recycled polyester and nylon yarns. Scoop’s Musgo was also featured, which incorporates optical fibers for wearable technology.

Similar biomaterials in textiles include Piñatex, a company based in the Philippines that is using pineapple leaf fibers to make its materials, and Italian firm Orange Fiber, which is using orange peels to make a cellulose-based fiber and materials.

“We need to assume responsibility and implement change not just in the end product but throughout the entire supply chain process,” Madeleine Gong, lead apparel engineer at Wearable X, a fashion tech company that brings together design and technology, said speaking during a Texworld keynote Sunday. “Research and awareness are important for this initiative.”

Companies need to embrace technology to create faster and more sustainable ways to create. Wearable X, for one, creates “smart yoga leggings” that use technology to assess the orientation of the lower body and provide posture suggestions during a yoga session.

On the sustainability side, researchers and scientists are working to create alternatives to animal leather—using materials like pineapple, apples and mushrooms—that mimic the real thing. Some companies, Gong said, are also making leather out of cactus and fruit skins.

There has also been an increased reuse of fabrics and apparel to make new fibers and materials in an effort to reduce waste. Consumer concern of textile and apparel waste is growing, according to Gong, and they are paying more attention to companies sustainable efforts.

“Things are going in the right direction, but we need to continue to apply pressure to the industry to do better,” Gong said. “We can have an extreme impact on the environment through how we create, design, process and purchase our textiles.”