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Beyond Aesthetics, Fibers are Judged on a Whole Lot More

The choice of what fiber to use in manufacturing fabric or apparel might seem mostly aesthetic, but that decision has an impact all the way through the supply chain to the consumer and beyond.

The fiber not only determines the performance and quality of the woven or knit materials and end product, but it also has an impact on comfort, longevity and sustainability.

Expert panelists at Texworld USA Monday discussed how “Choosing Preferred Fibers Makes a Difference” and broke it down to four areas of determination: whether the fiber can be traced, if there’s a standard or certification under which it was produced, if a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) or other third-party assessment was conducted, and whether choosing that fiber can have a positive environmental or social impact.

Karla Magruder, founder and president of Fabrikology International, said the traceability of materials can incorporate several standards, but the one that’s most used is the Global Recycle Standard, which traces material origin. Organizations like Textile Exchange also have standards that trace where the fiber comes from.

“For a spinner, a preferred fiber is more than just marketing–it’s nice to have traceability, we like to know here the fibers come from–but we look at it from another standpoint,” David Sasso, vice president of sales at Buhler Quality Yarns/Samil Spinning, said. “The fiber might be preferred, but if its not a good fiber and it doesn’t make the quality that we like to represent, then it’s not a preferred fiber for us. This is where knowing fiber properties and what it lends itself to is what we do so we can make the best yarn or fabric possible.”

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Malvina Hoxha, manager of business development for apparel and knits at Lenzing Fibers, noted that Lenzing’s fibers Tencel Lyocell and Refibra offer fiber identification, and its EcoVera viscose introduced in 2017 is the first viscose fiber that can be traced from fiber to yarn or fabric to end product.

In the area of certifications and standards, Hoxha said Lenzing has secured many global certifications that run from the raw material wood used to make its cellulosic fibers to the manufacturing process through to the management of waste byproduct, finished fiber and post-consumer biodegradability and recycling.

“So depending on what it is and what your company needs, what’s important to it, you need to be looking at standards that will help you deliver that to your customer,” Magruder pointed out.

Discussing LCA or what has become known as “scoring,” Sasso said Buhler concentrates on carbon footprint. This is mainly how much energy is consumed when producing a yarn by investing in the most energy efficient equipment to reduce the carbon footprint, as well as the water and chemicals used.

“The last thing is, does our yarn make the product last the longest, and that to me is the most important factor,” Sasso said. “If we can improve the life of a garment that is far more sustainable than what we can do as a spinner.”

For Lenzing, the scoring of its raw materials should encompass process, certifications and standards and sustainability commitments that are traceable “and allow you to communicate to your customer what you stand for and what you’re trying to achieve,” Hoxha said.

As for having an environmental or social impact, Magruder noted that there are several methods of making recycled polyester, for example, including mechanical and chemical, and each has its own environmental impacts.

Magruder said in the end, “The most important thing to remember is that the fiber you choose to manufacture your product reverberates throughout the supply.”