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Why Sustainable Brands Start With Sustainable Fibers

Veteran fiber executives speaking on a Texworld USA webinar claim their companies are helping to give the textile sector a sustainable makeover.

During the “Changemakers: Fiber Companies Driving Textile Sustainability” Texworld session, executives agreed that as the coronavirus pandemic has shifted people’s priorities and lives, the concept of sustainability has risen in importance due to the potentially deleterious health effects of poorly made products and the desire for authenticity.

Brand image starts with the raw material end of the supply chain, so fiber firms play a vital role in creating an environmentally sound product and one that consumers can trust, the executives said.

“Brands forge connections with people that can be used to raise awareness and influence attitudes and behaviors,” Tricia Carey, director of global business for apparel at Lenzing Fibers, said. “When leading fiber brands in the textile and apparel industry collaborate to advance sustainability and innovations, they can be a compelling force for change.”

Carey noted that Lenzing’s fibers such as Tencel are sourced from wood pulp that is certified to have been sustainably grown. The company also manufactures in a closed-loop system to limit energy usage and waste.

“Some ways that we work with our brands throughout the supply chain is through co-branding programs and we have a lot of outreach to consumers on social media,” she said.

Renee Henze, global marketing and channel development director at DuPont, discussed the Sorona brand that is part of the company’s Biomaterials division.

“When we talk about brands, we look at three pillars,” Henze said. “One is around performance–we will only bring a material out that is actually a higher-performing material than what it’s replacing. The second thing is that it needs to be either biobased or recyclable or a combination of both. Sorona is partially biobased, being 37 percent plant materials, and it’s also recyclable. The third thing and one of the most challenging, is that it really has to be something that we can scale.”

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She said the attribute for which Sorona is most known is the ability to stretch and recover, while remaining soft and wrinkle resistant. In addition, Sorona has a developed brand architecture platform that fits into a certification platform, which she feels has become more important during the pandemic as consumers are becoming more conscious about what they are doing with their lives and the need to be transparent so they can choose the products that meet those values.

Buxton Midyette, vice president of marketing and promotion at Supima cotton, said U.S.-grown premium pima cotton is 100 percent traceable back to its origin and can be tested at any point along the supply chain.

The supersoft and durable cotton is licensed for use, from spinners to retailers. Midyette said Supima executes a combination of digital adverting and point-of-sale promotions with brands and retailers.

Cindy McNaull, business development director for Invista’s Cordura brand, noted that sustainability has always been at the core of the brand and its main nylon 6.6 fiber.

“We make your jeans tougher, we make your backpack a lot stronger and your stuff a lot lighter, too,” McNaull said. “You don’t always see us, but we’ve got your back through 15-plus fabric technologies.”

This runs from recycled nylons and polyesters to staple and filament fiber technologies that have come to include some 3,000 certified Cordura fabrics.

“The common theme that runs through any one of these technologies is a dedication to innovation and a commitment to it, and the collaborations we enjoy with many supply chain partners,” she said. “It’s around designing with purpose to create durable fabrics for a sustainable world.”

Cheryl Zukowski, director of marketing at Unifi, the parent company of the widely used Repreve recycled polyester and nylon fiber, said the fiber maker cares “deeply about innovation” and is devoted to sustainably evolving the synthetic space.

“We are extremely focused on sustainability and we are extremely proud of the work that we’ve done with Repreve,” Zukowski said.

Repreve is a high-quality performance fiber made from recycled material, with 750 brands partners globally. She said the fiber is used in a variety of sectors, from denim to automotive, and “anywhere that you want to add sustainability to your product, you can leverage Repreve to make your fabric.”

Repreve also has a proprietary tracer that offers authenticity and traceability for any fiber, flake or chip in which it is used.