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Q&A: Florian Heubrandner on Raising Lenzing’s Sustainable Fibers Profile

Florian Heubrandner was appointed vice president of global business management for textiles at Lenzing at the end of last year. Heubrandner will lead Lenzing’s global strategy and development across the textile value chain, focusing on the company’s transformation from a B2B fiber producer to a business-to-business-to-consumer brand. This follows the rejuvenation of Tencel as its textile specialty umbrella brand and the launch of Lenzing Ecovero, its sustainable viscose brand.

The company is coming off a year in which revenue declined 3.7 percent to $2.46 billion, while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) fell 24 percent to $432 million, which the company attributed to price increases for key raw materials and higher energy and personnel costs.

Here, Heubrandner discusses his new position and its challenges and opportunities.

Sourcing Journal: What are your main goals as vice president of global business management for textiles at Lenzing?

Florian Heubrandner: My main goal is to drive the growth of our specialty fibers across different geographies and segments, which include denim, home, innerwear and outerwear. By specialty fibers I mean Tencel-branded lyocell and modal fibers, and Lenzing Ecovero-branded viscose fibers. Their functionality and sustainability footprint is great and we see very strong demand for them across the market.

We also work on new fiber innovations together with our colleagues from R&D to drive sustainability even further. Additionally, with our new Tencel brand, launched last year, we want to have a more direct connection with our end consumers. To achieve this, we work more closely with key brands and retailers, and increase our presence in social media.

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SJ: How important is it for Lenzing to continue to be a leader in sustainability in fiber manufacturing and how can this be accomplished?

FH: This is extremely important to us. We take a lot of pride in our sustainability leadership and are very committed to moving ahead at full speed. Only a few months ago, Lenzing signed the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action at the UN climate conference in Katowice [Poland], committing to a 30 percent CO2 reduction by 2030. We follow up with clear actions, such as changing the energy supply from coal to natural gas at our viscose plant in China, which we’ve recently started working on.

SJ: How does this relate to the launches of Lenzing Ecovero and Refibra?

FH: Lenzing Ecovero and Refibra technology are testaments to our commitment to sustainability. Lenzing Ecovero is Lenzing’s product brand for sustainable viscose, combining wood pulp from specified sources and EU Ecolabel chemical manufacturing standards with a new tracing technology. This special identification technology allows Lenzing to identify the fibers in the final product. Through this, our retailers and brands can be sure that they are indeed using Lenzing’s eco-responsible viscose fibers, and not just any generic viscose that might not be in line with their sustainability goals.

Refibra technology gives a second life to cotton by using cotton scraps from garment production as a raw material for pulp. A substantial proportion of this is mixed with wood pulp from certified sustainably managed forests. The result is a virgin lyocell fiber that paves the fashion/textile industry’s way toward a circular economy. Our fibers, using Refibra technology, also come with the same tracing technology as our Lenzing Ecovero fibers.

SJ: The company has talked about transforming from a B2B fiber producer to a business-to-business-to-consumer brand following the rejuvenation of Tencel as its textile specialty brand earlier this year. How is this being accomplished?

FH: Twelve months ago, we began an ambitious repositioning campaign for our Tencel brand and we are very excited about the brand’s success to date. As part of our B2Me brand strategy, Tencel has built closer relationships with leading brands, retailers and consumers. We now see Tencel as a new benchmark for sustainability in fashion. No longer must consumers sacrifice comfort or style for sustainability.

We have now partnered with numerous world-renowned brands and thought leaders to advance our vision for a sustainable future. Our Tencel product offerings can be found throughout the world in over 180 countries and are part of the collections of landmark brands, from Mara Hoffman to Australian lifestyle brand Country Road. Our “Feel So Right” campaign, launched in March 2018 in Japan, features partnerships with prominent retailers such as AG Jeans, Wacoal and Danskin. We also launched an event based upon the campaign and engaged iconic Japanese actress Ryoko Hirosue to promote Tencel and elevate the brand’s status. Our fibers have now been featured in fashion weeks globally, from Shanghai, London, Istanbul and Jakarta to India’s Lakme Fashion Week.

In short, we are extremely proud of our Tencel brand’s success this past year. Moving forward, and to sustain the success we have achieved, we are supporting the “Make it Feel Right Campaign,” which aims at generating awareness surrounding sustainability in fashion.

SJ: What is the role of your cellulosic fibers such as Tencel and Modal in the fiber market today?

FH: We have seen great transformation in the fashion industry lately, with consumers and brands shifting their minds toward the garments they buy and produce. Brands and consumers have become ambassadors for the environment and our Tencel products can help in this quest. Customers have the confidence that their clothing contains sustainable fibers and brands can be sure that they are creating garments that adhere to high environmental standards.

Tencel-branded product offerings now encompass a diverse range of material applications, owing to the material’s versatility. With great color and softness on the skin, our partners have found that blending Tencel-branded Modal fibers with other fabric types will significantly improve softness and breathability. For this reason, these fibers can now be found in denim, intimate wear, home textiles, sportswear and premium fashion.

I think we are witnessing a unique time in the textile industry. Fashion has reached a critical juncture and has begun to become more sustainable. It is exciting to be a part of this change and we remain focused on the development of even more high-quality fibers.