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How Hyosung is Catering to More Sophisticated Sustainability Demands

Sustainable materials are no longer niche. While frontrunners like outdoor brands led the way, other categories have caught up in using alternatives.

With this wider interest in sustainability, the conversation between brands and material companies has become more sophisticated, said Julia Nam, North American marketing manager for textiles at synthetic fiber manufacturer Hyosung. Now, instead of just picking a recycled fiber, brands’ corporate goals are driving their choices. Nam noted that today, most companies have a sustainability lead who makes final decisions on materials picked by the design teams. This “gatekeeper role” protects brands from greenwashing and helps ensure claims are valid.

“There’s somebody within the brand or the retailer’s organization who has a deep knowledge of the product, so that when we go to market and we make claims, we have a good discussion and they’re valid, supported claims,” she said.

To meet the more particular needs of the industry, Hyosung continues to develop new offerings that tackle specific sustainability goals—from recycled fiber to biodegradable synthetics.

Recycling waste

Hyosung has been recycling PET into new regen yarns for about 14 years. Recently, the company sought to expand its inputs beyond plastic bottles or industrial waste, looking for sources that would make an environmental impact. After discovering that about 500 tons of nylon fishing nets get tossed each month, with many ending up in the sea, Hyosung developed its Ocean Protection Initiative.

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The fiber maker is also partnering with the nonprofit Zero Plastic Ocean, which collects plastic trash on beaches, to source other ocean-adjacent material. 

Leveraging ocean plastic is more difficult than using inputs from municipal recycling collections since the former is a “mishmash.” The other obstacle is getting plastic refuse from its collection point to the place of production, given laws banning the import of waste into other countries. But Hyosung sees the challenge as worthwhile.

“We’re not just doing recycling. We’re doing recycling in a way that’s going to have positive, real short-term effects on the environment,” said Nam.

Bio-based solutions

Traditionally, polymer-based fibers were made of fossil fuels, but bio-derived alternatives that use renewable materials are now commercially available. Hyosung’s new creora bio-based spandex ferments industrial corn into a chemical that can replace some of the oil in fiber production. Currently, 30 percent of the oil can be swapped for corn-based inputs and will progressively increase the amount of bio-derived raw material content in the near future. “It’s not just turning a dial to do it. It’s having to develop a new technology to allow you to get higher levels of bio-based material yet retain the physical properties of the spandex that has the right stretch and recovery,” Nam noted.

Hyosung has partnered with Covation Biomaterials, the maker of Sorona fiber, on sustainable corn farming in the United States. Growers use methods that prevent erosion and shrink water usage.

The creora® bio-based material spandex is certified by SGS. The inspection firm performs tests to determine that the yarn does indeed have biomaterials and guarantees that the production process is harmless.

Bio-based creora® can already be found in a yoga brand’s apparel, and two other labels will go live with products featuring the yarn this month.



Among sticking points for sustainability in synthetics is the extended time they take to decompose once they are discarded. Hyosung and its labs are working to develop a spandex with biodegradable properties.

Focusing on how consumers tend to use and discard apparel, the biodegradable fibers break down in anaerobic environments such as landfills. “We have to make it easy for people by providing solutions that are real but executable,” Nam said. “It’s going to be easy if you put it into a landfill.”

Performance properties

One aspect of Hyosung’s sustainable product development that has changed in the past few years is the incorporation of performance properties into its eco-friendly yarns. For instance, in addition to the selling point of recycled feedstock, a circular spandex, nylon or polyester might have added wicking to keep wearers dry. For backpacks and bags where durability is a priority, the company added a 100 percent recycled version of its robic nylon called Mipan regen robic high tenacity nylon.

With a portfolio of thousands of fibers, not every Hyosung material has been made in a sustainable form. “We can’t do everything all at once,” Nam said. “We tend to lean on the key brands and retailers in each industry and see where their heads are and what they’re doing. And we let them lead the development.”

Sustainability meets solutions

Just as the industry’s demands around sustainability have changed, Hyosung has also evolved its positioning. Rather than simply acting as a material vendor, the company is now serving as a full-service solutions supplier. This includes working down the value chain with mills and manufacturers on the best ways to integrate its fibers and providing sourcing support, such as helping customers move sourcing locations when needed. Its sales and marketing staff sit in 40 countries, giving it a local presence near both manufacturers and their clients. 

This end-to-end service also has a benefit for sustainability messaging. “Through our brand videos and social media platforms, we put together marketing stories that really help brands connect to their consumers,” said Nam.

Click here to learn more about Hyosung. And visit Hyosung at ISPO Munich, Hall A1, booth 312 Nov. 28-30.