For fashion to break out of its disposability rut, it needs to focus on quality. And quality begins with using materials that can last.
A key tactic to reduce a garment’s impact is to get more use out of it. Being able to wash and wear something 40 times instead of five times makes a huge difference in the overall calculation of its environmental cost, explained World Textile Sourcing (WTS) CEO Luis Antonio Aspillaga during a recent discussion with Sourcing Journal founder and president Edward Hertzman. “Sustainability works when the garment has a longer life,” Aspillaga noted.
Circularity is catching on as a strategy for countering textile waste by keeping materials in use longer. In particular, companies are repurposing used garments for new textiles. But mechanical recycling processes result in shorter, weaker fibers. To create more durable recycled yarns, WTS has turned to TENCEL™ with REFIBRA™ technology. Instead of shredding used textiles, the REFIBRA™ process uses a combination of cotton scraps and wood pulp as inputs for the lyocell process. The resulting fibers with REFIBRA™ Technology match the qualities of lyocell made entirely of wood pulp.
In addition to REFIBRA™, WTS is the first manufacturer in the Americas to work with true carbon zero TENCEL™. For these fibers, Lenzing first reduces the carbon footprint as much as possible and then offsets any remaining impact. The sourcing firm is also developing apparel with TENCEL™ Modal with Indigo Color technology, which is spun-dyed with the indigo pigment while the modal is still in liquid form, using less energy and water than conventional dyeing of indigo yarns.
As WTS is developing products with different raw materials, it aims to include customers in the production process. “We like our clients to be part of the story,” Aspillaga said. During Covid, this has been limited to remote experiences like photos and videos. “Now that things are going back to normal, we want to have clients in our factories, in our fields, so they can see the product, how it goes through the production.”
Producing in Peru comes with a pricing premium, but the tradeoff is quality and quick turns. Hertzman pointed out that Peru has the operational benefits of close proximity to the U.S. and vertical integration, including domestic raw material availability. While Lenzing doesn’t have a manufacturing facility within Peru, a plant in Alabama allows for a nearby supply of TENCEL™ for WTS. Amid the current freight crisis, these fibers can travel to Peru in about a week for much lower container costs than those seen in trans-Pacific routes from Asia.
The early stages of the pandemic highlighted the industry’s reliance on China for inputs. When factories in other locations had not yet shut down, closures in China created raw material shortages elsewhere.
“We were affected, like most countries, basically of workers getting Covid, not the supply chain—the supply chain was almost intact,” said Aspillaga. “So we were able to supply our clients when most other factories around the world were closed.”
Click the image above to watch the video to hear more about WTS’ experience working with TENCEL™ and how quality relates to sustainability.
This is the second video in a three-part series. Watch part one here.