Microfibers are one of the fashion industry’s biggest villains, polluting air, water and everything in between. Some brands are stepping up to the challenge to try and reduce the number of tiny textiles sullying the environment.
Polartec, a Milliken & Company brand, announced Polartec Shed Less Fleece, a new textile innovation that it says reduces fiber fragment shedding. Shed Less is a process that combines yarn construction, knitting, chemistry and manufacturing to minimize home laundry fiber fragment shedding by an average of 85 percent. The first fabric to be made with this technology is the Polartec 200 Series Fleece, the modern version of the original PolarFleece launched in 1981.
After five years of study into how to identify and test fiber fragmentation levels in apparel, the Shed Less process works by engineering the lofted fibers that give fleece its soft hand the ability to resist breaking and rubbing off during home laundering, cited as a big contributing factor to the spread of fiber fragments—commonly referred to as microfibers. Polartec Shed Less Fleece achieves this outcome while maintaining the attributes that make Polartec fleece lightweight, breathable and warm.
“Polartec has a long tradition of eco-engineering its products to reduce their environmental footprint,” Ramesh Kesh, Ph.D., senior vice president of Milliken & Company. “Shed Less is the latest progression of these efforts and the result of many years of research and development.”
The company used the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) TM212-2021 test method, which provides a standardized method for quantifying fiber fragment shedding in the ongoing challenge to combat aquatic pollution, for fiber fragment release during home laundering. The test was conducted with large sample sizes for variability. The testing concluded that Shed Less Fleece reduced fiber fragments by an average of 85 percent compared to the baseline fabric, the Polartec 200 Series fleece, and only lost an average of 0.0073 percent of its original weight.
“In 2016 we began looking into how we might test for fiber loss because there wasn’t a lot of research on the issue,” Aimee LaValley, Polartec textile development, dye and chemistry manager, said. “This led to new products like Polartec Power Air new manufacturing processes, as well as our participation in the TextileMission workgroup to study the issue on an interdisciplinary basis.”
TextileMission was a three-year collaborative initiative of academia and industry to reduce the impact of textile microplastics funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Funding partners include The Association of the German Sporting Goods Industry, Hochschule Niederrhein – University of Applied Science, TU Dresden – Institute of Water Chemistry, Vaude Sport, WWF Germany, Adidas AG, Henkel AG, Miele & CIE and Polartec.
Known for promoting recycled materials in the performance knits space, Polartec also has EcoEngineered new processes at its plants to reduce the spread of fiber fragments, including the installation of customized vacuum and filtering systems for all surface finishing machinery and upcycling all captured fabric waste for reuse in other products. These efforts also extend to other product innovations, such as 2018’s Polartec Power Air, constructed with lofted fibers to prevent breakage and maintain heat retention.
“While performance fabrics contribute a small percentage of the fibers fragments shed by the global textile industry, Polartec has been researching root causes and mitigation strategies for many years,” Dr. Kesh said. “Shed Less Fleece is a natural progression of this curiosity toward our goal of reducing fiber fragment shedding to near zero in all of our performance fabrics.”
Polartec Shed Less Fleece will be initially launched in the United States and available to customers beginning March 1. The brand plans to apply the Shed Less process to other platforms and manufacturing facilities worldwide. Shed Less works on both single- and double-sided fleece styles.
Since inventing the original PolarFleece in 1981, Polartec engineers have attempted to advance fabric science by creating problem-solving technologies that improve the user experience. The company claims it is the only company on the market that develops and manufactures comprehensive solutions encompassing base, mid and outer layers under one brand, offering a range of versatile functionality; lightweight wicking and cooling, warmth and insulation, breathable weather protection, fire resistance and enhanced durability. Polartec products are used by over 200 performance, lifestyle and workwear brands, including Aritzia, J. Crew and Patagonia.
And Polartec isn’t the only company to try and stop microfibers from escaping the garments in the first place.
Patagonia teamed with Samsung on a washing machine that would minimize the number of microfibers that seep into waterways through laundering. Its Less Microfiber Cycle, a new wash technology, cuts microplastic emissions by up to 54 percent, they said. Inditex partnered with German chemical firm BASF to debut a laundry detergent that they said would eliminate microfiber shedding from textiles by 80 percent. Brands are also starting to experiment with fiber composition and material density to prevent shedding as well.