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As Global Fiber Production Explodes, Eco-Friendly Materials Matter More Than Ever

Textile Exchange’s Preferred Fiber and Materials Market Report reveals that global fiber production has doubled in the last 20 years, reaching a high of 107 million metric tons in 2018, and is expected to grow to 145 million metric tons by 2030.

The report, which measures the production of fiber and materials with improved social and environmental impacts, known as preferred, shows production increases for the more responsible options for almost all fiber categories. The volumes are still low in comparison to conventional counterparts, however.

Among the key findings in the report were that in the Plant-based Natural Fibers category, cotton remains the most used fiber despite some recent development of other materials. Preferred cotton had a market share of 22 percent of the total global cotton production and was grown in 30 countries in the 2018 reporting year. Preferred cotton programs include ABRAPA, BASF e3, Better Cotton Initiative, Cleaner Cotton, Cotton made in Africa, Fairtrade, Fairtrade Organic, Field to Market, ISCC, myBMP, Organic, REEL Cotton, Regenerative Cotton and Transitional Cotton.

Also in the sector, passage of the U.S. Farm Bill made 2018 an important year for hemp. The bill separated hemp from the closely related marijuana plant, legalizing its growth and setting standards for cultivation and sales, allowing brands to incorporate the fiber into their apparel.

In the Synthetic Fiber Category for 2018, polyester was reported to have a market share of around 52 percent of global fiber production, making it the most widely used fiber worldwide.

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In an effort to accelerate the industry’s use of preferred fibers, Textile Exchange initiated a commitment to recycled polyester–one type of preferred polyester–that encouraged brands and retailers to publicly commit to increasing their use of recycled polyester by 25 percent by 2020. This goal was achieved in 2018.

“This momentum is exciting and hopefully will not be deterred by the 2018 recycled polyester market share being approximately 3 percent lower when compared to the 16 percent in the previous year due to the ban on importing different types of solid waste, including plastic bottles and polyester textile waste, to China that went into effect January 2018,” the report said.

In the Animal-based Fibers and Materials category, preferred down was produced on thousands of farms in 13 countries. Preferred down is recognized by the adherence to standards, including Textile Exchange’s Responsible Down Standard, the Global Traceable Down Standard and Downpass.

Wool is the most used animal-based fiber, with more than 1 million metric-tons produced globally. Preferred wool is estimated to be below 3 percent of the global market share. Preferred wool is identified by key standards and initiatives, including Textile Exchange’s Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) that was launched in 2016 and covered sheep on 278 farms in six countries during 2018.

It was also a significant year for mohair as Textile Exchange began the development of a Responsible Mohair Standard (RMS) that will sit alongside the RWS and provide assurance that mohair comes from farms with high animal welfare and progressive land management practices.

Textile Exchange is continuing its work on the Responsible Leather Round Table and a newly assembled Responsible Cashmere Round Table.

The Manmade Cellulosic Fibers category registered steady growth, with a market share of approximately 6.2 percent of total fiber production volume–double what it was in 1990 and expected to continue growing. The category includes viscose, acetate, lyocell, modal and cupro.

Textile Exchange said the continued growth of global fiber production will have significant impacts on people and the planet.

“Now is the time to accelerate a transition to preferred fiber and materials,” the organization said. “This is a critical step to reducing the footprint on the planet that is being left by conventional fiber and material production. Textile Exchange aims to be the driving force for urgent climate action with a goal of 35 percent to 45 percent reduced CO2 emissions from textile fiber and material production by 2030.”

Textile Exchange is a global nonprofit that manages and promotes a suite of six leading industry standards, as well as collects and publishes critical industry data and insights that enable brands and retailers to measure, manage and track their use of preferred fiber and materials. It has more than 400 members who represent leading brands, retailers and suppliers.