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Top Textile Innovations of 2020

Given the challenges just to survive in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic’s economic toll, few would blame textile companies for letting research and development take a back seat.

But there was no Covid fatigue for many of the sector’s top names. Fabric, fiber, and dyeing and finishing companies forged ahead with new ways to improve performance, comfort and sustainability, and in some cases used the crisis as inspiration for perhaps the most innovative creations of the year.


That was the case with textile solutions company HeiQ, which last month received first prize in the prestigious Swiss Technology Awards for its breakthrough antiviral textile technology HeiQ Viroblock and its contribution to stemming the spread of the global pandemic.

Developed in record time and launched after Swiss authorities announced the lockdown in March, HeiQ Viroblock has had a major impact on the global textile industry and is being adopted by fabric mills around the world. Some of the brands that have taken up HeiQ Viroblock are Burberry, Mammut, Cornelia James, DL1961, SertaSimmons Bedding, Outdoor Research, Buff, Craighoppers, Aviro, Albini, Malwee and the Medical Supply Company of Switzerland.

HeiQ Viroblock has been proven to be one of the world’s most efficient and effective antiviral/antimicrobial technologies and has been applied by more than 150 brands worldwide to over 1 billion products from face masks and apparel to home textiles.

In the first-ever test use of the International Standardization Organization (ISO) method on the coronavirus on textiles, Polygiene ViralOff was confirmed as the first commercial textiles treatment to reduce the virus by more than 99 percent over two hours.

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The Swiss treatments company said the purpose of treating textiles with ViralOff is not to protect the wearer from infection or make any other health claim, but to protect the garment because it then does not have to be cleaned or disinfected. Beyond the environmental effects of wearing more and washing less, there are also countries that demand disinfection of products before they are sold, making garments treated with ViralOff particularly attractive.

Recycled and renewable

Fashion brands made major strides this year in reusing goods to manufacture fibers and fabrics. For many companies, it’s part of their commitment to reducing waste, carbon footprint and their overall sustainability goals.

Clean manufacturing specialist Genomatica signed a deal with Aquafil to build a demonstration-scale facility to produce the largest-ever quantity of 100 percent renewable nylon 6. Responding to rising consumer interest in sustainable products, the material will go to global brands eager to explore and develop renewable products, create showcase-worthy goods, and test feedback with customers.

Genomatica and Aquafil are now moving directly to a larger-than-typical demonstration scale to support initial commercial applications by committed brand partners, with the first production runs slated to create 50 tons of bio-nylon for pre-commercial use by Genomatica’s brand partners.

“Bio-nylon is positioned to replace a material that’s used in millions of applications every day,” Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling said. “Our research shows that despite health and economic turmoil, 56 percent of Americans still want brands to prioritize sustainability.”

Textile companies forged ahead with new ways to improve performance, comfort and sustainability, in some cases inspired by the pandemic.
Eastman’s Naia yarn. Courtesy

H&M Group continued to take steps toward a more sustainable future through an expanded partnership with Swedish textile recycling company Re:newcell to supply it with virgin quality Circulose fibers made from unusable textile waste.

Circular Systems’ Agraloop Biofiber, made from oil-seed hemp waste, and Naia Renew, a closed-loop cellulosic fiber made with 60 percent wood pulp and 40 percent recycled plastic waste, will both be used in the construction of taffeta and jacquard evening gowns for H&M. We aRe SpinDye’s SpinDye technology, an environmentally friendly dyeing method, and Made of Air, a carbon-negative plastic, are also used in apparel and sunglasses from the line.

Nan Ya Plastics, a manufacturer of recycled PET fibers, created a new unit called Saya to include recycled cutting scraps and fabric, bringing new options to the textile industry. Saya 365 features a proprietary, five-stage filtration process followed by two stages of purification that result in batch optimized flakes and pellets ready to be transformed into performance fibers. Saya has greater tenacity, dyeing accuracy and brighter whites compared to conventional recycled fibers, the company said.

Saya 365 is derived from plastic bottles sourced from Asia and beyond, providing consistent and cost-effective supply for sustainable options in polyester fiber. Saya Coastal targets clean-up and renewal of discarded plastic bottles in coastal regions that would otherwise migrate out to sea, as 80 percent of ocean plastics originates from coastal land.

Meridian Specialty Yarn Group introduced polyester yarns processed with CiCLO technology that represents a sustainable, high-performance alternative to conventional polyester for performance wear and medical personal protective equipment (PPE).

The CiCLO technology allows polyester fibers to break down in landfills and the ocean at rates comparable to a natural fiber like wool, according to Meridian. The company is initially introducing the yarns to hosiery markets for performance and hiking socks.

Alternative materials

Agricultural firm ADM and Spiber Inc., a Japanese biotech outfit, are combining their expertise to expand the production of the latter’s innovative Brewed Protein polymers for use in apparel and other consumer products. The Brewed Protein polymers will be produced by ADM in the U.S. using plant-based dextrose as a feedstock, and then shipped to Spiber’s downstream facilities, where they will be processed into an array of materials, primarily fibers, for use in a variety of applications such as apparel, lightweight auto parts and high-performance foams.

Eastman, the producer of sustainably sourced Naia cellulosic fiber, introduced its Naia Renew portfolio, sourced from 60 percent wood pulp and 40 percent recycled waste plastics. Naia Renew cellulosic fiber is traceable with certified biodegradability that captures the value of hard-to-recycle materials that could otherwise be destined for landfills. Naia Renew is available as a filament or staple fiber.

Eastman also collaborated with Dupont Biomaterials to launch a fabric collection made with biobased materials. The joint effort blends Naia from Eastman and Dupont Sorona fibers to create garments with exceptional stretch and recovery, luxurious drape and a soft hand. The new collection will expand sustainable fabric choices for designers to use for everyday casual wear.

Textile companies forged ahead with new ways to improve performance, comfort and sustainability, in some cases inspired by the pandemic.
Infinited Fiber yarns

H&M Group, Bestseller, PVH Corp., Wrangler and Patagonia are collaborating with Infinited Fiber Company to develop a viable circular alternative to virgin cotton, ultimately enhancing their ability to respond to growing customer sustainability demands.

Infinited Fiber Company said its technology can turn any cellulose-rich material into a biodegradable and “re-recyclable” soft fiber with a natural look and feel. A whole range of wardrobe items from T-shirts and hoodies to dress shirts and jeans can be made with the fiber.

Lenzing launched two CarbonNeutral-certified “carbon zero” Tencel-branded lyocell and modal fibers, produced using renewable energy, which it said will contribute to lower carbon emissions and energy consumption across the supply chain and “kick-start the decarbonization of the textile industry.” This means that the emissions associated with the fibers’ production, manufacturing and distribution have been calculated and reduced through engagement with industry partners wherever possible and offset where not.

The move is part of Lenzing’s longer-term “true carbon zero” campaign, which will deploy four “key levers” in the areas of energy reduction, renewable energy, new technology and supplier engagement to halve its greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 and achieve climate-neutral production with zero net-carbon emissions by 2050.

Dyeing and finishing

Finnish fiber innovation company Spinnova entered into a long-term collaboration with global chemical company Kemira to develop an eco-friendly inherent fiber dyeing method.

Spinnova’s inherent dyeing process involves mass dyeing the cellulosic fiber mass before extruding into filament, which avoids the excess use of water, energy, heavy metals and other harmful substances that typically go into dyeing fiber, thread and fabric as subsequent processes.

Unifi Inc. introduced Repreve cationic-dyeable polyester, an expansion of its Our Ocean offering. Combining sustainability and innovation, the cationic-dyeable delivers 100 percent Repreve heathers and solids to the market. Dyeing these yarns could result in energy savings compared to some traditional disperse-dyed polyester by utilizing lower temperatures, Unifi noted. For the consumer, the process offers a higher washing, perspiration and sublimation fastness than traditional polyester fiber.