A surge in recent fiber and fabric development has taken the fast track from introduction to implementation—and expansion.
Much of the action has been advancements in environmentally friendly materials. This runs from recycled polyester and upcycled and regenerated fabrics, to recycled cotton and cellulosic fibers.
One of the more recent success stories has been the development and widespread commercial usage of Unifi Inc.’s Repreve polyester fiber made form recycled post-consumer plastic water bottles. Two years ago, Unifi opened a bottle processing facility in Reidsville, N.C., making the process of converting plastic bottles into polyester fiber and yarn nearly vertical a year after it expanded its Repreve Recycling Center in Yadkinville, N.C. That gave the company an annual capacity to produce up to 60 million pounds of Repreve and other premier value-added products.
Last year, Unifi recycled more than 10 billion plastic bottles and the company is targeting 20 billion bottles recycled by 2020, and 30 billion by 2022. Repreve has transformed more than 10 billion plastic bottles into recycled fiber for new clothing, shoes, home goods and other consumer products. The fiber is found in products from many of the world’s leading brands including New Era, Levi’s, Target and Ford.
In January, Unifi introduced its Champions of Sustainability award, which is given to 25 brand and retail partners that have each used the equivalent of 10 million or more bottles, and 15 textile partners that have each used the equivalent of 50 million or more bottles, through the use of Repreve fiber.
Polartec recently introduced an upgraded Polartec Power Fill insulation made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials. When the insulation was introduced a year ago, it featured 80 percent recycled content.
The company has now upcycled more than 1 billion post-consumer plastic bottles into hundreds of fabric styles and category-creating platforms. Polartec Power Fill is warm, lightweight package insulation that is hydrophobic, fast-drying and highly compressible. It’s made of proprietary hollow fibers that are bonded together through a process that reduces environmental impact, while simultaneously providing superior insulating properties, durability and hand.
“Finding sustainable solutions is a core objective of our science of fabric,” Polartec CEO Gary Smith, said. “We’re proud to have cracked the code required to produce premium quality insulation from 100 percent PCR materials.”
Tricia Carey, director of global business development at Lenzing, said Tencel with Refibra technology has been adopted by six brands: Country Road, Patagonia – Out of the Woods, Reformation, Marc O’Polo, Zara and Mara Hoffman, and four more brands are expected to take up the fiber, which takes the place of traditional Tencel in the fabric construction. Refibra is made using the closed-loop Tencel lyocell production process and is the only commercially available fiber made from recycled cotton and wood pulp.
Lenzing has also expanded the eco-responsible production of its Ecovero brand of viscose fibers to its Lenzing Nanjing Fibers facility in Nanjing, China. Ecovero, a fiber derived from sustainable wood pulp from certified and controlled sources, has been produced in Lenzing’s Austrian facility since it was launched this past Fall, and since then demand has been strong, which prompted plans to increase production capabilities to accommodate it.
At the same time, Lenzing said capacities will be significantly expanded due to strong demand for its Tencel Luxe filament yarn that was first launched on the market late last year. Lenzing will invest up to $35 million in a further pilot line at the Lenzing site in Austria.
“The decision to construct a new line will serve as the basis for generating a three-fold increase in capacity compared to the previous volume,” Lenzing CEO Stefan Doboczky said. “The additional capacity will be available to customers at the end of next year.”
Increasing the exposure of sustainable fabrics is the mission of C.L.A.S.S., which recently launched e-commerce on its revamped website, classecohub.org to make the recycled, upcycled and reporpused fabrics from its consortium of mills available to small designers and students to purchase, with 50-meter maximums.
Among C.L.A.S.S.’s firms that have seen the uptake of their materials expand are Ecotec by Marchi&Fildi’s collection made from already dyed, pre-consumer cotton clippings that come in 70 colors, and Cupro fiber from Bemberg by Asahi Kasei made from the transformation of cotton linter bio-utility waste converted through a traceable and transparent closed loop process. There’s also Re.VerSo, derived from wool and cashmere pre-consumer clippings supplied by a collaboration of five premium textile Italian producers, and Roica by Asahi Kasei, a sustainable elastane fiber that uses 50 percent pre-consumer materials.
Ricardo Silva, head of operations at Portugal’s Tintex Textiles, which uses sustainable materials including Tencel, organic cotton and BCI Cotton, and recycled materials in its Naturally Advanced fabric collection, said, “being part of C.L.A.S.S. since 2016 has helped us reach new customers.”