The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2015 that more than 16 million tons of textiles were discarded every year, with most of it (66 percent) ending up in landfills.
The company, which is an integrated operation that includes yarn spinning and weaving, dyeing, printing and processing, has embraced circularity with the hopes of making change but also influencing the way both consumers and industry insiders think about the impact textile production is having on the planet.
Already it’s clear that shoppers are paying more attention to sustainability concerns and showing a willingness to reward responsible companies.
New research from the NYU Stern School of Business and data analytics company IRI found that sustainability-marketed products delivered 50.1 percent of market growth from 2013 to 2018, while representing 16.6 percent of the consumer packaged goods market in dollar sales in 2018. Findings like these strongly suggest that sustainability is good business.
Young consumers in particular believe brands must address environmental and social issues. A Cone Generation Z CRS study published earlier this year revealed that 94 percent of Gen Z and 87 percent of millennials hold brands accountable for these issues.
This comes as no surprise to Manu Kapur, president and CEO of GHCL Home Textiles, which exports to the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, Germany and other European Union countries. He’s convinced that given a choice, consumers want to do the right thing. They understand what’s at stake and how their purchasing decisions can help.
“With all things being equal or even nearly equal, consumer preferences today will be skewed towards products that are eco-friendly and recyclable,” he said. “Consumers will continue to support and buy products that are good for the environment with the understanding that the materials used to make those products are renewable, re-useable and recyclable.”
Currently more than one third of consumers have said they would pay 25 percent more for products considered sustainable, according to a poll by business software firm CGS.
And GHCL is stepping up, first with REKOOP and then Cirkularity. The two product launches are designed to address waste head on.
Launched in March in collaboration with Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and Applied DNA Sciences, REKOOP became the first fully source-verified recycled PET bedding product line. Made from discarded water bottles, the sustainable line uses less petroleum, results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and has a lower carbon footprint than traditional polyester bedding.
GHCL followed up that collection with Cirkularity in September, which features eight groupings, each with all-natural materials. Examples include comber noil, a waste byproduct of the yarn-spinning process that reduces water consumption by about 3,200 gallons per set, and a blend of Supima cotton and Lenzing’s Micro Tencel, which are derived from sustainable wood sources.
Here, Kapur talks consumer sentiment, the industry’s responsibility, the ROI of sustainability and the price companies that don’t fall in line will pay.
Sourcing Journal: What has prompted the industry to begin to take sustainability more seriously?
Manu Kapur: Growing awareness about the fact that the textile industry is the second-most-polluted industry globally and that it operates in an almost totally linear way—using huge amounts of non-renewable resources while being utterly wasteful—I believe has prompted the industry to take sustainability more seriously.
SJ: What are your retail partners telling you? Do they have specific requests related to how and what you produce as it relates to the environment?
MK: Sustainability is way up on the agenda of a large number of retailers globally. Though price considerations are still paramount, and there is still a degree of reluctance to substitute low-cost articles with more sustainable options that are slightly more expensive, the quantum of requests for more sustainable products and production is increasing, which is very fortunate.
SJ: Your Cirkularity collection uses a variety of natural inputs like BCI Cotton, Refibra and Supima. Why were these chosen?
MK: Our choice of inputs like BCI Cotton, Refibra and Supima for Cirkularity were selected because these fibers fit into the circular economy model of “recycle, reuse and reduce” that Cirkularity as a brand is founded on. BCI Cotton reduces the extent of water, commercial pesticides and fertilizers used for growing cotton. Supima cotton too minimizes inputs while maximizing crop yield. Refibra by Lenzing AG is a fascinating closed-loop production system that involves upcycling a substantial portion of post-industrial cotton scraps, in addition to wood pulp, to produce a truly sustainable Tencel Lyocell fiber.
SJ: What about price? Do these fibers result in higher prices at retail? And, if so, what’s been the response?
MK: Prices are a bit of a challenge. There is an obvious difference in the price of these sustainable fibers as compared to their conventional counterparts. For instance, Supima cotton and recycled polyester aren’t at the same level of price as conventional cotton or regular polyester. This is where the real character and true intent of retailers comes to the fore. We have had cases where there has been a very clear intent to go with sustainability and absorb the higher price, while there have also been cases where discussions of moving to more sustainable fibers haven’t gone through on account of price.
SJ: Why is traceability important?
MK: Traceability is of immense importance to establish provenance and authenticity across the supply chain of sustainable and other special fibers, in order to enable retailers to stand behind claims that they make.
SJ: GHCL works with Applied DNA to source-verify the raw materials in its REKOOP line of bedding, which includes recycled PET. How does that work?
MK: We are very proud of our partnership with Applied DNA Sciences. Traceability for REKOOP works in a fascinating way. DNA-embedded masterbatch is mixed with flakes from post-consumer PET bottles at the polyester recycling facility of Reliance Industries Limited in North India. The extruded polyester fiber has the DNA inextricably embedded in it. This fiber is then transported to our spinning facility in South India where it is blended with cotton and spun into a CVC yarn. This yarn then gets to our facility in West India where it is woven, processed and converted into bedding. The movement, transportation and warehousing of material is managed through SAP, without manual intervention. All the facilities mentioned above are Global Recycled Standard Certified. Forensic traceability through Applied DNA’s CertainT platform affords the highest degree of authenticity to REKOOP’s claim of using recycled polyester.
SJ: The collection has been in the market for about a year. What’s been the response from your retail partners?
MK: The response for REKOOP has been overwhelming. We currently sell through Amazon.com and Walmart.com. We will soon start to sell co-branded versions with among the largest, most successful retailers in the U.K. and Canada. Advanced talks are on for placement with a prestigious retailer and a premier brand in the U.S. and also with one of the largest retailers in Australia.
SJ: How much plastic has the collection been able to save from landfills and the oceans?
MK: One thousand REKOOP sheet sets use a ton of plastic. Recycling saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space, nine barrels of crude oil consumption and 6.5 metric tons of CO2 from getting into the atmosphere.
The collection, just from the business we currently have with the retailer in the U.K., would save approximately 696 cubic yards of landfill space, 845 barrels of crude oil consumption and 610 metric tons of carbon emissions from releasing into the atmosphere.
SJ: Beyond the products that GHCL offers, you’ve made upgrades to your facilities as well. What are some of the latest milestones you’ve reached in terms of energy and water usage?
MK: We have invested heavily in renewable energy, with about 40 percent of our energy requirement coming from wind energy. We have also invested in solar energy. We reuse about a quarter of the total water we use.
In addition, we recover and render reusable the caustic we use for mercerization, make paver blocks of fly ash and limestone fines to mend and build roads within our factories, and have replaced all conventional lighting with LED lights and with indigenously made units that use the scientific principles of refraction to bring daylight into our warehouses.
SJ: What new technologies seem most promising for quickly advancing sustainability?
MK: Strategies that are aimed at the reduction of water, energy and chemicals in textile processing are most promising in quickly advancing sustainability. An example would be the highly innovative waterless dyeing breakthrough by the Dutch company DyeCoo Textile Systems BV, whereby CO2 is used instead of water and extra textile chemicals.
SJ: Often sustainability is looked at as an expense. Have you found a way to make it an investment in your business? What’s been the ROI of your efforts thus far?
MK: For us, sustainability is a way of life; we are extremely passionate about it and feel it is imperative for us to do our bit, however small, to help save the planet from inevitable doom. We are investing heavily in sustainability in our business and believe there is no other way to go. The ROI from a financial standpoint will come in due time, but the satisfaction we get by doing what we deem is right is priceless.
SJ: What are some of the dangers a company faces by not prioritizing sustainability?
MK: Sustainability is no longer a fashionable word to be used for effect or for political correctness. It is now an essential paradigm of conducting not just business, but our lives. Companies that continue to work within the old “take, make, dispose” linear model will have trouble staying afloat as the world gets increasingly sensitive to the perils of not following the model of the circular economy.
SJ: What advice can you offer companies that want to accelerate their sustainability efforts?
MK: My advice would be to reach out, connect and seek the help of the growing international community of individuals, educational institutions, NGOs, corporations and governments involved in sustainability.
This piece originally appeared in Eco-Evolution, Sourcing Journal’s 2019 sustainability report. Read about how sustainability in the textile and apparel industries is gaining momentum through responsible practices, alternative materials and new business models here.