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Why Apparel and Footwear Cannot Afford to Ignore Sustainability

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As retailers focus on the next generation of consumers, millennial and Gen Z shoppers are increasingly vocal about their expectation that brands uphold environmentally friendly practices. Consumers’ demands for sustainable fashion have steadily grown since the early 2000s, prompting brands to prioritize sustainability and increase transparency into their efforts.

With the average consumer spending more than $1,800 on clothing annually, or roughly $150 per month, brands simply cannot afford to ignore consumers’ desire for products that minimize environmental impact. In fact, brands that fail to adapt—or that mislead consumers about their environmental practices—risk attracting unwanted attention on social media, including calls for boycotts.

In September 2018, Burberry announced that it would end its practice of destroying unsold goods after widespread public anger erupted. Although the practice is relatively common among luxury fashion retailers, which want to maintain their exclusivity by avoiding discounted products, calls for change were swift and effective. Today, brands must hold themselves accountable to sustainability, or the public will.

Consumers are also savvier than they used to be. Their curiosity now extends all the way up the supply chain, from how online purchases impact their carbon footprint to the specific textiles that make up their shoes and apparel. It’s more important than ever for brands to practice due diligence and provide transparent insights into all aspects of production.

“Sustainability is such an important issue now, and you can’t afford to lose the consumer’s trust,” says Kirsten K. Harris, vice president of North American Marketing at Nilit®.

Nearly a century ago, nylon revolutionized the textile industry, and now it has the opportunity to do so again. As the world’s largest supplier of Nylon 6.6, Nilit® is taking sustainability seriously by working closely with expert consultants and an in-house team to test biodegradable yarns and other innovations that will lessen environmental impact. While Nilit® works to bring these developments to market, brands can rely on Sensil®, a premium fabric made from Nylon 6.6, to create durable, smart clothing that supports sustainability.

Providing durable, multipurpose clothing

In January 2019, millions of viewers devoured Netflix’s new television show about minimalist guru Marie Kondo. Second hand clothing stores were overwhelmed by donations as people purged items from their closets and pledged to become more mindful about their consumption. The phenomenon reveals a key retail trend: Consumers want to invest in multipurpose garments that transition effortlessly from a morning bike commute to after-work happy hour or yoga, and everything in between. Over time, these versatile, durable wardrobe staples will allow consumers to purchase fewer articles of clothing, saving money and conserving resources.

One way to address this desire is by sourcing textiles that are built to last. While most clothing that is subjected to 25 washes can technically be considered long-lasting, today’s consumers expect more. Garments made from Sensil® can be washed at least 50 times, with some garments tested up to 75 washes for durability and additional technical properties. If consumers are relying on fewer articles of clothing that must serve multiple purposes, they will need textiles that can withstand the test of time and additional wear.

Cutting down on waste and carbon emissions

As new techniques for creating textiles gain popularity, consumers want their clothing to help reduce waste and carbon emissions. Research suggests that the fashion industry is responsible for approximately 5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, exceeding the levels of maritime shipping or international flights.

One way to take steps toward a carbon-neutral future is to reduce the distance textiles must be shipped. With factories located worldwide, Nilit® helps brands reduce their carbon footprint by holding fabric nearby. This also allows brands to maintain smaller inventories, fighting waste without impacting speed to market.

Additionally, textiles that repurpose existing materials can eliminate waste. For instance, coffee charcoal comes from coffee bean shells that would otherwise go to waste. But when it is added into the fiber at the polymer stage, garments are better able to delay the loss of body heat, improving the functionality of the garment without sacrificing softness or durability. Coffee charcoal also acts as a natural deodorizer and aids moisture wicking. Sensil® Heat takes advantage of this technique, achieving specialty heat properties from coffee charcoal.

With the average American sending approximately 81 pounds of potentially recyclable clothing to landfills each year, many consumers are seeking ways to offset waste by choosing apparel made from recycled textiles. Clothing producers can opt for fabrics like Sensil® EcoCare, a recycled version of Nylon 6.6 that repurposes factory waste, to meet this demand.

Minimize environmental impact with biostatic textiles

Improving sustainability isn’t just about reducing pollution and waste. In April 2019, the U.N. issued a report warning that antibiotic resistance is building into a global crisis. As bacteria adapts to the presence of antibiotic medications, the global risk of deadly infections is rapidly growing.

Some researchers have connected antibacterial or antimicrobial properties in textiles to this issue. It’s not widely known whether textiles with antibacterial or antimicrobial chemicals can contribute to antibiotic resistance through wastewater or contact with skin. In the face of this uncertainty, biostatic textiles that inhibit bacterial growth without killing bacteria—such as Sensil® BodyFresh—represent a safer choice.

Today, committing to sustainability isn’t optional

As people around the world begin to recognize the importance of striving for a zero waste future, the textile and fashion industries must do their part—and with Sensil®, Nilit® is committed to doing just that.

The future will likely feature new innovations ranging from biodegradable nylon fabrics to smaller carbon footprints—and although these developments haven’t arrived yet, each day brings the world closer to a sustainable future. In the meantime, brands need to listen to consumers’ demands for sustainable options. The risk of ignoring them is simply too high.

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