In the fashion and textile industry, water conservation has become a top sustainability priority. And one of the main focuses of water reduction is the dyeing process.
Conventional dyeing uses large volumes of water and chemicals, resulting in significant amounts of wastewater. According to the World Bank, textile dyeing and finishing contributes to 17 percent to 20 percent of all industrial water pollution.
Technology firm NTX, which specializes in textile coloration, aims to make printing and dyeing processes more sustainable by reducing resource consumption and energy use. In 2020, NTX made its official market debut with the commercialization of its Cooltrans technology, which offers a heatless and waterless color transfer process. This alternative to traditional wet printing achieves a 90 percent water savings, while also cutting back on energy and chemical use by 65 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Aside from Cooltrans’ sustainability credentials, it also speeds the process of coloring fabric.
“Generally, the thought process for [the] coloration of textiles has been you need to have heat, and you need to have a solvent, and you need to have time,” said Jeffrey Hsu, chief innovation and marketing officer at NTX. “We’ve basically changed the dynamic of all of this.”
NTX co-founders Sandra Chou and Kalvin Chung originally began research and development work in 2000 with the goal of improving sublimation, which is a waterless coloration process that uses heat to transfer color from paper onto fabric. Chou and Chung sought to make sublimation chemically safer by eliminating toxic substances such as formaldehyde. From a quality perspective, NTX was also looking to improve color saturation, resolution and colorfastness.
Over the years, NTX discovered that to make these changes, the entire process had to be revamped, including the ink chemistry and machinery. The resulting Cooltrans technology can be used on natural fabrics as well as synthetics, including stretch materials. NTX’s original Cooltrans solution transfers color via paper, while the more recently developed Cooltrans V uses a specially developed roller to apply pigment directly. This latter application allows color transfer to be used to create mélange patterns or pinstripes without having to pre-dye yarns in different hues, reducing material waste.
Within the past year, NTX has been researching the filaments and fibers that make up textiles to further improve coloration and create deeper hues. During a panel at Sourcing Journal’s Sourcing Summit Hong Kong in May, Hsu noted customers have said that NTX’s black makes conventionally dyed black textiles look grey in comparison.
While Cooltrans officially launched last year, Hsu noted that market support for NTX took off around 2017. Part of what has driven more attention toward its solutions is enhanced consumer awareness of greenwashing. “Within the past 10 years, the degree of information and the degree of concern, as well as the sophistication from consumers to get to that level of what is actually sustainable…really drove conversation from the brand house perspective to create or to do something that was real,” said Hsu.
NTX’s sustainable technology earned it a spot in the seventh edition of Fashion for Good’s Accelerator Programme, which helped further propel market interest in Cooltrans.
Last year, NTX’s Newtech Textile Singapore Pte. Ltd. entered a joint venture with manufacturer Luen Thai to build a factory in Cambodia specializing in sportswear and athleisure production using Cooltrans. NTX has also worked with manufacturer Roo Hsing to transform denim coloration. In addition to a 93 percent water reduction, the company—which supplies to brands like Levi Strauss & Co., Gap and C&A—was able to shrink its production time from about 140 days to just 60.
Looking ahead, NTX is aiming to bring waterless technology to more elements of textile production. Instead of just selling machinery, the company is also taking on more of a manufacturing role to help prove the quality and consistency of its solutions to brands. “Rather than relying on a third party to get it right, we’re saying we’ll take all the risk ourselves, but also all the responsibility and accountability of making it work,” Hsu said.