SS25 Sustainability Decodings: Fabrics

Textiles are undergoing a profound change, a revolution. While still primarily sourced from fossil fuels, intensive farming and inadequately regulated chemical processes, today’s raw materials and new fibers are taking on new, alternative approaches. By turning to existing deposits, water- and energy-efficient technologies, stringent chemical controls, and traceability tools, they broaden the horizon to include more virtuous models of production and consumption. Without professing to be ecological miracles, these strategies can help us rethink know-hows and innovation and propel us into a desirable future, beginning right now.

Safeguarding nature

The use of natural animal and plant fibers is targeting more sustainable agricultural models. While various certification bodies, such as GOTS, Good Earth Cotton, Regenagri, and voluntary sustainability standards, like Better Cotton, set forth different requirements, the goal is to achieve maximum compliance with commitments targeting water conservation, biodiversity and land revitalization. The origins of raw materials and their traceability help ensure non-toxic farming, breeding and harvesting processes. European Flax™ certifies flax and hemp grown in Europe. For wools, an additional criterion, animal welfare, is ensured by breeding zones prohibiting mulesing, and confirmed by RWS, ZQ or Peta Approved certifications. Beyond labels, simple common sense is a useful guideline when it comes to harnessing nature without destroying it, to help ensure its renewal. This common sense should be applied throughout the value chain, right up to a product’s uses, by reconsidering the quality of natural fibers, the breathability of plant fibers, the insulating power of linens and hemp, and the heat-regulating properties of wool.

Renewable synthetics

Processing polyamide, polyester and elastane faces three major challenges: reducing dependence on fossil fuels, reducing the dispersion of plastic micro-particles, and facilitating recycling and biodegradability. Polymers based on cane sugar, castor oil, coffee residues and corn starch, such as PLA and its variants, Sorona®, PLaX and Noosa™, are increasingly meeting these objectives. The mechanical stretch of certain synthetics is sufficient to impart freedom of movement but is no substitute for elastane when it comes to stretch support or compression. Recycled elastane, the first ecological alternative to conventional stretch, has now been surpassed in terms of environmental performance by elastic filaments with faster biodegradability, made from renewable resources or recycled production waste.

Virtuous finishings

Choosing the right raw material is central to minimizing the ecological impact of textiles, but the finishing stages must also align with sustainable sourcing efforts. Dyeing processes in closed-loop systems, along with water purification and recycling, should be the minimum commitment. Today, advances in natural dyes are broadening the options for clean dyeing. Pigments derived from brown algae, fruits, flowers, wood residues and textiles now ensure colorfastness and reproducibility. On the embellishment front, initiatives are emerging to curb the spread of plastic materials: loose acetate glitter, synthetic-free flocked designs using cotton powder, or sequins made from recycled polyester. In the Outdoor and protection universes, the challenge is significant — phasing out perfluorocarbons (PFCs) in the membranes and coatings that render textiles waterproof. Several alternatives to these toxic molecules, which survive in the atmosphere for a 50,000 years, are now used in the compositions of waterproof, windproof, and down-proof textiles: polyurethane coatings and membranes made from renewable natural resources with accelerated biodegradability, and impregnations made from natural waxes or vegetable oils.

Sustainable innovations

Despite being available on an industrial scale, these promising examples still account for only a small fraction of today’s supplies. For several seasons now, circular production has been experimenting with various channels. To tap into waste rather than using renewable or fossil resources, two major approaches are emerging. One is the recycling of pre- or post-consumer textiles, in polyester for example with Tex2Tex™, or with second-generation cellulosic man-made fibers such as Nucycl®, Circulose®, or Circ®lyocell. The most promising avenue, though not yet widespread, involves developing co-products from the agri-food industry, such as spinning pineapple or banana fibers, or chemically recycling citrus fruit, linseed oil or hemp residues. Meanwhile, several new technologies are emerging, such as the process developed by Spiber, which produces its Brewed Protein™ filament using an exclusive fermentation process for plant ingredients. The process uses neither fossil resources nor soil. The latest innovation making waves in synthetics is a process developed by Lanzatech, where industrial gas emissions from steel mills are captured and turned into polyester, a product that is woven by Long Advance in particular. This revolutionary process relies on petrochemistry to make materials while depolluting the air.

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