Today's environmental landscape is constantly evolving and a focus on sustainability is increasingly important - both from business and consumer perspective say Samit Chevli and Renee Henze.
Many companies understand the value in promoting corporate social responsibility (CSR) and they are integrating programming into their core business strategy. In fact, 81 percent of S&P 500 companies published sustainability or CSR reports in 2015. It has become a tenet of corporate strategy, one that has a positive impact on today's population, as well as generations to come. Consumers equally demand sustainability, with 84 percent seeking out eco-efficient products and 66 percent willing to pay more for them. They feel personally accountable to address environmental and social issues, yet 81 percent cite availability of responsible products as top barriers to purchase.
Sustainability is no longer optional; it's necessary to stay aligned with both company objectives and the desires of consumers.
The Opportunity for Sustainable Fashion
With fashion's rank as one of the most polluting industries of fresh water, the time for sustainable apparel is now. It's the time to not only produce sustainable apparel, but also change the perception of renewable fashion - that sustainability and performance don't have to be mutually exclusive. Renewable sourcing allows the industry to be more conscious of how it derives textile ingredients, while science and technology can help designers and manufacturers to innovate, driving the production of high-quality, high-performance materials that also soften the industry's impact on the environment. In the long term, as companies can make eco-efficient products more accessible and affordable as demand grows, a greater percentage of consumers will be able to play a part in sustainable fashion.
The intersection of eco-efficiency, performance and function represents significant opportunity for the textile industry and bio-based textiles are helping to solve this need.
The use of eco-efficient textiles has been present in the industry for many years - particularly with the increased awareness of and growth in recycling and recycled materials among both businesses and consumers. As the conversation around reducing fashion's environmental footprint continues to gain momentum, new forms of eco-innovation are taking shape, including bio-based textiles. Textiles that are bio-based are derived from renewable, plant-based ingredients, such as cellulose and starch. These bio-based materials are an alternative to petroleum-based products and their natural plant origins reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Simultaneously, bio-based materials have the potential to be versatile in their applications, in addition to offering high performance attributes that consumers demand. By opening new opportunities for performance capabilities and reducing environmental impact, bio-based textiles are creating a sweet spot of performance and sustainability.
Some bio-based materials can be blended with other fibers and dyed or printed with existing techniques and colorants, resulting in rich colour and customisable designs. Their compatibility with digital textile printing offers abundant design possibilities, aiding in the potential for versatility across apparel applications. There are multiple ink options for digital printing, making it important to select the one best suited for the fabric and end product. Additionally, traditional fixation process can be used to fix the dyes and guarantee that dye colorants are entrapped into the fiber. This ensures that bright colours are maintained even after washing and that the fabric is durable enough to withstand daily use, including laundering, perspiration, and exposure to light. Overall, the cycle time from design conception to actual production is significantly reduced by using digital printing - further reducing environmental impact of textile production.
As both business and consumer awareness of environmental responsibility and demand for sustainability grows, so too has the market for bio-based products. According to Textile exchange, bio-based products - including textiles - accounted for seven percent of global sales in 2005; more specifically, they comprised approximately US$77 billion in value within the chemicals sector. By 2020, the global market is estimated to grow to US$250 billion. Even greater, one third of chemicals and materials are expected to be produced from biological sources by 2030.
With the rise in awareness about sustainability and the growing market for bio-based textiles, the fashion industry is poised for a new eco-revolution. In fact, global production capacity of bioplastics in the textile segment is expected to rise 169 percent from 2013 to 2018. By creating eco-friendly products that still offer performance and function, bio-based materials have the potential to not only transform the sustainable apparel industry, but also pave the way for a broader conversation around biomaterials across other industries.
1. Governance and accountability institute
2. Cone communication CSR study
4. Textile Exchange
5. Nova Institute
About the author:
Samit Chevli is principal investigator at DuPont Biomaterials where Renee Henze is a global marketing manager.