Interview with Venkatesh Tulluri

Venkatesh Tulluri
Venkatesh Tulluri

One needs to count on a time frame of between 2 and 3 years to come up with efficient solutions.
Venkatesh Tulluri, President of Kermel, discusses the principles of sustainability in the protective clothing industry in an interview with Fibre2Fashion Correspondent Ridaa Saiyed. Synopsis: Based in France, KERMEL is the European market leader of meta-aramid fibers for heat and flame resistant protective clothing and also the provider of textile solutions adapted to the specific needs of end-users. The company is banking on the results of a major research and innovation drive. Fire suits for fire fighters, together with protective coveralls for public order squads, police, military and industrial uses are some of the most popular applications chosen for total protection. Venkatesh Tulluri is the President of Kemide, which is the holding company of Kermel. He is basically a specialist in Chemicals and Advanced materials by training, and with an MBA in international business from IMD, Lausanne. Excerpts:

What is the role of sustainability in protective clothing industry?

Protective clothing industry has several sub segments to it. KERMEL Company provides textile solutions made out from its Meta aramid fibers and concentrates to protect the wearer against Heat and Flame. Among other sub segments of protective clothing, there are also aspects related to Cut Protection & Ballistic Protection furnished by other aramid fibers. Protective garments are also lately being developed more and more against multi risk protection, which involves a combination of protection against Heat, Flame and against Electric Arc, combined with high visibility. KERMEL also plays an active role in this sub segment. Besides Meta aramid fibers, there exists considerable quantity of garments in treated cotton that cater to the protection against Heat and Flames world wide (FR garments) Main users of Heat and Flame protective garments are Fire Fighters, Army, Airforce, Navy and Police personnel along with oil and gas workers worldwide besides several chemical, mining, electrical power production and distribution and other industries requiring multi risk protection. Whereas there exists no single set of numbers world wide for statistics related to the usage of FR garments in above industries, it could be estimated that around 20 to 25 million garments must at least be purchased every year world wide between Meta aramids and treated cotton garments. If one considers that there also exist garments made in blends with meta aramids and other FR fibers and also the fact that besides outer wear there are also under garments in FR not just in woven form but also in knits, the total number of garments purchased could be much more world wide than the above figure. Also as the industry is governed by norms and the requirement of conformity to norms is increasing every year among the end user segments, the market is also growing every year. Hence, sustainability becomes an important aspect of the industry owing to the size and the growth.

Does your company design its products keeping in mind the concept of sustainability?

KERMEL Company provides solutions to end users in conception, design and care of FR protective wear. All the Kermel fibers produced in staple form are solution dyed or in other words producer dyed in the stage of polymer itself. Hence besides the durability aspect of the color of the fiber lasting consistently for the life of the garment, it is a well known fact that solution dyed fibers offer considerable savings to the weaver in the dyeing and finishing stage in terms of water usage and energy used vs. other fibers that are not solution dyed. Hence, we can say that certain aspects of sustainability both environmental and economic are built into the design of our product.

What methods of processing and recycling are adopted by the protective clothing industry?

Garment makers and fiber producers in several countries have been collecting polyester garments for recycling and reuse. However in the case of Meta aramid fibers KERMEL is one of the first in Europe to offer collection of used fire fighter garments in France. We have about 60 collection centers in France to help collect the garment from the end user. The collected garments are subcontracted by KERMEL Company to be shredded. Subsequently the separated Meta aramid fiber, which is too short to be spun and woven and in a blend of multi colors finds usage in building insulation and flooring.

What is the impact of LCA (life cycle analysis) in technical textiles?

The life cycle analysis is a useful tool to analyze the energy usage and waste generated during the whole cycle of product manufacture and usage. The same would apply to Technical Textiles. An analysis of our manufacturing process for e.g. with respect to our process has resulted in small investments and reduced water usage by 20% so far and we are still making progress.

People often misunderstand the term sustainability with a principle that concerns only the natural environment, while there is economic sustainability too along with the environmental sustainability. How far is it applicable in technical textiles industry?

Reduction of usage of new materials and energy through efficiency of the process and reuse of materials leads to obvious savings and improves the economics.

Technical textile industry indulges in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Does the technical textile industry take measures for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)?

At this point, being in the very beginning of the textile chain starting from the chemistry, the topic of EPR is not something we deal with on a day-to-day basis. However, we are open to offering solutions wherever possible to our customers.

Waste Management is considered one of the biggest crises in technical textiles. How does the technical textile industry deal with it?

Today this aspect is in its early stages for the technical textile industry. KERMEL is probably one of the first few in technical textile industry with its concept of "Nova Vita" brand for reuse of fibers collected as waste from used garments into other non-competing industries.

The consumers of the protective clothing industry are mostly the public personnel - the military and police forces. What is the role of government in ensuring sustainable development in the protective clothing industry?

In Europe, some end users are starting to impose some specifications in tenders to think about the Life Cycle analysis and for reuse of waste generated from used garments after completion of life of the garments.

Sustainability could only be attained after proper research activities and to study the results obtained thereby to implement the suitable options. What do you have to say about it?

This is clearly a very important point indicated in your question. There is a sequence and series of studies that need to be conducted on a pilot scale to establish the concept of how to save energy, water in the process for example and likewise pilot studies to be conducted in reuse of waste from used garments before they can be scaled up and implemented across the board. One needs to count on a time frame of between 2 and 3 years to come up with efficient solutions.
Published on: 27/01/2014

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