Sustainable fibers have been much talked about, but its adaptation in the textile value chain will take some time. The realization that we cannot continue to grow cotton like mad, nor can we endlessly spin fossil fuels into polyester or other synthetic fabrics has led to more clothing companies focusing on use of sustainable fiber for their end products.

Levi Strauss, for example, has modernized and transformed its brand in part by emphasizing sustainability in everything from its garments’ origins to long after the sale. The company has spun recycled plastic bottles into its iconic denim jeans and has worked with other countries to launch the Better Cotton Initiative. While there’s still plenty to be done, the use of sustainable fibers is on the rise.


Cotton will always have a massive water footprint, always be coveted because of its strength, comfort and breathability, so some companies are experimenting with blending other fibers with cotton to lessen the footprint of the final garment.


Hemp often scores points for its durability and rapid growth without excessive use of water and pesticides.


Meanwhile, bamboo’s stock as a “sustainable” fiber has fallen. Several years ago, the miracle grass was touted for its environmental chops. But it turned out that the fibers spun from bamboo require so many solvents that it is virtually indistinguishable from rayon or viscose.


When it comes to scale, synthetic fabrics are showing more promise. The era of more collaboration and less patent litigation, at least when it comes to developing more ecologically friendly textiles, offers hope. Some of this change is due to companies like Nike with its sustainability index, which boosts the sharing of ideas and innovation.

Recycled fibers

Some changes are starting at the base of the supply chain with companies such as Aquafil, a synthetic fiber manufacturer that recycles fishing nets and unwanted textiles into regenerated yarns for use as carpet or fabric. The company has spearheaded an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of plastic ocean trash and “ghost gear,” and works with nonprofits and aquaculture companies to collect unwanted plastic equipment to churn into new textile fibers, which it brands as Econyl.

Courtesy: Leon Kaye, Business writer and strategic communications specialist.
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