At the latest edition of Munich Fabric Start earlier this month the show organized its Sustainability Panel entitled “Green Industry and down-to-earth reality–how far is eco-apparel to become mainstream?”
As many of the topics that were faced up are extremely hot, we present an extract from the discussion.
Participants were Alberto Candiani (director, Candiani Denim), Jill Dumain (CEO, Bluesign Technologies), Tricia Carey (director global business development – denim, Lenzing Fibers), Aamir Akhtar (CEO, Arvind), Johan James Van Breda (European office responsible, SAC-Sustainable Apparel Coalition), Ramon Rios Quintana (sales executive, Santanderina), Lina Pfeifer (DACH countries representative, GOTS), Georg Dieners (general secretary, Oeko-Tex). The round table was co-moderated by Panos Sofianos (Munich Fabric Start) and Sabine Kühnl (editor-in-chief, SPORTSWEAR INTERNATIONAL).
Kühnl: What’s the status quo of your company in ecological production?
Akhtar (Arvind): Through the years we have started always new partnerships with companies for achieving more ecological fabrics. If we just talk about fibers, we have been constantly looking for employing alternative fibers like regenerated fibers, cellulosic fibers, Tencel, though also BCI cotton and post consumer recycled cotton. All these fibers together can count for about 50% of what we employ. Considering that markets like the German one is looking for products that guarantee “zero discharge,” or are GOTS certified, focusing on such aspects is a mandate we have to focus on in any case.
Candiani (Candiani Denim): What makes a difference for us is where we are based–a nature reserve in the Park of Ticino–and our history. We have always been trained to perform in a very clean way as we have to respect very strict laws. Moreover, as we are based in a country where labor cost is so high, we have learned how to become efficient and reduce our costs, by saving energy and water. When I joined the company 13 years ago, our denim used to be pretty clean already, but today it is certainly cleaner. We have started adding greener fibers. If 13 years ago we employed zero organic cotton today it is about 10% and BCI, which is a very strong and tangible initiative, is now 45% of our production. We invested in new manmade fibers like Tencel, for instance. Today it is not more than 5% of our production but it is constantly growing. Plus we are trying to reduce chemicals and water more and more.
Rios Quintana (Textil Santanderina): Our company is more than 90 years old. We have to keep our impact low to maintain safe air. For this reason, we keep investing in new technology and fibers. We have been working since 1986 to make our company become more efficient. Fashion is made of fabrics and yarns and every actor has to think in the same way. For instance, 80% of our products contain Tencel, therefore 80% of our production is already eco. We employ 15% of organic cotton, although we have to reduce as much as possible its cultivation as with the world’s population of 6.5 billion people we have to choose either to use fields for growing cotton or seeds that can feed the world’s population. I think that cellulosic fibers and man-made fibers can be a solution to this. BCI or organic cotton are not opposed but we have to find other choices.
Tricia Carey (Lenzing): We produce cellulosic fibers and our cellulose-based Tencel fiber, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has played an important role and has built our own heritage in denim and jeans. We are just introducing our next-generation technology and it is Refibra Lyocell that uses post-industrial cotton waste instead of wood pulp. We blend post-industrial cotton waste pulp with wood pulp together in it. This way we address all the needs of circular economy. Our collaborations with companies are also very important. Santanderina and Candiani are among our partners. We also work with Modal fiber and employ it for indigo products, too. These are some of the alternative fibers that we launched in denim.
Sofianos: What is there beyond organic?
Lina Pfeifer (GOTS): In GOTS there are many different profiles that certify various organic fiber types. As we observe realistically what is happening in the market we allow the use of all recycled fibers, and fibers like Lyocell. For sure one law will last forever: it is the Global Organic Standard that was created essentially to support organic agriculture.
Rios Quintana (Santanderina): There are different certificates. By going beyond organic the newest and most important thing is how we collaborate together.
Kühnl: Can chemistry be good?
Dumain (Bluesign Technology): Chemistry makes me shiver. Though it is a reality in our industry and we will be using chemicals as long we make clothes and want them to last for a certain period of time–be it for climbing a mountain or daily life. We are still at the tip of the mountain in the industry and even if you feel you’re a beginner in preserving the environment at the moment, you’re still among the pioneers. Chemistry is important. It is important we continue and try to develop new substances that are safe. And, if we discover that a substance is unsafe we have to figure how to solve that. Although we need to find a compromise. We have to look holistically at what we need, consider what’s the absolute minimum that we need, what we want to achieve and what it is the best way to do it. Technology and chemicals will always be part of our world.
Dieners (Oeko-Tex): I agree with Dumain. Chemicals are a part of sustainability and we have to use them. This is part of the programs of GOTS and Bluesign, for instance. Although we have to take care how to minimize waste and using too much water, chemicals and energy. This way each of these single assets is sustainable.
Sofianos: Will we reach a worldwide discipline and manage to found a “Greentex Union” or write a “Magna Carta”?
Dumain (Bluesign): I am more optimistic than in the past. The textile industry is too big and diverse. I cannot think that there is a single institution taking care of it all. We, together with Oeko-Tex and others, don’t want to be fitted into one tight place. And each of us should be more diverse. GOTS, for instance, has grown in the organic world, and, despite the advent of such advanced technology, they survived. There is enough work for everyone in this area. We complement each other.
Dieners (Oeko-Tex): Oeko-Tex was founded 25 years ago and it was the first organization in this field and it now works through a standard that is internationally applicable. The big players of certifiers should come together and create a “Magna Carta” because every single entity covers a different part of the textile chain: Bluesign focuses on treatments; GOTS cares for the organic part, and we at Oeko-Tex try to cover the entire textile supply chain from its beginning until the end. Sustainable management has to be throughout the world, the countries, the companies, the consumers, and shall include agriculture too. This shall be my goal within the next 10 to 15 years.
Van Breda (SAC): We have 215 members that are collaborating all across the industry and we include retailers, brands, manufacturers, stakeholders, NGOS and organizations. We create a common language and assess sustainability. It’s not just that we create a standard but we want to find elements that are important at all levels of retail, industry and similar aspects. In the next years much will be achieved in terms of transparency by calculating footprint. We will be creating a label to be put on any kind of product–fridges, T-shirts, jeans, shoes and many others. You will see that all brands will be communicating their progress measured through the Higg Index. There are many organizations that are trying to align themselves according to all these languages.
Kühnl: Are there secrets you’re keeping yourself and don’t want the consumer to know about?
Quintana (Santanderina): Consumers want to know what they’re wearing. In our country there is a whole movement toward going in a recycled concept. Three years ago nobody knew what recycling was. Now it is a reality. They will ask for full transparency about sustainability, quality of the water and everything else.
Candiani (Candiani Denim): We are already inviting our clients and showing them our company. Unfortunately in our industry transparency doesn’t match consumer’s interest yet. We have to make it become entertaining and informative by showing them...
Kühnl: Why are eco-responsible fabrics still so expensive? Are consumers ready to pay for them?
Dumain (Bluesign Technology): Speaking about manufacturers they are mostly looking on short-term gain and not on the long-term gain. If you look at the longer-term picture you understand where investments need to be made. Then turning on the consequences on the long term, you understand how important investments start to make more sense.
Lina Pfeifer (GOTS): Producers don’t understand that by investing in certain technologies in the long run they actually will save energy and costs. Quality is expensive as long as fashion and textiles are made in high quality. I often speak to companies in terms of certification costs: I don’t think that a sustainable chain shall always be very expensive.
Carey (Lenzing): Luxury brands are understanding that by focusing more on sustainability they can make a statement for their brands. I see more companies (especially US brands and retailers) were doing some steps and were cautious of what they did because if you have one sustainable part of your products it doesn’t mean the rest is done badly. This means they are progressing.