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The textile community in 2022 is working smarter. Businesses are advancing new ways to reduce carbon emissions while optimizing manufacturing efficiency, creating materials from biobased sources to accelerate circularity and reevaluating partnerships to enhance sourcing strategies, with two industry defining issues top of mind: sustainability and supply chain

In a recent Deloitte survey of 1900 consumers, 80 percent of participants said sustainability is important in buying decisions and 70 percent of that group said the biggest factor is durability. If textile suppliers were surveyed, 100 percent would say sustainability is the most important factor. Durability would rank high on the list of important factors, but eco innovation is one of today’s hottest topics. 

Supply chain disruption is the other hot topic. With Covid lockdowns in China, war in Ukraine, and costs rising across the board, from materials to shipping, supply chain challenges are front and center. Indeed, when you Google “supply chain issues” you get about 1,770,000,000 results in 0.64 seconds. As delays continue, and challenges and complexities mount, the industry faces a season of uncertainty. 

David Parkes, founder of Concept III Textiles, summed up the situation this way: “Customers these days have to be convinced that you can offer a secure supply chain and check all the environmental boxes.” 

• Hot Topic: Sustainability 

For an industry dependent on making new things all the time, lowering a carbon footprint is a challenge. A recent panel discussion on Saving Carbon with Thoughtful Design explored both sides of this dilemma, the role of manufacturers and the role of the consumer in terms of environmental impacts. Panelist Giovanni Henssen of Fibrant, explained, “We invest in processing efficiencies and means to share feedstock, yet the biggest challenge is getting the message across, and conveying it to consumers on a level they understand.” 

Anne Prahl, an independent research, trend and design consultant; designer Thomas Hakansson; and Polygiene’s Markus Hefter also served as panelists on the Performance Days panel moderated by Sophie Bramel.

Prahl offered this: “It is exciting to begin to get information on materials related to carbon impact, but challenging to put all the parts together and consider the entire lifecycle.” 

In terms of consumer messaging, Polygiene’s approach, “simplify and incentivize,” has proved effective. The company’s tagline “Wash less, Wear more,” is something consumers easily understand and act upon, too, according to Hefter, who noted the importance of a visual aspect when educating the public on sustainability. He offered this as a hypothetical, “it takes x amount of Co2 to fill 200 balloons,” as a carbon equivalent to current marketing statements like, “x amount of plastic bottles went into making this t-shirt.” Hefter joked that years from now it would be noted that his “Carbon Balloon Concept launched at PD 2022!” 

On a more serious note, while a visual component is helpful, determining a successful metric that is both universal and relevant is key to carbon education. 

Hakansson stressed that designing thoughtfully requires a need to be clear about the aim of the product, in addition to the ability to have higher transparency in the processes. Hakansson suggested, “Wouldn’t it be better to make the lining of every shoe solution-dyed; wouldn’t that have more impact than one shoe design?” 

Connecting the (Carbon) Dots 

Prahl noted the lack of information regarding all the other sector carbon impacts. “Figuring out how we go about connecting all the carbon dots through the supply chain, from farm to shelf, is a whole other challenge.” 

Tsevti Enlow, trend researcher & brand strategist, also highlights the need for connectivity. She believes that achieving circularity requires connecting the dots between nature, technology, innovation and culture. In a recent presentation, Enlow remarked, “We won’t be able to buy our way out of climate change. You have to deal with carbon before you offset it.” She identifies a “massive shift” in the regenerative mindset, which requires changing laws, building a new economic system and thinking of individuals not as consumers but citizens. 

Enlow highlights Kerig, Gucci and Timberland for endorsing a “Farm to Closet” concept. She stated, “Farming has massive potential in carbon sequestration. From agriculture to business there needs to be a holistic mindset, everything is interconnected.” 

Other brands on Enlow’s radar for their collective commitment to accelerate carbon reduction and circular thinking are Pangaia, Vollebak and Lululemon in collaboration with ingredient tech brand LanzaTech. 

 New Developments 

Textile developments targeting carbon reduction are setting the stage for the next frontier in eco performance. Nilit’s latest innovation, Sensil ByNature nylon 6.6, employs a certified biomass balance (BMB) material from BASF to replace fossil fuel-based raw materials with a renewable feedstock. Nilit general manager Ilan Melamed, stated, “This is the kind of radical product development that the textile industry requires to effectively and quickly reduce its environmental impact and move to a more responsible position in the global marketplace.” Sensil ByNature fabrics environmental advantages don’t sacrifice the comfort or the functionality of a high-quality nylon 6,6.

Last but not least is growth in the hemp market as the natural fiber’s inherent ability to sequester quantities of carbon is on everyone’s radar. Dr. Pamela Ravasio, founder of the company Shirahime believes the next call to action in hemp development — and the industry’s as well — is data. “We need data to give a more complete picture,” said Ravasio. “And one that is not based on isolated gut feeling.” She encourages forming round tables where different players come together to discuss what is needed and what is deliverable. Creating a “push pull” in the marketplace is fundamental to sustainability making a difference, according to Ravasio. “We need to put the puzzle pieces together which will allow each and everyone to talk to the consumer in a way that is transparent and resonates.”

• HOT TOPIC: SUPPLY CHAIN

Navigating sourcing disruptions in this time of global uncertainty is daunting. We asked textile execs from Concept III, MMI Textiles, Polartec, PrimaLoft, Standard Fiber and Unifi to weigh in on two key questions addressing the current supply chain situation: 

Q1: “Does the current situation signal the end of globalization? Agree or disagree?” 

Q2: “With supply chain uncertainty likely to remain the norm for the foreseeable future, how are you planning for unanticipated supply chain challenges in the year ahead? Please offer one strategy under consideration.” 

Their responses solidify two key themes: Globalization is staying put, however, slight changes are in the wind, especially when it comes to production in China. Whether this will accelerate near-shoring is debatable. It’s clear that supply chain is a hot button issue with companies preparing, planning and mapping out ways to stay on top of inventory and customer relationships, while all the while remaining flexible. 

What Execs Are Saying About Globalization 

Steve Layton, President, Polartec: “Globalization isn’t ending. But it’s shifting. Most of these changes have been percolating under the surface for quite some time, it just took the stress of these combined events to initiate at a larger scale. There have always been many variables to the value equation: product features, cost, brand, etc. The global events have now placed a higher importance on the ‘security’ side of the equation that had largely been taken for granted the last decade, but the other variables will still play a role in the decision-making process.” 

Amy Bircher, CEO, MMI Textiles: “I disagree that the current situation signals an end to globalization. Sure it has caused many businesses to look at reshoring or near shoring versus production in China, but the reality is that the labor issues and supply chain constraints are affecting the ability to do this. I think there will be a strong push for looking at supply outside of China for many reasons that were emphasized when the pandemic occurred.” 

Mike Joyce, CEO, PrimaLoft:“Generally speaking, we are actually seeing a bit of expansion of globalization. With over 950 brand partners, we have a good indication of where brands are producing garments. While there does seem to be a level of repatriation of production back into Europe, overall, the capacity is still global. Looking at the U.S., we are not seeing much movement back to the States for production.”

Sandy Gray, CEO, Standard Fiber: “Globalization in textiles is not going away, but instead, we’re now experiencing a shift towards regionalization rather than globalization, particularly in the production of final consumer goods. This is partially due to increasing nationalist politics in some countries, but more importantly, COVID’s earthquake on global supply chains (with continuing aftershocks) has shown that just-in-time inventories and deliveries are unreliably fragile. As with all paradigm shifts caused by COVID (like work-from-home), this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Companies are building in optionality and flexibility to their supply chains to handle uncertainties and increased speed-to-market (decreasing risks and creating capabilities to fulfill quickly shifting customer demand). No longer is the cheapest ‘price’ the only consideration in establishing textile supply chains.”

Chris Parkes, President, Concept III:

“Globalization is being tweaked. What Russia is doing makes you think about what could happen elsewhere, and the price of things skyrocketing. Yes, people worry about China and are looking to leave China. But the fabric business will remain there.” 

What Execs Are Saying About Supply Chain Strategies

Jay Hertwig, SVP Commercialization, Unifi “We are investing in our business to prepare for regional growth. New texturing technology is currently being installed across our Americas production facilities that will increase our production capabilities over the next 1-2 years. In the U.S., we are working to attract and maintain labor with new compensation/benefits programs as well as new training facilities for employee onboarding.” 

Mike Joyce, CEO, PrimaLoft:“From a general freight perspective, we are anticipating that the shipment delays will last for the next 18 months, and we are planning accordingly. We have implemented an inventory strategy that ensures we have enough material onsite to buffer any delays, and that approach will continue. The issue that will be more difficult to manage is the COVID lockdowns happening in China. If the current COVID response strategy for the region remains in place, we anticipate facing similar disruptions each year during fall and winter, and will need to plan ahead.”

Chris Parkes, President, Concept III: “Partnerships are more important now. Over the years we’ve invested so much in our partners, particularly with environmental updates, that a trust factor is well established. Also, today’s supply chain situation is a universal problem. People want lower prices, where will you find it? And everyone understands these problems because everyone is dealing with the challenges.”

Amy Bircher, CEO, MMI Textiles: “This may seem like common sense, but now more than ever companies need to get very strategic with both their supply base and their customers. Planning sessions should be happening much more frequently than they have before and all companies should be prepared to take on more inventory in order to be in front of the ongoing problems. We are looking at alternative products that are ‘easier’ to get and provide a better cost point for our customer. During these times, customers really appreciate when you can come to them with a solution versus ‘well, here is another price increase.’”

Sandy Gray, CEO, Standard Fiber: “In 2021 we initiated a plan to add home textile manufacturing in North America with two objectives: reduce freight factors on bulky filled products (like pillows and dog beds) and provide our customers fast-response (30-day delivery) on customized cut/sewn/printed home textile products. With these investments in three manufacturing facilities coming online in 2022, we will continue to utilize low-cost Asian fabrics and raw materials, while adding fast-response fulfillment and customization to optimize costs, risks and speed for our full range of North American manufacturing, distribution and retail customers.”

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