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STA Event Features Industry Strengths & Sustainability

Photo: Devin Steele

A dynamic agenda and record-breaking attendance made for a lively Summer Marketing Forum hosted by the Southern Textile Association last week during which presenters outlined market trends and offered ways companies can keep pace with a rapidly changing textile landscape.  

“If 10 years from now we could look back on today, in regard to how we work, how we shop and how we run our businesses, the game has totally changed,” stated Roger Tutterow, Ph.D., at Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business in Georgia.  

Tutterow reviewed the 2022 economic and business climate, forecasting fair skies for the most part, noting a moderate growth rate and industry production bouncing back. Tutterow also highlighted three big challenges: supply chain disruption, a tight labor market and the return of inflation. 

“I expect a labor shortage to continue to be an issue,” said Tutterow, adding, “it’s a brave new world when it comes to labor shortage supply and labor having the upper hand.” 

Innovation, however, is not in short supply. The latest news from the Manufacturing & Textile Innovation Network (MTIN) includes a $9M appropriation from the North Carolina legislation to the city of Conover for a Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) expansion. Funding will go to additional services at the existing MSC facility, including an upfit for PPE testing, and a brand new MSC II facility. 

Also on the docket for MTIN is expansion of the Fiber Innovation Center at the Textile Technology Center on the campus of Gaston College, with construction slated to start this Fall. The upgrade will expand technical capabilities and enhance sampling capacity, while reducing sampling lead times. 

Photo: Devin Steele
From Sustainability to Circularity 

Helen Sahi, VP sustainability at Armstrong World Industries, mapped ways companies can navigate a successful sustainability journey, pointing out that implementing best practices can, and will “seem daunting.” She suggested companies assess and prioritize goals to determine what deserves priority attention, and to set short term goals that align with science-based principles.   

“Companies need to ask, ‘where are we in our sustainability journey,’ and ‘how can we be more efficient,’” explained Sahi. “Companies can become more sustainable, but they can’t do it all.” 

A panel discussion on circularity also emphasized that sustainability is bigger than any one company. Moderator Chad Bolick, VP global key accounts at Unifi, speaking on behalf of all the panelists, described circularity as “a team sport.” 

Panelist Raymond Randall, senior manager, textiles - sustainability growth solutions at Waste Management explained, “We can collect, we can sort, but capacity is the third leg in this stool that is still needed for success.” New equipment and tech processes are ramping up at WM to advance circularity, according to Randall, who highlighted WM’s established recycling relationship with Unifi and a current project underway with a uniform supplier.  

“Textile to textile recycling is the next evolution for our industry,” said Tricia Carey, director of global business development denim and Americas at Lenzing, who sees the industry moving from a supply chain to a supply network – a sentiment shared by Bolick, Randall and panelists Bob Carswell, R&D director at Material Return and Daniel Mason, president of Leigh Fibers. 

“In the past, textile waste was looked at as someone else's problem, but now waste is becoming an asset,” commented Carey. For example, Lenzing’s Refibra fabric, made of upcycled cotton scraps from pre- and post-consumer cotton waste and Lenzing Lyocell fibers, has been embraced by industry. 

Lenzing, Unifi and WM are members of the non-profit Accelerating Circularity, and as such are involved in regional textile-to-textile recycling trials. Lenzing has two trials currently underway. “It’s a great start,” said Carey. 

More from this panel and on circularity in general in the upcoming Sept/Oct issue of Textile Insight.