Looking Ahead to an Even More Sustainable Future

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When polyester was first produced in 1941, sustainability wasn’t a thought. Garments were taken care of much differently, and clothes were repaired when needed. Converting plastic bottles or old clothing into new clothing was a foreign concept.

Unifi began operating 50 years ago, and so much has changed. We’ve seen the impact that climate change has and how actionable steps must be taken to reduce our carbon footprint.

Younger generations, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, are more concerned about environmentalism and sustainability. They’re seeing fast fashion’s impact on our planet—it’s not inherently kind to the environment—and are changing shopping habits. We must do better by incorporating ways to be more ecofriendly daily. This is where Unifi comes in.

Who is Unifi?

Unifi is a global textile solutions provider and one of the world’s leading innovators in manufacturing and synthetic and recycled performance fibers. Through REPREVE®, one of Unifi’s proprietary technologies and the global leader in branded recycled performance fibers, Unifi has transformed more than 25 billion plastic bottles into recycled fiber for new apparel, footwear, home goods, and other consumer products. Unifi continually innovates performance technologies to meet consumer needs.

How has Unifi changed?

Over the last 50 years, Unifi has evolved. In 1979 and 1980, the company recognized its process of inspecting fiber needed to change. Employees tested fiber through looking and feeling. This subjective method caused twice the amount of waste. By 1981, automatic inspecting through a machine with a storage feeder eliminated the previous wasteful process.

After finding a way to recycle its own waste, Unifi took things further. In 2007, REPREVE was created. The high-quality fibers are made from 100% recycled materials. Unifi sources, manufactures, and sells innovative REPREVE performance fiber in every major textile-producing region.

In 2019, Unifi expanded its REPREVE portfolio to include REPREVE Our Ocean®, a premium collection of fiber and resin sourced from bottles at high risk of entering the ocean that enables consumers to play a role in solving the problem of ocean plastic.

Here we grow again

When REPREVE was born, Patagonia and Polartec were the first to use it. Today, more than 800 brands and retailers incorporate REPREVE and REPREVE Our Ocean recycled fibers in their products.

Unifi’s goal is to recycle 30 billion bottles by 2022, and they are well on the way.

The need for change

According to Business Insider, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, but kept clothes for half as long. Americans discard 81 lbs. of clothing annually, with only 15% being donated or recycled.

Americans throw away 2.5M plastic bottles hourly. The U.S. recycling rate for plastic bottles is under 30%, while Japan is nearly 85%! REPREVE wants to improve the U.S. recycling rate and help brands and retailers meet their sustainability goals by incorporating recycled fiber.

Keeping items longer and donating or recycling garments gives them a second life. Brands should design thinking about a second life, with the use of sustainable fibers in designs, and encouraging consumers to donate, repair, reuse or seek out other textile take back solutions. Unifi manages textile take back programs for some of its customers and continues to seek ways to expand the program, reflecting its commitment to a circular economy.

In circular economies, products are made of reused components. After a product is discarded, the materials and parts are reused, repaired or recycled. It focuses on value retention, and eliminates waste throughout the uses of products. With a circular economy, we can preserve resources for future generations and protect the environment from the effects of wasteful manufacturing and disposing of goods.

It starts with you

The easiest ways to be sustainable starts with you— by recycling! By throwing your bottle into a recycling container, know it could be transformed into everything from your favorite hat to pants.

Then, start looking at what brands are promoting sustainability—either through their production processes and/or sustainable products. REPREVE connects brands to sustainability.

Moving forward and looking ahead

Although Unifi has changed immensely, much work lies ahead, including developing even more circular economy solutions.

Integrating sustainability into everyday business is expected. Not only are consumers looking for sustainable products, but they also expect companies to do the right thing.

Being sustainable means being here for the long term, helping to protect and restore the earth’s natural systems and resources. Sustainability is how we meet our social, environmental, and financial responsibilities, it’s how we innovate for customers, how we manage our supply chain, care for our employees, govern our business, and more.

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