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Previously, as part of the “TENCEL™ Insights” series, we spoke with Birgit Schnetzlinger, Head of Global Business Development Functional Wear at Lenzing, to discuss the functional wear segment amid COVID-19. This time, she joins us once again to talk about the upcoming sustainability trends in functional wear.
Q: Can you share with us some new trends or challenges for functional wear in 2020?
Birgit: What we have already seen is the tackling of the waste problem. Leading international sports brands have been among the first to introduce sustainability elements and are doing a good job in educating consumers about issues like plastic pollution, the waste problem and recycling options. Another issue to consider is “end of life” status for raw materials as it is important to think about what happens to the product once it is disposed of.
Recycling is today’s solution, but for the future, we should look to reduce the use of resources and negative impact on the environment. If we look at the latest developments, it is all about reducing CO2 and greenhouse emissions, and carbon footprint. Another goal for us is to find ways to improve water footprint and chemical dye ingredients. It is clear that for stakeholders who take these issues seriously, they are already thinking how they can work to reduce the environmental impact of the textile industry.
Q: Currently there are also circularity discussions, for example brands that recycle plastics into shoes. For Lenzing, is the REFIBRA™ technology also used a lot in the functional segment?
Birgit: It is coming. To many brands, recycling is easier because recycled materials are around, but if they take it seriously, they should also think about reducing waste.
Our award-winning REFIBRA™ technology has been very well received by the industry. We will see several activewear brands launching products that feature our TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers produced with the REFIBRA™ technology in the next season. As an ideal solution for today's demand, the REFIBRA™ technology contributes to circularity in returning textile waste back to the process to be used again. The process involves upcycling a substantial proportion of cotton scraps e.g. from garment production, in addition to wood pulp, where the raw material is transformed to produce new virgin TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers to make fabrics and garments. With circularity, it is achieving both reducing waste and recycling of materials.
Q: As sustainability in the footwear segment is often overlooked, through the collaboration with brands or manufacturers, is TENCEL™ brand going to push for more labelling, categorising or education in the footwear segment?
Birgit: Compared to other industries, the footwear segment has been slow to adapt to sustainability and sustainable concepts, but it is now picking up rapidly. At my first footwear trade show a few years ago, sustainability was not a topic and there was no communication about sustainability. However, there have been big shifts in the textile trend and discussions around sustainability, hence helping us to bring more sustainability development into the footwear segment.
As Lenzing is still relatively new amongst the footwear industry, we are building TENCEL™ brand’s credibility in footwear leveraging our experience and expertise in other textile segments. It is our goal to educate the industry about true sustainability and to provide sustainable solutions, which can fulfil the functional demands of the segment. We are also working closely with brands and industry partners to offer new innovative sustainable footwear components.
Q: Which parts of the shoe are you currently focusing on? Are you pushing manufacturers and brands to use TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers in different parts of the shoes?
Birgit: During the development stages, we cut a traditional sports shoe in half and analysed every part of it. This was the starting point for the whole footwear segment, and since then it has been our vision to incorporate our eco-fibers into every part of the shoe. We are not there yet, but the proof of concept for using our fibers and cellulose powder was successful.
Today, due to TENCEL™ brand’s expertise in textiles, we are mostly focused on the upper material, the inner lining and the shoelaces, as these are the three textile applications where sustainability can be addressed. We already see soaring demand for TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers in the nonwoven parts of the shoe, such as sustainable insoles or as a backing material. These fibers offer great benefits like moisture management, breathability and smoothness, which create a better microclimate in the shoes.
Brands that have collaborated with us on the textile parts now want to go beyond and incorporate our fibers into the nonwoven parts have shown more interest in our powder. However, this is still in its early stages.
Q: Sometimes we just don’t know how or where to begin with building a sustainable wardrobe. Is there any advice you would give?
Birgit: First of all, I would say buy good quality. The best advice is to buy less but buy good quality. Elongating the life cycle of garments is very important. You can look at the “end of life” of the product and ask questions like “is it biodegradable? Is it harmful to the environment?” These are important questions for achieving a sustainable wardrobe. Using good sustainable fibers like TENCEL™ branded fibers elongates the life of your clothing despite repeated washing with special features like colour retention. This is why the garment’s quality is important to reduce the need to replace your clothing frequently.
Another reason for buying clothes made with natural or botanic fibers is there is less harmful waste produced when washing clothes, such as microplastics that can be shed by synthetic fibers. Another important reason is circularity, because the microplastics released during the washing of synthetic fibers may go through the food chain and end up in your food, further highlighting the need for products to be compostable and biodegradable.
Q: What are your three easy ways to incorporate sustainability into your everyday activities?
Birgit: One way is to continually tackle the waste problem by trying to avoid unnecessary packaging, such as unsustainable food packaging, and using natural or biodegradable alternatives instead, like packaging made using LENZING™ branded fibers. The second would be to consume less to minimise waste and look for companies that seek to reduce their carbon emissions, such as offer shorter logistics and lower water impact. The third is to reduce consumption overall by buying less and buying better quality.