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The pandemic has brought around a broader definition of intimate wear – clothing that signifies comfort without comprising style. The new normal has caused our notions of office wear, athleisure and all-round everyday fashion to evolve. As the trend continues, the TENCEL™ brand recognizes that the entire fashion industry is beginning to place higher value on designing stylish yet quality pieces adhering to sustainability standards.
For Judy Chen, Head of Global Business Development, Fashion Knits & Essentials at Lenzing AG, sustainability must remain a pre-requisite for consumers shopping for intimate wear. Discussing the rise of eco-friendly intimate wear and how the TENCEL™ brand has played a crucial part in the journey, Judy joins us to explain why sustainability must not be relegated to the closet during our new flexible way of life.
Q: Can you tell us more about the connection between essentials/intimate wear and the need for driving greater sustainability. What have recent global events taught us about remaining sustainable in the long-term?
Judy: When we think about why comfortable innerwear has seen such enduring longevity since the pandemic, it all goes back to the increased desire to take better care of oneself. Self-care isn’t a revolutionary concept. However, we are seeing more individuals, be it at home or in the workplace, consider the topic of personal care – from mental health, physical health to caring about their surrounding environment.
We have noticed an upward trend of consumers shopping for intimate wear with more caution and conscience. Consumers are actively looking for quality pieces that not only feel good on the skin, but are also made to last.
Impulse buys should be a thing of the past and not encouraged. Pandemic lockdowns provided consumers with more time to thoroughly research brands and options, and to check what their clothes are made of. This should remain a priority for consumers in the long-term if we want to better preserve the environment.
Alongside this cautious approach to purchasing, consumers are shopping “smarter”, engaging more actively with the brands they trust, and holding them accountable for driving greater sustainability.
Q: You mention a need for accountability from the intimate segment. How else should intimate brands address their environmental impact?
Judy: As a starting point, brands should look to eliminate harmful raw materials from their production chain. For example, TENCEL™ branded fibers, the sustainable materials from Lenzing, are derived from natural renewable wood sources, and are friendlier to the environment. There are still lots of synthetic materials being used in the current market, like polyester which contains plastic and can pollute the environment. But, we can at least encourage people to recycle the synthetic material.
Brands hold a firm responsibility to minimize their environmental footprint and help ensure customers can properly dispose of clothing at the end of its life. Retailers should invest in initiatives to make garment recycling easier or prolong the garment’s active life itself. There also needs to be an educational element to environmental accountability. Whether that be informative hangtags, sharing insights on eco-fibers on digital platforms, or training staff to teach consumers how to handle clothing that is no longer used.
Intimate brands should also invest and apply in emerging and eco-friendly technologies to help transform and future-proof product lines. Sustainable materials and processes are advancing quickly to cater to the rapid change of consumer preference and technology innovations. Without change, brands are at risk of being left behind.
Q: Can you share some of the latest technology within the intimate segment space, and how they help to create more sustainable offerings?
Judy: Intimate pieces like bras are usually composed of several different materials, making them notoriously challenging to recycle. Thanks to the sustainability movement and growing demand from consumers for more eco-friendly products, more intimate brands are on the lookout to launch recyclable offerings. Through innovative technologies and fiber blends, they can now help make these essential pieces of clothing more flexible, seamless, and comfortable in the right area. Combined with more sustainable materials and production methods, brands are transforming the range, quality and applications of women’s intimate wear.
The latest trend we’re seeing to increase comfort in intimate and essential wear is the rise of FemTech, or female technology. For example, Thinx, a US company which makes feminine hygiene products, is able to create functional garments that improve the female hygiene experience, building ways to minimize odor and increase absorbency through product innovation. Other new generation technologies such as textile bonding and seamless knitting technology have also become common practice in the intimate wear industry, helping to simplify stitching, sewing and cutting stages, and produce seamless functional garments that make the whole intimate wear production more sustainable.
Q: What role is TENCEL™ playing in this space?
Judy: Sustainability is at the core of our DNA. At Lenzing, we continue to find ways to expand our partnerships with intimate brands, providing them with our TENCEL™ branded fibers that have been innovated with the latest technology to create more versatile offerings. Mill partners like Tani have been able to lower their carbon emissions by using our TENCEL™ Modal fibers with Indigo technology, which use a one-step spin-dying process that significantly reduces the amount of resources needed for production.
In 2020, TENCEL™ announced its commitment to becoming carbon-neutral by launching its new carbon-zero TENCEL™ fibers, certified as Carbon Neutral™ products. Since then, we have received a positive response, such as from Chinese lingerie brand Aimer and Portuguese premium fabric producer and intimate brand IMPETUS, to collaborate with us and improve their sustainability credentials. We also launched our REFIBRA™ technology which echoes our circularity commitment, as the process involves taking pre- and post-consumer waste and mixing it up with wood pulp to create virgin TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers.
2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the TENCEL™ brand, but we will not stop innovating and investing to meet our goals. Intimate wear continues to be one of our key textile segments and new launches for 2022 are in the works. We are looking into exciting new technologies and industry collaborations which could further improve the environmental credentials of our brand. Please stay tuned!