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Stay-at-home orders and lockdowns have typified 2020, alongside a renewed focus on the environmental impact that our clothing has on the planet. With the continual situation of “working from home” in 2021, conversations surrounding sustainability have spiked and also moved to the innerwear segment as more consumers seek versatile innerwear with supreme environmental credentials.
For the next instalment of our “TENCEL™ Insights” series, we are joined by Judy Chen, Head of Global Business Development, Innerwear at Lenzing, to explore how the innerwear industry is changing, and what brands are doing to remain competitive in the long-term.
Q: What changes have you observed in the intimate segment as we start to slowly move into a post COVID-19 world?
Judy: In 2020, there is no doubt that innerwear became the new everyday uniform of choice for much of the whole world – a trend that is here to stay as many organizations move to permanent remote working and consumers are staying more at home due to social distancing and travel bans.
Whilst innerwear items like loungewear, lingerie and underwear have long been considered necessities, consumers are now purchasing innerwear more purposefully with a focus on versatility, decreasing overconsumption and waste. This will result in demand for innerwear items designed for multi-functional use. For example, as more consumers now wear sports bras as daily bras or vice versa, brands will create more versatile options that are wireless and comfortable. Functional innerwear items like these are set to become an essential part of the innerwear segment.
Additionally, we have seen a massive increase in consumer awareness about sustainability for intimate garments. As a result, consumers are increasingly reluctant to purchase from intimate brands without both environmental credentials and a strong commitment to protecting our planet.
Q: Many brands experienced a sales decline during this shift toward conscious consumption. How should brands be adapting to remain competitive in 2021?
Judy: During times of economic distress, consumers tend to vote with their wallets and with less money leaving them, brands may be tempted to reduce prices and thereby quality, to generate demand and increase business. However, the era we are entering is one where quality and longevity are paramount concerns in purchase decisions. Nowadays, consumers are seeking more value from their products, rather than simply spending less. To remain competitive, brands should be focusing on standing above the crowd to offer intimate garments that stand the test of time, provide great performance and contribute to a lower impact on the environment.
This can be done be replacing harmful synthetics or environmentally taxing virgin cotton with eco-friendly fibers such as cellulose, derived from sustainable sources. Functionally, these fibers can provide great intrinsic benefits like smoothness and longevity, which are fundamental qualities demanded in any intimate garment. Products created with our TENCEL™ branded fibers for example, remain soft and smooth even after many washing cycles, creating superb value for customers.
The other difference in this new era is that consumers are less eager to unnecessarily repurchase garments if they aren’t performing satisfactorily. Brands that use high-quality ingredients and fibers, are therefore much more likely to enjoy return customers when they do require additions to their wardrobe.
Q: What role does the TENCEL™ brand play in assisting with this sustainable transition?
Judy: For TENCEL™, we have a great understanding of consumer needs for intimates. This, of course, begins with our renowned sustainable fibers. Our TENCEL™ branded lyocell and modal cellulosic fibers are produced using wood-pulp from renewable raw material wood, providing consumers with a strong sustainable guarantee.
Knowing that many consumers consider intimate wear an extension of their skin, we ensure our fibers naturally manage the transportation of moisture, contributing to breathable fabrics with better hygienic qualities. We build upon these performance benefits with innovations such as our totally chlorine free (TCF) bleaching process, which uses oxygen-based substances to produce the pulp for our fibers without any heavy chemicals. By eliminating chlorine through TCF technology, the wood pulp used in TENCEL™ branded fibers has a reduced impact on the environment and ensures a high-quality finish.
At Lenzing, we are doing our part to actively reduce the net carbon impact of fiber production on our planet. For instance, we recently launched our carbon zero TENCEL™ Lyocell and Modal fibers which ensure all emissions associated with the fiber’s production, manufacturing and distribution have been offset. We believe achieving carbon zero is the ultimate goal for all sustainability transitions and strive to make it as simple as possible for brands to offer eco-conscious products that still feature the same great performance benefits of TENCEL™ branded fibers.
We are also assisting brands and consumers with driving greater transparency. With many brands making green claims nowadays, we believe consumer trust will be mandatory for any brand to succeed with their sustainable transition. As a result, we implemented a specialized e-branding system for fabric certification. This system leverages groundbreaking TextileGenesis™ blockchain technology to ensure guaranteed and trustworthy transparency for our fibers across the supply chain.
Additionally, with a strong understanding that innerwear garments like bras are technically challenging to produce, we proactively collaborate with our brand partners to help them identify innovative ways in which they can streamline their production process, create holistic supply chain transparency and optimize production processes for sustainability.