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Chem­i­cal fin­ishes on our gar­ments de­liver cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics to the gar­ments, whether aes­thetic or func­tional. For ex­am­ple, wa­ter-re­pel­lency, re­duc­ing the abra­sive­ness of yarns, mois­ture wick­ing, etc., are some of the fea­tures that a chem­i­cal places on a gar­ment. But only few re­alise its haz­ardous ef­fects on the en­vi­ron­ment and hu­man health. These chem­i­cals of­ten end up in wa­ter bod­ies pol­lut­ing them ow­ing to the sev­eral washes that they un­dergo. The is­sue has raised a con­cern among brands and con­sumers from quite some time and calls for in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions or sub­sti­tutes for these chem­i­cals.

Safer Made, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Fash­ion for Good, has re­leased a new re­port ti­tled ‘Safer Chem­istry In­no­va­tion in the Tex­tile and Ap­parel Industry’, which ad­dresses in­no­va­tion ar­eas in tex­tile and ap­parel industry to in­tro­duce safer chem­istry in­no­va­tion in the com­mer­cial re­al­ity. Safer Made in­vests in com­pa­nies that re­move or re­duce the use of harm­ful chem­i­cals in prod­ucts or man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses. This ini­tia­tive will help the tex­tile and ap­parel industry fac­ing in­creased pres­sure and scru­tiny from con­sumers, ad­vo­cacy groups, and reg­u­la­tory agen­cies to ad­dress the use of haz­ardous chem­i­cals.

Cot­ton, the sec­ond-most used fi­bre af­ter polyester, uses as much as 20,000 litres of wa­ter to pro­duce one kilo­gram of fi­bre, ac­cord­ing to the World Wildlife Fund. Due to this, other nat­u­ral fi­bres such as rayon, ten­cel, hemp are gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity as they do not sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect the en­vi­ron­ment.

The spec­i­fied re­port iden­ti­fies five in­no­va­tion ar­eas within the tex­tile and ap­parel industry that give safe chem­istry so­lu­tions, which are New Ma­te­ri­als, New Safer Chemistries, Wa­ter­less Pro­cess­ing, Fi­bre Re­cy­cling, and Sup­ply Chain In­for­ma­tion Man­age­ment Tools.

New Ma­te­ri­als

It is ev­i­dent that choice of ma­te­ri­als used to man­u­fac­ture a gar­ment can de­fine the ef­fect of harm­ful chem­i­cals. Ma­te­ri­als de­rived from re­new­able sources or from re­cy­cled feed­stocks have the po­ten­tial to lower the car­bon life­cy­cle, wa­ter and chem­istry im­pacts when com­pared to tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als. Sadly, there has been no new de­vel­op­ments in tex­tile ma­te­ri­als with new per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics. If the industry has new ma­te­ri­als on board, it gives the man­u­fac­tur­ers an op­por­tu­nity to re­place harm­ful ma­te­ri­als with some­thing that is safer and per­forms bet­ter. More­over, the con­scious con­sumers of today have cre­ated a de­mand for sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als. Cater­ing to this trend, a num­ber of young brands are fo­cus­ing on nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als and dyes as a key dif­fer­en­tia­tor. Look­ing at the sta­tis­tics, polyester con­sump­tion con­trib­uted to 55 per cent of the global mill con­sump­tion share of all ma­jor fi­bres in 2015, which is al­most dou­ble of cot­ton (27 per cent). The re­port high­lights that most of the polyester used by the industry is from vir­gin feed­stock; and only a small per­cent­age of polyester is sourced from re­cy­cled PET drink bot­tle. And the mi­crofi­bres that are re­leased with ev­ery wash of a gar­ment pose a se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal threat. How­ever, there are com­pa­nies that are work­ing on de­vel­op­ing new types of polyester which are more en­vi­ron­ment-friendly. Poole Com­pany is mak­ing biodegrad­able polyester that can be blended with nat­u­ral fi­bres and can be de­graded in the en­vi­ron­ment at the end of the prod­uct’s life. Some brands are adding bio-based con­tent in PET polyester. Sun­dried, a UK-based sportswear brand, adds cof­fee grounds in re­cy­cled PET polyester. Other such com­pa­nies en­gaged in new syn­thetic fi­bre de­vel­op­ment are Al­giKnit, AMSilk, Bionic, Bolt Threads, Ful­gar, Green Banana Paper, Mango Ma­te­ri­als, Spiber, Virent, etc.

Cot­ton the sec­ond-most used fi­bre af­ter polyster, uses as much as 20,000 litres of wa­ter to pro­duce one kilo­gram of fi­bre, ac­cord­ing to the World Wildlife Fund. Due to this, other nat­u­ral fi­bres such as rayon, ten­cel, hemp are gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity as they do not sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect the en­vi­ron­ment. Len­z­ing, a cel­lu­losic fi­bre pro­ducer, launched ECOVERO, a prod­uct that uses sus­tain­able wood feed­stock and cleaner pro­duc­tion process. Fur­ther, a team of re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge have cre­ated a fi­bre that has the strength and flex­i­bil­ity of spi­der silk and is made from a ma­te­rial called hy­dro­gel, con­tain­ing sil­ica and cel­lu­lose.

New Safer Chemistries

Chem­i­cals are ap­plied to yarns and fab­rics dur­ing dye­ing and fin­ish­ing in order to colour fab­rics and give them func­tional prop­er­ties such as wa­ter re­sis­tance, mois­ture re­sis­tance, flame re­sis­tance, or stain re­sis­tance. These fin­ishes call for in­no­va­tion which is giv­ing an op­por­tu­nity to es­tab­lished chem­i­cal sup­pli­ers and young com­pa­nies to de­velop pos­si­ble so­lu­tions. Green Theme In­ter­na­tional, a young com­pany, is de­vel­op­ing highly durable wa­ter­re­pel­lency per­for­mance without us­ing flu­o­ro­car­bons. An­other area is syn­thetic dyes which can be re­placed by biobased dyes. Today there are many other chem­i­cal sup­pli­ers of dyes, and most of them have launched more sus­tain­able prod­uct lines: Archroma (Earth­col­ors), Hunts­man (Avit­era), Gar­mon (Nim­bus) and DyS­tar (Cadira and Lava). A com­pany called, Na­ture Coat­ings, uses waste from wood industry to cre­ate car­bon black al­ter­na­tive that does not hurt the en­vi­ron­ment.

Wa­ter­less Pro­cess­ing

Tex­tile industry can be con­sid­ered as one which uses large amount of wa­ter for var­i­ous pro­cesses such as clean­ing yarn, fabric, and ap­parel through the pro­duc­tion cy­cle. Chem­i­cals mixed with wa­ter pose a big­ger threat to the en­vi­ron­ment. In this case, wa­ter­less pro­cesses may al­low use of new chem­i­cals, thus min­imis­ing the con­cern re­lated to the use of chem­i­cals. Dye­ing is one process where re­duc­ing us­age of wa­ter can help the industry a lot. One way is cation­iza­tion of cot­ton, where cot­ton yarns, fi­bres and fab­rics are treated with a caus­tic am­i­na­tion agent. The treated cot­ton has a pos­i­tively charged sur­face that binds bet­ter to dye, which is com­monly neg­a­tively charged. So­lu­tion pig­ment­ing or dope dye­ing for syn­thetic fi­bres is an­other ap­proach in which dye is added to the bulk poly­mer be­fore it is ex­truded to the syn­thetic fil­a­ments. This type or process can be ap­plied to fi­bres like rayon. For sus­tain­able fin­ish­ing, com­pa­nies like APJet and MTIX have de­vel­oped al­ter­na­tive ways to ap­ply chem­istry to tex­tiles without us­ing wa­ter. They both rely on the gen­er­a­tion of at­mo­spheric plasma near the sur­face of the fabric to bond fin­ish­ing chem­i­cals. Plasma coat­ing has been used in the elec­tron­ics industry for many years and is be­ing ex­plored for use in tex­tile fin­ish­ing.

Fi­bre Re­cy­cling

Us­ing re­cy­cled fi­bres in­stead of vir­gin fi­bres can do won­ders and can re­duce the amount of wa­ter used and the tex­tiles that end up in land­fills. Fi­bres that can be re­cy­cled are cot­ton, polyester, ny­lon, and fi­bre blends. How­ever, re­cy­cling cot­ton comes with a draw­back which short­ens the fi­bre length af­ter be­ing re­cy­cled, and thus the re­sult is weaker cot­ton yarns. Mills try to ad­dress this draw­back by blend­ing these shorter re­cy­cled fi­bres with longer vir­gin cot­ton and/ or polyester fil­a­ment to im­prove strength and dura­bil­ity. Polyester fi­bres made from PET bot­tles have re­cently achieved a great adopt­abil­ity in ap­parel. Ac­cord­ing to 2017 Tex­tile Ex­change Pre­ferred Fiber Mar­ket Re­port, the use of re­cy­cled PET in ap­parel grew by 58 per cent be­tween 2015 and 2016. Com­ing to ny­lon, it can be re­cy­cled through chem­i­cal de-poly­mer­iza­tion to yield a so­lu­tion of monomers that are pu­ri­fied and re-poly­mer­ized to pro­duce a vir­gin-like ma­te­rial. But, re­cy­cling fi­bre blends is more chal­leng­ing that re­cy­cling a sin­gle fi­bre. There are two meth­ods to re­cy­cle fi­bre blends: me­chan­i­cal and chem­i­cal. Shred­ding the fabric is the me­chan­i­cal method which is there­after used in low-value ap­pli­ca­tions. In chem­i­cal process, ionic liq­uids or other sol­vents are used to dis­solve the fabric, and then phase-trans­fer agents and other sep­a­ra­tion meth­ods are used to sep­a­rate the polyester from the dis­solved cel­lu­lose. The cel­lu­lose can then be ex­truded and spun into a new syn­thetic cel­lu­lose-based ma­te­rial.

In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems that sup­port Sup­ply Chain and Chem­i­cals Man­age­ment

In­creased vis­i­bil­ity into the en­tire tex­tile sup­ply chain can put brands and industry stake­hold­ers in a po­si­tion where they will have to ju­di­ciously use chem­i­cals of con­cern. Chem­i­cals Man­age­ment In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems are soft­ware tools sup­port­ing con­sult­ing and ver­i­fi­ca­tion ser­vices that al­low brands to make their M/ RSLs op­er­a­tional, and to mon­i­tor com­pli­ance within their sup­ply chain. There are sev­eral com­pa­nies work­ing in this space, in­clud­ing Stacks Data (for­merly known as PeerAspect), Scivera and ToxNot.

Be­sides, im­ple­ment­ing stan­dards and cer­ti­fi­ca­tions or use of RFID tag­ging or DNA might not pro­vide a clear in­sight of a sup­ply chain. To counter such chal­lenges, sev­eral com­pa­nies are cur­rently try­ing to ap­ply the open­ledger blockchain con­cept to trace items and pro­vide in­for­ma­tion to con­sumers. A Trans­par­ent Com­pany is an ex­am­ple of one such com­pany work­ing on the blockchain con­cept.

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