The new year is starting off with a range of developments across the apparel fiber sector.
The global hemp clothing market is expected to reach $10.1 billion by 2028, rising at a combined annual growth rate of 26 percent during the forecast period, market research company ReserachAndMarkets.com reported. In 2018, it was valued at $1.6 billion.
Hemp fiber features characteristics such as dyeability, UV light blocking, mildew resistance and inherent antibacterial properties. Unlike other fabrics, hemp fabric uses less water, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and herbicides in its production.
Industry investments in hemp have been ramping up since 2018’s landmark farm bill.
Panda Biotech, for one, has forged partnerships with companies including Oritain, Wrangler and AGI Denim, signaling how the hemp fiber processor is working to make the stuff traceable and get it into products such as denim.
In November, FyberX Holdings, a developer of technology to process raw agricultural biomass into refined natural fibers, announced it would invest $17.5 million to establish its U.S. headquarters and production operation in the former Kinderton Distribution Center building in Virginia’s Mecklenburg County. The facility will process hemp and other products, producing fibers to supply the textile industry and creating an estimated 45 new jobs as a result.
“Southern Virginia is strategically positioned to play a vital role in unlocking the economic potential of industrial hemp fiber in a variety of markets, including textiles, construction, packaging, automotive and bioplastics,” FyberX CEO Ben Young said at the time. “We are excited to work with the local community to implement socially responsible best practices, including a zero-waste production model that minimizes emissions, a transparent supply chain, fair wages, and safe and state of the art processing facilities, all of which will define a new global standard for natural fiber production facilities.”
Meanwhile in North Carolina, Bast Fibre Technologies Inc. (BFT), a cleantech fiber engineering firm, announced it had closed a major strategic financing with Ahlström Capital of Finland.
BFT said in October that it would immediately begin work to expand fiber manufacturing capacity at its U.S.-flagship in Lumberton, N.C., and its European Union facility near Düsseldorf, Germany. While the amount of financing was not disclosed, the funds will enable BFT to produce more than 10,000 metric tons of Sero hemp fiber per year by 2023 and up to 50,000 metric tons annually by 2026.
“Nonwoven companies, converters and leading consumer goods companies are looking for viable natural fiber options to achieve their corporate sustainability initiatives as they move away from synthetics,” BFT CEO Jim Posa said at the time. “The market for natural fibers is set for rapid growth, and this highly strategic funding will help BFT to solidify its position and further accelerate its expansion to meet the increasing demand for tree-free, plastic-free fibers.”
Plus, BIOPHIL Natural Fibers, a manufacturer of organic raw materials, stated it would invest more than $10.9 million into a new processing operation in Lumberton as well, creating 41 new jobs.
BIOPHIL currently operates a processing facility in Pennsylvania and will add a 90,829-square-foot building in Lumberton to expand its production operations with decortication, referring to the initial separation of hemp stalk into hurd and fiber, and parallel processing lines that will clean, refine and cut hurd and fiber to clients specifications.
“We are very excited to work in North Carolina,” Marcel Dabdoub, CEO of BIOPHIL Natural Fibers, said when announcing the investment. “We enjoyed working with local and regional businesses in Lumberton and surrounding areas during our diligence process, as well as our farmers throughout North Carolina over the past two grow seasons, and we look forward to expanding these relationships.”
Despite the promising features of hemp—and recent North America-based growth—some believe the industry is still struggling to take off. But other promising materials are entering the market.
Nilit’s Made in America nylon
Nilit, a maker of premium nylon for apparel, has launched a new version of Sensil EcoCare recycled nylon 6.6 made entirely from U.S. materials at its facility in Martinsville, Va. The new Made in USA Sensil EcoCare is Berry Amendment, USMCA, and CAFTA compliant. It is now available in various fibers and yarns for circular knit, warp knit, seamless and woven applications.
“Increased use of recycled inputs is a significant aspect of Nilit’s sustainability strategy and something that strongly resonates with conscious consumers these days,” Michelle Lea, Nilit’s vice president of global marketing, said. “Plus, the U.S. consumer truly appreciates products that are manufactured locally.”
Sensil EcoCare is made from post-industrial recycled nylon 6.6. Nilit uses a highly efficient recycling method that requires less energy, water, and chemicals and generates a smaller carbon footprint than other recycling procedures. The Nilit recycling process retains the properties of virgin fibers for fine denier, high-quality nylon fibers and yarns. Nilit says apparel made with Sensil EcoCare is as comfortable, functional, and resilient as it is eco-friendly. Made in USA Sensil EcoCare is designed for activewear, intimates, socks, hosiery, ready-to-wear, workwear, light industrial, medical and military end uses.
“Adding the Made in USA recycled nylon 6.6 to our Sensil EcoCare range of products helps us respond effectively to the many U.S. brands, retailers, and government agencies who prefer locally produced, environmentally responsible fabrics,” Manuel Guerra, Nilit’s general manager of North America, said. “Whether for compliance, supply chain management, or sustainability, this newest addition to our Sensil portfolio is highly relevant for the entire textile and apparel industry here in the States.”
Nilit manufactures a full portfolio of sustainable Sensil premium nylon 6.6 products to give designers the environmentally considerate performance fabrics they need to create apparel collections that respond effectively to consumer demands.
Geno joins UN Global Compact
And consumers want more from brands than just sustainable materials: they want larger sustainability commitments, too.
Sustainable materials maker and Lululemon supplier Geno this week announced that it would join the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) initiative—the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, with over 15,000 companies and 3,800 non-business signatories in more than 160 countries.
“Over the past 22 years, Geno, formerly known as Genomatica, has been on a mission to create ingredients from renewable sources to reduce the use of fossil fuels. By scaling our biotechnologies globally, we can cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 90 percent compared to conventional production,” said Geno CEO Christophe Schilling. “Geno is proud to be part of this initiative alongside other businesses working to be better for the people and planet they serve. As we advance our mission of reducing hundreds of millions of tons of carbon emissions by 2030, joining this initiative from an entity as influential and prominent as the [United Nations] can help us deepen our impact. Most importantly, we know that we can’t do this work alone. We are inspired and energized by UNGC members who use their business decisions to create a safer, more sustainable world for us all.”
Geno’s mission is to accelerate the materials transition—at scale, creating traceable, transparent and responsibly sourced supply chains that replace unsustainable sources. For Geno, the UNGC community represents the need for global action that brings together partners (companies, citizens, consumers and governments) who will serve as collaborators, champions, challengers and changemakers to accelerate Geno’s impact. The climate crisis is unprecedented, and the company said it is energized by the groups coming together to learn from each other, share stories and amplify impactful projects. The challenges of our modern world are interconnected and multidimensional, and the UNGC community aims to address, prioritize and accelerate critical change.
Launched in 2000, the UNGC is a voluntary leadership platform for developing, implementing and disclosing responsible business practices. The initiative calls on businesses across the globe to support goals and issues embodied in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are 17 targets to tackle climate change while ending poverty and improving health and education. Businesses must also align their operations and strategies with the “10 principles” of the UNGC in human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.
Geno’s membership to the UNGC affirms its positioning as a company making a tangible impact to benefit people and the planet. The 10 principles of the UNGC and the SDGs, such as goal 12 (responsible consumption and production), echo Geno’s own mission. Companies such as Cargill, Unilever, Kao and Lululemon are increasingly looking to Geno to help them meet their sustainability commitments. UNGC membership can help Geno forge new partnerships with like-minded companies and broaden its reach in large-scale markets.