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Texworld LA Experts Talk Sustainable ‘Methodologies and Myt…

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The evolving role of material innovators in promoting a more sustainable future for the textile industry was a topic of discussion at Texworld Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, about 1,000 exhibitors came together at the textile trade show’s New York event. While the California event was comparably smaller—drawing about one-tenth of the exhibitor base to Downtown, L.A.’s Fashion District—“The Future of Textiles: Alternative Materials and Application Innovations” panel drew a standing-room-only crowd.

Bringing together experts from material sciences firms Fuze Technologies and Green Theme Technologies, along with responsible down supplier Allied Feather + Down, the discussion centered on the need to reimagine the future of material sustainability.

“I think what’s most important, what needs to be replaced, is our methodologies and our mythologies, how we think about materials, and also how we build, create and interact with those materials,” Allied senior creative and marketing director Matthew Betcher said.

The 36-year-old company works with brands to source responsible down as a byproduct of the food industry. With global operations spanning China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Czech Republic and Canada, the L.A.-headquartered supplier helped to develop the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) for animal welfare. Despite the new standards, Betcher said that the industry faces opposition from animal-rights groups championing animal-free inputs.

“I don’t know if it’s as easy as saying new innovation is going to replace old materials, as much as we need a massive rethinking of the origin stories of these materials,” Betcher said. Recycled polyester insulation—and textiles more broadly—is gaining traction as brands reduce their reliance on virgin inputs. But Betcher hopes the industry is really thinking about the nuances of textile waste. “Why do we care if a fiber is recycled?” he said, “if it’s got a short use cycle, and at the end of that use, it’s not biodegradable?”

A lot of brand storytelling about recycled inputs is just that, added Green Theme Technologies founder and president of global business development Martin Flora. “Recycled polyester is a huge component of microplastic shedding,” he said, noting that the material “breaks down really, really fast into small bits which are super bad for the environment.”

“We’re going to have to change the way we think about [sustainability]—it has to be data driven,” he said. “It can’t be just greenwashing and talking points.” Green Theme Technologies’ Empel offers brands a PFAS-free alternative to traditional durable water repellency (DWR) technology that relies on a waterless application process. Instead, a monomer fabric coating is polymerized around each fiber, creating a permanently-fused hydrophobic barrier that won’t wash off.

Flora believes that as alternative materials continue to evolve, they will overtake the industry’s standard solutions. “I think they’ll just replace [them], very simply,” he said. That doesn’t mean that all-new materials will displace natural fibers, he added. “Technology should enhance, and extend the life and performance of natural fibers.”

“The way we’ve been doing things it’s not the way we can continue,” Flora said. Wastewater from facilities like dyehouses and other fabric treatment facilities is not being effectively cleaned before it reenters waterways. With that reality in mind, it’s up to the industry to develop less toxic chemical technologies—and up to brands and their suppliers to prioritize them. “You have to innovate and stay in front of sustainability, which is the future,” he said.

Andrew Peterson, chief technical officer for Fuze Technologies, said consumers are beginning to catch on. They’ve become more savvy not only about the environmental impact of their apparel, but the potential health impacts of wearing toxic clothing. “We’re finding there’s an attraction to [the concept of] chemical free,” he said.

Fuze manufactures permanent, chemical-free treatments for textiles that protect against odor-causing bacteria and mold, which are applied through a light, water-based mist. The technology has applications in the medical space as well as in performance textiles made for athleticwear. Peterson said the cost of adoption is likely what’s hindering most suppliers from taking on more sustainable solutions. A factory “is only going to produce what they can sell, and it’s very difficult for a mill or a manufacturer to invest” without brands buying in. “The challenge is that the investment really has to come first,” he said.



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