June 22, 2021

‘To have a healthy business, we must have a healthy planet’

4 min read

Jean Hegedus, sustainability director of The Lycra Company, explains the chemical group’s newest sustainability efforts.

What are The Lycra Company’s future sustainability goals within the denim and sportswear markets?
Our Planet Agenda sustainability platform is based on the belief that to have a healthy business, we must have a healthy planet. Toward this end, one of our main objectives is to reduce our and our customers’ environmental footprint by developing lower-impact products and processes. Some recent examples which support this objective in denim and sportswear include expanding our EcoMade family of recycled products. In 2019 we introduced Lycra EcoMade fiber, made partly from pre-consumer waste, and demand has been strong. We are increasing our capability in this area with our plant in Monterrey, Mexico, now producing Lycra EcoMade GRS certified product. We also have a goal to convert the bulk of our Coolmax and Thermolite fibers to EcoMade (recycled) versions by the end of 2021 and we are well on our way to achieving that.

We also want to develop products with enhanced durability. Our Lycra Anti-Slip fiber is the latest innovation under this objective. We have just introduced it during the last October 2020 Kingpins24 and we are receiving a very positive response from the market.

It’s also becoming increasingly important to be transparent about both what your products are made of and how they’re made. Toward this end, in 2019 we secured Gold Level Material Health certification for our Lycra 166L product, used in weaving. Recently we applied to the C2C Product Innovation Institute for Gold Level Material Health certification for 23 unique Lycra fiber products that are used in wovens and knits, across a wide variety of applications. These products were certified in November, providing transparency about each product’s ingredients and suppliers as well as The Lycra Company’s commitment to continuously improving the sustainability profile of its products.

Thermolite and EcoMade activewear by Lycra

Thermolite and EcoMade activewear by Lycra

During the last Kingpins24 you spoke about some new studies focused on recycling old denims and fabrics that incorporate Lycra fiber into new fabrics and denims. What is the group aiming for?
We are taking a holistic approach to garment recycling. The first priority is to identify those garment recyclers who accept garments with Lycra fiber today and create a resource list for our developments in this area and expect to have some news in the coming year.

There is much talk in the denim and fashion markets about terms such as biodegradable, biobased, biocompatible, and similar ones. What do they mean exactly?
It’s true. There is currently a lot of confusion about these terms. Biodegradable means that a fiber will break down into its basic elements (like carbon and water) through microbial action. Many countries have or are developing regulations around promoting a product as biodegradable. For example, in the US a material must biodegrade within 12 months in order to be promoted as biodegradable. Since most apparel still unfortunately ends up in landfill at end of life, it will not biodegrade in this timeframe and thus cannot be promoted as biodegradable to the consumer. Biobased means that the raw materials used to make the fiber are derived from plants. Biobased synthetic fibers are generally not biodegradable. And finally, biocompatible means that a fiber will not leach toxic elements into medium in which it is disposed.

Jeans using Lycra fibers

Jeans using Lycra fibers

Is The Lycra Company offering any fiber or technology including these qualities?
The Lycra Company introduced the world’s first biobased elastane back in 2014. By weight, 70% of the fiber content was made from biobased material. At the time, the industry’s need to focus on high volume fibers such as cotton and polyester (versus Lycra fiber which is always a minority component), limited its rate of adoption. Now that these areas have been addressed, we are seeing some renewed interest in this technology and are excited to collaborate with interested customers.

Is the industry ready for releasing such textiles? What are the weaknesses and strengths of such materials?
The industry is certainly seeking fibers with lower impact and trying to find ways to bring such solutions to scale. At The Lycra Company, we don’t believe biodegradability is a preferred end of life scenario for elastane used in apparel–primarily because composters are not yet willing to accept garments, so most apparel ends up in landfill where it doesn’t have the right conditions to biodegrade. In addition, during biodegradation these materials can release greenhouse gases such as methane which is harmful to the environment. For these reasons we are focusing most of our efforts on recycled and recyclable technologies, enhancing garment durability and safety/transparency around all of our ingredients.

Are consumers aware of their existence and are they ready for buying such products?
Recent research shows that especially post-Covid, consumers are looking for garments that last longer. As consumers become more aware of the impacts of fast fashion, they are indicating a desire to invest in fewer, better quality garments vs. more disposable clothing. In general, they understand recycling because it’s something they do in their daily lives. Beyond that, it really becomes each company’s responsibility to help educate consumers, steer clear of greenwashing (which only adds to the confusion) and have claims we can substantiate with data.

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