Cotton textile waste isn’t just getting tossed anymore, it’s making TENCEL® and big brands are buying into it.
Announcing Lenzing’s latest development at the Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference in Hamburg, Germany Tuesday, Tricia Carey, the company’s director of business development for apparel and denim, said no new ideas come to fruition without determination.
And Lenzing was determined to answer the market’s demand for closed loop production processes by taking cotton scraps that would have otherwise been discarded and turning them into fiber.
To make the virgin TENCEL® from the cotton waste, Lenzing takes the fabric scraps from post industrial waste, removes any contaminants such as dyestuffs and resins and produces a cotton cellulose pulp. This pulp is blended with wood pulp adding only solvent and water and the only output is TENCEL® fiber and water. In keeping with the recycling efforts, during the lyocell process the solvent gets used over and over and over again, and the whole process uses 95 percent less water than it takes to produce cotton.
“This is taking the next step toward what we talk about so much here at Textile Exchange, and that’s the circular economy,” Carey said.
Recently Lenzing’s first brand and retail partner for the new TENCEL® fiber was announced. Now Patagonia has been added as the latest brand to take up the closed-loop fiber.
“Patagonia pioneered recycled materials starting with polyester in our apparel in the 90s and we are always looking for new ways to incorporate recycled materials into our products,” said Helena Barbour, senior director of global sportswear at Patagonia. “This revolutionary new material Lenzing has created takes pre-consumer waste cotton scraps and turns it into a high-quality TENCEL® fiber that meets Patagonia’s rigorous performance standards. Partnering with Lenzing to bring this material to market was an easy choice for us and we are excited to launch our first products with it in the spring of 2017.”
TENCEL® made from the cotton waste has the same behavioral properties as Lenzing’s traditional TENCEL® made from wood pulp, and the fiber gives garments the same smooth hand consumers seek and the strength to have lasting power.
The first garments using the new fiber will hit the market in Spring/Summer 2017. Patagonia will be the first to market in the U.S.
“It’s the first of its type and it meets the desire from the market for a high quality, recycled cellulosic fiber,” Lenzing business development and project manager Michael Kininmonth, said. “The physical characteristics are as good as our standard product. Therefore there is no evidence of down-cycling whatsoever”
The global apparel industry leaves a significant environmental footprint across each step in the clothing lifecycle. As consumers become aware of this reality, they are increasingly demanding products produced from sustainable resources with minimum environmental impact.
According to a recent study by Boston Consulting Group, 50 percent of Millennials believe brands “say something about who I am, my values, and where I fit in,” while a recent Nielsen study found that three out of four Millennials — a coveted audience for any apparel company — are willing to pay extra for sustainable product offerings. Fashion brands that ignore the clear preference of Millennials for sustainable products and the business opportunity this presents do so at their peril.
To address the concern of the apparel industry’s environmental footprint as well as the opportunity to build brand loyalty with Millennials and increase market share, sustainability has come to the forefront of the industry. Major fashion brand leaders are incorporating sustainability strategies into their business models and growth strategies, and reevaluating their supply chains to identify and pursue opportunities to reduce petroleum use, carbon emissions, water use and waste throughout the value chain.
As sustainability bubbles to the top of the priority list in the apparel industry, formal measurement and assessment tools have been established to help drive improved environmental and social performance. As the old adage goes, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
Textile Exchange released its Preferred Fibers & Material (PFM) Benchmark program this year, following an initial trial in 2015. An astounding 89 brands and retailers from across multiple countries and product sectors have submitted entries. The PFM Benchmark provides a robust structure to help companies systematically measure, manage and integrate a preferred fiber and materials strategy into mainstream business operations. Confidential feedback to companies and a sector report will be released in September.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index is the leading suite of self-assessment tools designed to empower brands, retailers and facilities of all sizes, at every stage in their sustainability journey, to measure their environmental and social and labor impacts and identify areas for improvement. Higg delivers a holistic overview of the sustainability performance of a product or company — a big-picture perspective that is essential for progress to be made.
There are many sustainability-enabling pressure points for apparel companies to measure and manage. One such opportunity is new technology that is emerging as a solution for reducing petroleum use in the manufacturing process through the integration of bio-based chemicals and materials. Bio-based fibers are not new within the textile arena, but early materials were manufactured through a fermentation process, which made environmental improvements cost-prohibitive.
Until now the chemical industry hasn’t had a viable technology option for cost-competitively producing 100 percent bio-based “drop-in” aromatic chemicals (i.e., benzene, toluene and xylenes (BTX) – the basic chemical building blocks used to make both nylons and polyesters for apparel — due to the lack of efficient and scalable processes that utilize renewable non-food biomass feedstocks.
Today the portfolio of biosynthetic fibers embraces nylon, polyester and spandex/elastane. PET polymer producers have begun to incorporate up to 30 percent renewable content for beverage bottles, as Bio-MEG from sugar-cane ethanol becomes more widely available, but the purified terepthalic acid (PTA) has always come from petroleum sources of para-xylene. This is currently changing as second-generation bio-based materials entering the market today offer a practical and commercially viable pathway to bio-derived materials. These materials are generally comparable with and, in many cases, identical to petroleum-based products and are, by definition, renewable.
“Organic remains central to TE’s cotton work, and we are now working with the industry to support adoption of recycled and bio-based synthetics such as nylon, polyester, and spandex into company fiber and material strategies. We’ve learned a lot from our work in organic and it’s exciting to take the learnings to a wider fiber and material portfolio,” says Liesl Truscott, director of fiber and materials strategy at Textile Exchange. “We started supporting the industry on bio-synthetics in 2012 with biov8tion, and I’m pleased to say that together we are now taking this to the next level.”
“The industry today talks of bio-synthetics as new and emerging polymers and fibers, but much of today’s advancements in this area are based on the post war (1950s) research and commercial polymers. A significant opportunity exists today to improve the sustainability performance in the apparel industry through the use of renewable, bio-based materials, rather than petroleum. Finite petroleum risks market volatility and is used as the backbone of our most widely used synthetic fibers today, polyester and nylon. Renewable and bio-derived chemistry offers up promising alternatives to produce in general chemically identical materials made from non-food biomass and further innovation opportunities in the future,” explains Sophie Mather, founder and director of biov8tion.
“A shift to bio-based apparel will play a significant role in reducing fossil fuel use and resulting emissions, while providing the opportunity for integrated producers to mitigate price volatility, and benefit from the market demand consumers place on ‘greener’ products,” says David Sudolsky, president and CEO at Anellotech. “Much of the focus in the renewable space has been devoted to PET bottles, where there has been and continues to be strong progress in improving renewable content. Anellotech is developing an innovative and cost effective process technology that will enable the step from 30 percent to 100 percent and this technology will apply not only to bottles but also to polyester textiles. The time is right to join forces in a collaborative way to accelerate the transition to bio-based textiles. We are excited to be working with TE, biov8tion, and others in this space.”
TE has set up a new Bio-Synthetics Working Group, comprised of TE members and experts with an interest in the future of bio-based materials as a solution to transitioning out of non-renewables and textiles based on petroleum towards more sustainable alternatives. The multi-stakeholder group, led by Mather, will be exploring challenges and barriers to growth, sustainability benefits, and importantly how to get bio-synthetics from R&D and proof of concept to market readiness and a commercially viable alternative to virgin materials. The WG meets in Hamburg, Germany at TE’s global sustainability conference, Oct. 4-6.
La Rhea Pepper is a fifth generation cotton farmer from Lubbock, Texas, and she currently is the Managing Director of Textile Exchange. La Rhea began farming organic cotton in the early 1990s, and since then has been a key figure in the organic cotton movement. La Rhea co-founded the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, which has grown to 40 producer members who plant 10,000-19,000 acres of organic cotton a year. Le Rhea has an impactful story, which she shares with us below, and is an invaluable resource to the organic cotton industry.
Above: La Rhea Pepper on a cotton farm. Photo: Donna Worley.
What has been most surprising in your journey from growing up on a conventional cotton farm to owning your own organic cotton farm?
I guess the most surprising part of this journey is the affirmation that this is about life and death—to farm organically for me is about respecting life in the soil, in the plant, life within the ecosystem with ladybugs and birds and assassin bugs and lizards galore!—and creating a healthy place for families who work the land to live and play.
The other side of the surprise is that everyone doesn’t want to farm the same way—for different reasons. I say, ‘Organic? Why Not?’
How have you seen organic cotton farming impact the lives of farmers and the surrounding communities? How has this changed over time?
When we started [organic farming] in 1990, there were only about five farmers/families involved. There were also some projects starting in India in the early 90s.
As the market expanded, some of the farmers started farming organically because of market dynamics and opportunities, however, once they started, they began to see for themselves the impact on the soil with increased organic matter and increased biodiversity. So, I don’t really care why a farmer starts—it is a start, and he will experience the long-term benefits.
Other farmers, while not going fully organic, have also begun to use winter cover crops to increase soil fertility to reduce their dependence upon petroleum-based fertilizers and use more of an integrated pest management system, reducing their use of insecticides.
Every step toward greater stewardship and the reduction of toxic and persistent pesticides is a step in the right direction.
Above: La Rhea with her family on their farm. Photo: La Rhea Pepper.
Would you mind sharing why you are personally so committed to organic farming and why you have been a critical player of the organic cotton movement?
Much of the reason why I’m an organic farmer is because it is a part of my heritage (my grandfather was an old-school German farmer who had strong stewardship principles that we are only caregivers of the land), and philosophically it aligns with my personal and religious beliefs about stewardship.
I’ve also seen first-hand the negative impacts that conventional, mono-crop, chemically intensive agriculture can have on communities and families. For so many reasons, we needed to change agriculture to a more sustainable and lower impact system.
And then my husband was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiform stage IV brain tumor in 2005. Our brain surgeon in Lubbock, Texas, said that his was a type of tumor that seemed to be commonly found in men, ages 40-60, who worked in agriculture or oil. Terry was 48 when we found out, and he died at 50. Too young!
He grew up on a conventional farm in south Texas—a chemically intensive farm. His father died at 57 of acute leukemia, which has known links to pesticides.
There are so many other illnesses linked to chemical usage in farm communities: endocrine disruption and all types of cancers.
For me, the difference in organic and conventional agriculture is life and death, not only the life in the soil and farm, but literally life for the farmers who are growing our food and fiber.
After Terry died, going organic and persuading the world to go organic was no longer important—it was imperative!
Why is Texas organic cotton different from organic cotton from other areas of the country (California, Georgia, etc)?
The area where the organic cotton is grown in Texas, the high plains, is blessed with a climate conducive to growing cotton: dryer with a cold winter that keeps insect pressure down. The other key factor is that we get a hard freeze, usually in early November, that kills the cotton plant, and, like deciduous trees, the plant drops its leaves, which allows the cotton to be mechanically harvested. Other areas that don’t get this freeze really struggle to harvest the cotton. The majority of conventional cotton uses a defoliant to kill the cotton and prepare the plant for harvesting. We rely on Mother Nature and her chilling winter weather.
Above: Cotton harvest on Texas farm. Photo: La Rhea Pepper.
Since you have been around the organic cotton movement for so long, what action has been most successful in really growing the organic cotton market?
I have seen the greatest success where there is a cohesive and integrated partnership along the supply chain. It truly is a relay race that comes full circle with the farmer growing the crop, the supply chain, and the brand creating the right product. We are all telling the story about the intrinsic value of the fiber. This is what creates meaningful change at the consumer level.
So, it is about engaging consumers, having the right product, and integrity along the supply chain—it all matters.
What causes you to get out of bed every morning to work on organic cotton and to advocate for the industry?
I have grandchildren, but they don’t have their grandfather.
For me it is personal. It is part of my heritage; it is also a part of my legacy.
If you could change things, what is your best/ideal vision for the future of cotton farming?
I believe that growing cotton in an organic production system is a tool for creating long-term sustainability with stronger communities, food security and biodiversity. It is an integrated and regenerative production system.
I also believe that it is a tool to help create a market-driven solution for addressing poverty, accessing resources, schools, and health care, and other infrastructure needs when farmers are paid a fair price for the crops that they grow.
I truly believe that the pioneers in this industry—and especially the folks that are driving the organic cotton movement—are creating meaningful change. We have a great start—we just need to keep up the momentum.
Above: Cotton field after a rain. Photo: La Rhea Pepper.
*This story first appeared on the Coyuchi blog here.
Textile Exchange leads the effort to encourage collaboration for industry-wide changes
Textile Exchange, a global nonprofit organization that works to accelerate sustainable practices in the textile industry, today announced the findings of a comprehensive Benchmarking report that measures the progress of 57 leading textile companies in their effort to become more sustainable.
The Benchmark Program for Organic Cotton and Preferred Materials will be shared with the textile industry; primary goals being collaboration and shared learning amongst companies that regularly compete. The 57 participating companies submitted detailed data about their organic cotton and other “preferred materials” use to Textile Exchange for analysis and comparison across the industry. These companies range in size from small start ups to global brands and share the common goal of improving sustainability efforts across their supply chains.
The Benchmark Program allows companies to track their own progress and also relate it to others’ experience and results in four main areas: Sustainability Strategy, Supply Chain, Materials Usage and Sales and Marketing. Out of the findings, some highlights include:
The Good News
• 93% of companies report to have a vision or mission to be more sustainable.
• The majority (81%) are addressing raw materials use at the strategy level and 74% are setting individual targets for specific materials.
• 70% of companies use a voluntary sustainability standard to help them ensure the integrity of their organic products and 64% are tracking other preferred materials.
• 74% are reporting the amount of organic cotton they consume.
• 81% claim to be communicating the sustainability attributes of their products to their customers.
Areas for Improvement
• Policies on raw materials (69%) and animal welfare (44%) are lagging behind human rights and ethical trade (81%).
• Setting long-term goals for a preferred material portfolio (57%) were less common than setting targets for specific materials (74%).
• While 73% of participants could provide data on organic cotton, the numbers dropped off dramatically for other preferred materials. This is an area for improvement so that companies’ use of preferred materials such as recycled polyester and preferred cellulosics (such as lyocell) can be better analyzed.
“Textile Exchange’s Benchmark Program provides a framework for the industry. Companies working to improve their impact on the environment, natural resources, people and animals can compare best practices and results. Our aim is to have these companies learn from each other and even feel a sense of urgency to make improvements similar to those of their colleagues in the industry. As we move beyond the pilot phase we’ll also be encouraging more companies to join in,” explains Liesl Truscott, European and Materials Strategy Director.
Textile Exchange, through the Benchmark Program, gathers data on all aspects of a company’s sustainability performance. TE analyzes this data and determines an overall average for each category. Additionally, each company receives a confidential report that compares reported data from other textile companies in order to identify best practices and encourage more action and investment in key sustainability areas such as materials use, supply chain transparency and more.
In this first (pilot) year of the program, companies will receive a comprehensive baseline analysis of their sustainability performance to compare with the sector average. In subsequent years they will be able to chart their own year-on-year improvements and measure their pace of change against that of their peers.
The Benchmarking results will be featured at TE’s global Textile Sustainability Conference taking place in October and in a series of Online Workshops for companies that will be launched later in 2015.
“We as Tchibo see it as our duty as a business to take on responsibility and initiate change, for example in the cultivation and processing of our cotton. However, it is important that we all work together to change the sector. Therefore, we are proud to support Textile Exchange’s Benchmark Program because it provides further impulse and peer-to-peer learning for the whole sector,” said Achim Lohrie, Director Corporate Responsibility from Tchibo.
*This story first appeared on the Textile Exchange website.
Textile Exchange Releases Second Annual Preferred Fiber and Materials Report
Preferred Fibers Outpace the Growth of Conventional Fibers
(Global) Textile Exchange today released the 2014 Preferred Fiber and Materials Report. The report is a collection of data about raw materials that are used to create textiles such as apparel, sheets and towels. Textile Exchange is an international nonprofit organization nonprofit committed to a more sustainable textile industry. The intent of the report is to educate the textile industry about more sustainable material choices and resources. Preferred materials include recycled polyester, lyocell, organic cotton, and more.
The Preferred Fiber and Materials Report showcases an increase in the use of preferred fibers and materials, both through survey results as well as textile industry reports that demonstrate how preferred fibers are outpacing the growth of conventional fibers (such as cotton).
The report is designed as a tool to help brands, retailers, educators, nonprofit organizations and the entire textile supply chain understand the Preferred Fiber & Materials (PFM) market. The long-term goal is to support the growth and development of the PFM supply chain from fiber to finished product and on to the consumer. Providing this support is essential to Textile Exchange as it will lead to fulfilling our vision of a global textile industry that protects and restores the environment and enhances lives.
According to Tricia Carey, Textile Exchange Board Vice-Chair and Director of Business Development for Denim at Lenzing, “In an evolving marketplace, the Textile Exchange Preferred Fibers Report provides pertinent information for the global supply chain. This report builds upon the series of data from previous years to monitor progression.”
The report also challenges the textile community to address today’s market use of synthetics and encourages them to adopt more sustainable options. Textile Exchange works on a global scale to support the transition to more sustainable fiber and material options. Textile Exchange is an industry leader for sustainable materials, focusing on research, and integrity development for the global textile supply chain.
The report congratulates the Top 10 users of Recycled Polyester*: NIKE Inc., The North Face, Target, H&M, PUMA, Williams Sonoma, G-Star Raw, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Volcom and Prana.
Congratulations also go out to the Top 5 users of Lyocell*: Inditex, H&M, Target, G-Star Raw and Eileen Fisher.
*Top users from results of Textile Exchange survey respondents.
Access the Report The Preferred Fiber and Materials Market Report is produced on an annual basis and is complimentary to Textile Exchange Members. Non-Members have the option to purchase the full report as well as download a complimentary report overview.
ICEA has developed a Standard for Organic Sericulture and Moriculture to bridge the gap between the existing European organic farming standard (EC 834/2007) and sericulture practices.
Paolo Foglia of ICEA states: “The approve standard is filling the gap of EU Regulation for Organic Agriculture. In fact, till now, according to Reg (EC) 889/2008, article 7 (Scope) was not legally possible to certify the silkworm making reference to the European Regulation. The formal approval of our standard made from the Italian National Authority for the Organic Agriculture (the Ministry of Agriculture) according to the procedure laid down in article 42 of Reg. (EC) 834/2007, makes now legally possible to certify the silkworm and the cocoons according to the European Legislation.
This is an “open” standard and can be used freely by any organization of the Organic Community making properly reference to the standard itself and to ICEA.”
Just how difficult is it to access non-GMO organic cottonseed? A new research survey commissioned by Textile Exchange, with research and reporting led by Louis Bolk Institute and Lanting Agriconsult, reveals the answer.
The report provides for the first time a bird’s eye view of worldwide and region-specific organic cottonseed availability, contamination issues, trends in cotton production, challenges in cotton production and opinions on what the “ideal” cotton is. What kind of cotton should be grown in 2025 and what sort of seed programs should be implemented in which regions to ensure integrity and growth of organic cotton production? The report has the answers! Download your copy here.
ORGANIC COTTON FARMER & MANAGING DIRECTOR OF TEXTILE EXCHANGE
LaRhea Pepper is a cotton farmer from Lubbock, Texas. She grew up farming and is a key advocate for the importance of organic farming, working to inspire and equip people to accelerate sustainable practices in textile supply chains. Her personal story is a profoundly powerful one and has impacted her passionate involvement in the field, including participating in a lawsuit against Monsanto, the agrochemical corporation.
What is your earliest memory of life on a cotton farm?
Growing up on the farm, I remember just walking out and checking on the cotton. I love the smell of freshly plowed dirt. I remember going out to see Dad as he was working. And then, as I was older, racing behind the tractor and enjoying the coolness of the field when we were planting.
Textile Exchange introduces the Organic Cotton Sustainability Assessment Tool (OC-SAT)
What does it do?
– A framework for assessing the environmental, economic and social impacts of organic cotton agriculture.
– Insight into the sustainability status of farmers certified to one or more of the internationally accepted organic agricultural standards.
– Builds on the findings in the recently published Organic Cotton Life Cycle Assessment (download here).
– Shows how farmers are successfully diversifying their crops, organizing their farming communities and supporting female farmers. Also reveals the challenges farmers face including pricing and payment, climate change, and lack of access to non-genetically modified seed.