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Guest Q&A: How can the textile industry improve its sustainability credentials?

Expected to reach an estimated worth of $1,350.2 billion by 2027, the global textile market is showing no signs of slowing down. But the demand for high-volume, fast-production, low-cost textiles has come at a cost, and years of unsustainable practices have taken their toll on the earth’s delicate ecosystem. Responsible for the emissions of approximately 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent and using around 79 billion cubic meters of water per year, textiles manufacturers are looking at ways to clean up their act and reduce the impact of their operations on the environment.

Today’s consumers are more aware than ever of the realities of ‘fast fashion’ and the less environmentally friendly processes and materials that are used to lower production costs. As a result, consumers are starting to turn their back on fast fashion in favor of products that are longer-lasting and more sustainable.

In this Q&A, Simon Daplyn – Marketing Manager at Sensient Imaging Technologies – is joined by Felipe Simeoni, Marketing Manager at Global Química & Moda to discuss the challenges, and opportunities, facing the textiles industry in the shift towards more sustainable ways of working.

1. How important is sustainability in the textiles industry today?

Simon Daplyn: “Sustainable processes are now much more than a ‘nice to have’. They should be an integral part of any business’ operations, regardless of industry or sector. Consumers are more concerned than ever about the origin of products and when it comes to textiles, they are looking to make more eco-friendly choices that are environmentally friendly from fiber to fashion.”

Felipe Simeoni: “The era of ‘consuming less to consume better’ has arrived, along with a demand for higher-value, customized products as opposed to ‘fast fashion’. At GQM, we’ve seen a growing demand for digital printing as manufacturers recognize the opportunity to use fewer resources and the quick production of a few pieces, minimizing large quantities of waste and allowing them to print according to demand.”

2. What other benefits can a sustainable printing process deliver?

Felipe Simeoni: “Focusing on sustainability can do more than just reducing our impact on the environment and improving corporate social responsibility credentials. Ultimately, we expect more eco-friendly ways of working to help reduce both the quantity of resources used and overall costs. New technologies are emerging to support the re-use of water in the manufacturing process, reduction of pollution and early production scheduling to reduce waste from failures and the need for excess stock.

Simon Daplyn: “Advances in digital printing technology are supporting improvements in sustainability across the textiles industry. As a more environmentally friendly printing process that doesn’t compromise cost or performance, switching from analogue to digital can help to decrease energy use, CO2 emissions, waste materials and time. In turn, this can result in a reduction of up to 97% water and a saving of up to 50% energy.”

3. Is there a growing interest in sustainable inks?

Felipe Simeoni: “As Sensient’s key distributor in South America, we are witnessing a growing interest in sustainable inks and a clearer understanding, amongst our customers, of the value that this type of input adds to the final product. The sustainable printing process ensures compliance with legislation and environmental standards, giving businesses the ‘seal of approval’ that is becoming more and more important to the end consumer.”

Simon Daplyn: “Digital inks allow manufacturers to achieve significant reductions in water usage compared to conventional textile manufacturing and, by enabling manufacturers to print directly on polyester, they also remove the waste from transfer paper and residual ink. Our own sublimation ink specifically designed for direct printing, ElvaJet® Coral, for example, requires just 1 liter of water compared to the 50 liters required for direct disperse printing, while also reducing CO2 emissions by 90% and overall energy usage by 50%. We are expecting our digital inks portfolio to only grow in popularity.”

4. How important is sustainability to the textiles industry in Brazil?

Felipe Simeoni: “According to the Brazilian Textile Industry Association, Brazil is the only country in the West that has the complete fashion supply chain within its borders: from cotton planting and the production of yarns to clothing creation, printing and retail. In other words, there is a great opportunity to make the entire chain more sustainable and many companies are already working in this direction, by using suppliers that are more eco-friendly in the production of raw materials and by adjusting their own processes. In this way, businesses can opt for less pollution and more efficient machinery and inputs.”

5. What is the future of the textiles industry?

Felipe Simeoni: “We expect sustainability to become more important as time goes on. ‘Fast fashion’ will need to adapt to this movement, as consumers start to favor clothes that are higher quality, rather than those that are throwaway and can be quickly replaced. We also anticipate that technology which allows products to be personalized at the time of purchase will become increasingly common.”

Simon Daplyn: “Textile printing industry will, however, need to continue to evolve its ways of working to meet growing consumer demand. Many printing technologies require the fabric to be pre-treated with chemicals, with the printed design then fixed to the fabric in a steaming process. This may result in increased consumption of both energy and CO2. In the same way, post-process washing cycles are often applied to remove chemicals and any unfixed color from the textile, and this requires energy, time and further costs – as well as creating a large quantity of wastewater.

“Sensient’s sublimation and pigment technologies are one tool to help fight this. However, we expect a focus on reducing the waste produced by these post and pre-treatment processes to be paramount in coming years.”

Creating the textiles of the future

As the textile industry shifts to reflect increasing demand for sustainable, safe products, textile manufacturers globally will need to start a discussion around the implementation of greener printing processes. Questions like the ones discussed here will become more and more common in textiles businesses over the coming years, and processes will need to be overhauled to fit in with high consumer expectations.

Sensient’s commitment to eco-friendly practices means it is well placed to work closely with businesses as they embark on their sustainability journey. By continuing to set the standard for environmentally friendly printing technology, our digital ink portfolio empowers businesses to make significant changes in the way they operate. To find out more about how we can help you embrace a more sustainable future, get in touch with the Sensient team today.