We were in India, in Surat, north of Mumbai, a diamond town and also a vibrant textile production centre.
One look along the back streets of mills, dyehouses, dairy sheds and rubble makes you sense that the whole idea of chemical reduction has not yet become an issue for many here.
Move onto a meeting with a specialist producer. The interior is immaculate, and the products are satisfyingly dramatic and beautifully crafted. I think; this is more like it. A company whose attention to detail and commitment to sustainable production too! My colleague picks up a length of textured soft blackness with a gilded aura, wraps it around his neck and says how fantastic this would be for winter. Ten seconds later his neck and face are up in hives!
It’s as simple as that. On the global stage it would garner recalls and bad press, as we’ve seen with countless retailers who’ve dropped the ball on checks and approvals. Of course the CEO took it off the shelf, but how can we protect and educate better?
Much of what we hear now are of companies rushing to promise to meet and match the Greenpeace requirements by…. This year, next… in 2 or more years. It seems like the promise is enough for now. Details to follow!
In Europe however, details are being followed through. Many are ahead of the game and making quiet changes that are surfacing at retail with little comment.
Good news in textiles and fashion is not always news for many.
But to make it work well, you need to have a full commitment from the whole supply chain. How else can a brand declare its intention to reduce or eliminate chemicals from its products without first engaging with raw materials, spinners, weavers and then their own manufacturing?
A good example of this ‘best practice’ was shown to me at a panel discussion last year at Premiere Vision. It was Laura Lusuardi, creative director of Max Mara, who said that change has to come from a combination of creative leadership and a deep understanding of process. It’s no good just demanding something should change without fully engaging with your downstream partners to work together to achieve it. And importantly for her, it was to show new upcoming designers how this process works, and how it’s the key to good responsibly executed design and mutually created environmental innovation.
The tangible proof of this was unpicked with the help of Giusy Bettoni of CLASS, a platform and portal for more responsible materials and design based in Milan. It’s easy to see why Italy still holds today’s key to the future of textiles. Their industry is maybe 4 times bigger than any other European source, in terms of mills and variety, and still leads the way in technicity and above all, creativity.
Image 1: NewLife yarn
To show proof and demonstrate in deed as well as words, Max Mara worked with Mr Stefano Cochis from the Sinterama group whose new recycled polyester yarn garnered a lot of attention firstly for its look (from superfine and smooth counts to rugged and robust qualities), but importantly for its message. Called NewLife, it’s re-made in Italy from P.E.T. bottles, converting the recycled plastic and transforming it into a polymer, then spun into yarns all by means of a mechanical method rather than the more usual chemical process associated with recycling. The manufacturing process is proprietory, a High Tech Conversion Model, which is new and fully supply chain traceable. It also allows considerable savings in water and energy resources and a significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. For more detailed information on NewLife, and the reviewed sustainable metrics go to their website.
Image 2: NewLife taffeta fabric
For Max Mara, this became a product worth developing as proof positive that you can choose and do better if you put in the leg work, and at the same time be completely in line with, and not compromising on your fashion credentials. A preferred weaver was selected and some really smart and clean monochrome double jacquard designs were made, and these were edited by Max Mara for their Weekend collection with a swing tag and sew in label telling the story for those who need to know. Sold in 1500 stores in 50 countries it represented a commitment to better and quality fashion production.
Image 3: Weekend Max Mara with NewLife yarn
And so for me this was like a perfect ‘cameo’ of how things can be done better. How a positive step in chemical reduction can engineer the best in fashion, and how the whole supply chain can be motivated from beginning to end.
But it’s not all Italian initiatives that are leading the charge! Although Italy has the lions share in terms of production critical mass, new initiatives from northern Europe hold long-term promise too. Sometimes the efforts are hidden away in the smarts of the product. Check out what Organoclick, a Swedish company using eco strategies for new, step-change future business solutions are doing. They are deploying tactics from nature, using biomimicry to inspire new finishes for the burgeoning nonwovens and functional performance textiles applications categories. Normally PFC’s and their equally problematic variants are used to proof, protect and add performance to materials, but OrganoClick is marketing a fluorocarbon-free water repellent additive for textiles and nonwovens, called OC-aquasil Tex™, enabling the possibility of a complete phasing out of the toxic fluorocarbons in textiles. Another example is the many petroleum-based and non-recyclable chemicals that are used for changing the mechanical properties of nonwovens and textiles. To provide a more sustainable alternative, OrganoClick has developed OC-biobinder™, a bio-based fiber-binding system used to make nonwovens and textiles stronger and stiffer without the chemistry complication of unwanted pollutants.
Image 4: Organoclick
So much of what we can enjoy ‘safely’ is both apparent and highly visible, or hidden and functional. And again, while the wave of new safer solutions are becoming more front of mind for many consumers, industry messaging calls for nimble and honest storytelling to help communicate these essential steps towards better choices.