The movement towards sustainability is an essential shift that’s affecting all industries. The textile sector, in particular, involves the frequent use of materials that are not eco-friendly and a production process that releases harmful emissions. However, with growing consumer demand for environmentally conscious operations and products, textile businesses will start to turn towards more green options.
While cotton is abundant and versatile, it requires several resources for production. Other materials, like nylon, spandex or polyester, are harmful due to their petroleum bases. New advancements, however, involve less destructive means of production and will ultimately make products that offer a better relationship with the environment.
One innovation that’s becoming widely popular is hemp. This plant is extremely versatile and can be an ingredient in many things, such as medicine, textiles, food and biofuel. For textiles, the fibers of the plant are the key, as they’re durable and resourceful.
One of the production benefits is that hemp grows quickly. If manufacturers choose to invest in hemp production, they can harvest large amounts without having to worry about it growing back slowly. It also doesn’t require significant amounts of nutrients. For consumers, this solution will make for a breathable fabric that will have a more sustainable and eco-friendly impact.
Every year, more than 23 million tons of coffee waste gets created, with grounds making up a significant portion. With textiles, however, this waste can see a new purpose. The fibers of coffee grounds offer versatile options for clothing, working as sportswear, shoes, bags and more.
Coffee grounds are common waste products, so manufacturers will have an easy and cost-effective time acquiring it. The production entails processing coffee alongside a polymer to create better cohesion between the materials. This means of operation offers a circular economy. When manufacturers reuse the grounds, production becomes an eco-friendly cycle — cutting down on waste output.
Eastern countries have used lotus fibers for textiles and other products for centuries. However, lotus production has been slow to impact western countries. As it grows, manufacturers can invest in a new eco-friendly fiber that will eventually become a unique feature across the globe.
Many products that come from lotus fibers are stain-resistant, which will be an appealing draw for many consumers. It’s breathable and soft, too. The fibers come from the stems of the plant, and, after extraction, companies can weave them into textiles. As lotus becomes more popular, experts and influencers will most likely want to factor it into creating a fashion story — a newer textile that’s sustainable will instantly pick up attention.
Pineapple leaves have fibers that are useful for textiles, too. The leaves have some uses for medical treatments and healing, alongside textiles. Using them instead of throwing them away during production will help manufacturers profit from each part of the fruit.
During the process, biomass forms, which farmers and agriculture workers can use for their lands, making it a circular economy.
One specific company that is working with pineapple is Piñatex. The developer, Dr. Carmen Hijosa, created a sustainable way to use the leaves. With the fibers, she designed a company that promotes and sells various eco-friendly textiles. These products offer consumers a beneficial way to keep the recycling chain going.
Another fruit that offers sustainable fibers is the banana, specifically, the tree’s stem. As one of the most durable natural resources, the fibers provide a long-lasting option for textiles. Production will benefit from it since it will add to the supply chain’s options and resources — just as using every part of the pineapple does.
As a biodegradable resource, the banana fibers will give back to the environment instead of harming ecosystems as current materials do, like acrylic or polyester. Consumers will reduce their footprint as they invest in the products that are comfortable and impactful.
Part of sustainability means using materials during production that will last a while. The continually diminishing shelf-life of textiles creates significant amounts of waste every year. Therefore, creating products that have enhanced durability, such as kevlar, is an essential responsibility.
This material is common for police officers that are in high-risk sectors. Kevlar vests offer bullet resistance that can save lives. Afterward, however, they may end up in a landfill if they don’t have reusability. Newer developers are looking into ways to create an environmentally-friendly plastic that mimics the capabilities of Kevlar, changing the way companies make bulletproof textiles.
Nomex is what firefighters wear in their clothes. During a fire, this material provides heat and flame resistance. The textile reacts to extreme temperatures and will capture some of that energy into the fabric. In a matter of seconds, this material can become life-saving.
Similarly, to Kevlar, Nomex typically has a longer shelf-life than most textiles. However, it can also become more sustainable. Their end-of-life still impacts overall waste output, so finding out how to maximize shelf-life or incorporate biodegradable materials will help. Luckily, Nomex has a high value, so they will most likely get reused.
Technology and the future of textiles
One factor that propels innovation, manufacturing and connection to consumers is technology. Throughout each of these examples, technology will provide better means of production and increased resources. However, it will also offer new features for textiles in the future.
Some clothes already have temperature regulating properties. If someone is cold, the gear can help them feel warm — and vice versa. Some things that might integrate into textiles going forward could be health monitoring, means of communication and various sensors. Beyond integrations, though, technology will improve sustainability, too. With its vast reach, the possibilities are endless.