Why polyester is an issue for the trade

Style has a polyester downside.

It is probably the most widely-used clothes fiber on the earth, however as an artificial materials comprised of plastic, polyester wants quite a lot of power to provide and is very water and air polluting, in accordance with the Council of Style Designers of America.

The style trade is attempting to sort out the problem, however there is not any easy answer, in accordance with the CEO of one of many world’s largest garments producers. “There is not to this point (a) uncooked materials that’s as low-cost and as versatile as polyester immediately,” stated Roger Lee, who runs Hong-Kong headquartered TAL Attire.

In addition to being cheap, polyester would not crease and may be washed at low temperatures. Nevertheless, the laundry course of additionally releases tiny fibers referred to as microplastics, which may be harmful to marine life. Whereas polyester lasts for years, longevity is a double-edged sword — garments may be worn many occasions however will doubtless up in landfill, and do not biodegrade.

“Immediately, we hardly ever use virgin polyester,” Lee informed CNBC’s “Managing Asia: Sustainable Future.” “What do I imply by that? Very often, our polyacetal (fiber) that we use are literally from recycled bottles.”

Over the previous two years, Lee stated there was an enormous acceleration in the usage of recycled plastics in trend. “The reason being as a result of the price of utilizing that has come all the way down to the identical value as utilizing virgin polyester. And that is the important thing — if the value is similar … (it is) a no brainer. It saves environments (and has) the identical industrial prices.”

TAL Attire manufactures clothes for manufacturers together with Burberry, J Crew and Patagonia and was based by the Lee household who began within the trend enterprise with a cotton material store in 1856. The agency was revived by Lee’s great uncle C.C. in 1947.

CEOs have to say okay, what’s extra necessary … a revenue now or … a planet sooner or later?

In the intervening time, solely about 14% of polyester is produced from recycled fibers, in accordance with requirements physique Textile Exchange. How near a breakthrough is the sector by way of recycling used clothes?

“If you happen to discuss pure polyester, sure, we’re shut. However the issue is quite a lot of supplies are combined supplies, it is a polyester mix with one thing else. And separating that has been a problem,” Lee defined.

TAL is concerned with the Hong Kong Analysis Institute of Textiles and Attire which is investigating new methods to make the style trade extra sustainable. In November, the institute launched a “Inexperienced Machine,” developed with the H&M Basis, which might separate combined supplies. The brand new machine works by decomposing the cotton a part of the fabric and extracting the polyester, which might then be spun into clothes.

Stopping garments going to landfill, or encouraging folks to purchase much less, may go some option to addressing an extra of polyester clothes — and which means trying on the fundamentals of the style trade.

Customized clothes

Manufacturers presently “guess” what number of items of every type they’re going to produce, Lee stated, and making the garments takes three to 6 months earlier than they’re despatched to shops or put on-line. What would not get bought at full value is marked down. “When it is so low-cost, or 70% off, (folks suppose) I do not actually need it, however you realize what 70% is value it, (so) I’ll get that. And then you definately purchase stuff you do not actually need,” Lee stated.

One answer is to make garments which can be made-to-measure, which TAL has been doing for 15 years. “In the previous couple of years, it is actually taken off … you stroll into the shop, the garment will not be there prepared for you. However you say you realize what, I like this material, I like on this type, you place the order and the shirt for instance, in seven days, you’ll get it at the doorstep,” Lee defined. Earlier than the coronavirus pandemic, TAL made round 600,000 gown shirts a yr on this approach.

Whereas making made-to-measure garments is presently costlier than producing them in bulk, that would change in the long run. “You do not want (a) warehouse to retailer (clothes) … you do not want huge shops to promote … However huge manufacturers which have quite a lot of brick-and-mortar cannot do away with these in a single day, so it would not make sense,” Lee stated.

“What’s capturing the market are the up-and-coming folks … we’d like extra folks to consider that approach,” he added. In December, Amazon launched custom T-shirt service Made For You within the U.S., whereas San Francisco-based Unspun sells custom-fit denim.

“Manufacturers need to be dedicated to say: I’ll get rid of this uncooked materials polyester, for instance, from my provide chain in 5 to 10 years’ time, forcing folks to seek out alternative routes, that are extra sustainable. It’s the manufacturers’ CEOs’ duty to try this,” Lee stated.

He additionally known as for the trade to work collectively. “Our trade is very aggressive (and) sharing secrets and techniques about how we do things will give one firm benefit over one other,” Lee stated. “However CEOs have to say: OK, what’s extra necessary … a revenue now or … a planet sooner or later. And I believe planet sooner or later.”

— CNBC’s Karen Gilchrist contributed to this report.

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