Why polyester is an issue for the trade

Trend has a polyester downside.

It is probably the most widely-used clothes fiber on the planet, however as an artificial materials constructed from plastic, polyester wants loads of power to supply and is extremely water and air polluting, based on the Council of Trend Designers of America.

The style trade is making an attempt to sort out the difficulty, however there isn’t any easy resolution, based on the CEO of one of many world’s largest garments producers. “There is not to date (a) uncooked materials that’s as low-cost and as versatile as polyester at this time,” mentioned Roger Lee, who runs Hong-Kong headquartered TAL Attire.

In addition to being cheap, polyester does not crease and might be washed at low temperatures. Nonetheless, the laundry course of additionally releases tiny fibers often known as microplastics, which might be dangerous to marine life. Whereas polyester lasts for years, longevity is a double-edged sword — garments might be worn many instances however will seemingly up in landfill, and do not biodegrade.

“At this time, we not often use virgin polyester,” Lee instructed 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 mentioned there was an enormous acceleration in the usage of recycled plastics in style. “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 worth 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 style enterprise with a cotton fabric store in 1856. The agency was revived by Lee’s nice uncle C.C. in 1947.

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

For the time being, solely about 14% of polyester is produced from recycled fibers, based on requirements physique Textile Trade. How near a breakthrough is the sector by way of recycling used clothes?

“In case you speak about pure polyester, sure, we’re shut. However the issue is loads 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 may separate combined supplies. The brand new machine works by decomposing the cotton a part of the fabric and extracting the polyester, which may then be spun into clothes.

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

Customized clothes

Manufacturers at the moment “guess” what number of items of every fashion they’ll produce, Lee mentioned, and making the garments takes three to 6 months earlier than they’re despatched to shops or put on-line. What does not get offered at full value is marked down. “When it is so low-cost, or 70% off, (folks assume) I do not really want it, however what 70% is value it, (so) I will get that. And you then purchase stuff you do not really want,” Lee mentioned.

One resolution 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 isn’t there prepared for you. However you say what, I like this material, I like on this fashion, you place the order and the shirt for instance, in seven days, you’re going to get it at the doorstep,” Lee defined. Earlier than the coronavirus pandemic, TAL made round 600,000 costume shirts a yr on this means.

Whereas making made-to-measure garments is at the moment dearer than producing them in bulk, that might change in the long run. “You do not want (a) warehouse to retailer (clothes) … you do not want massive shops to promote … However massive manufacturers which have loads of brick-and-mortar cannot do away with these in a single day, so it does not make sense,” Lee mentioned.

“What’s capturing the market are the up-and-coming folks … we want extra folks to consider that means,” 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 should be dedicated to say: I will remove this uncooked materials polyester, for instance, from my provide chain in 5 to 10 years’ time, forcing folks to search out other ways, that are extra sustainable. It’s the manufacturers’ CEOs’ accountability to try this,” Lee mentioned.

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

— CNBC’s Karen Gilchrist contributed to this report.

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