Vertical Focus | Textiles
Dawn of the Deadstock
To address pandemic-induced material shortages, economic volatility, and environmental concerns, many retailers are working to make their supply chains circular. These initiatives help the cause by reviving deadstock material—unused fabric that fashion brands typically store or destroy. Here's how some retailers are bringing their deadstock to life:
Queen of Raw: This online marketplace works to create a network of buyers and sellers of unused fabric and automate the process. It amassed 325,000 buyers and sellers, including Cartier and H&M. Designer brand Mara Hoffman worked with Queen of Raw to list its deadstock for sale, and is considering the platform for sourcing as well.
The RealReal: This luxury consignment retailer is addressing unsellable goods by creating an upcycled collection called ReCollection. The one-of-a-kind designs are made from items donated by luxury brand partners, including Balenciaga and Dries Van Noten. The company plans to use scraps from the collection to build a library for other designers.
Student Fabric Initiative: The British Fashion Council mobilized London designers to donate their deadstock to 33 U.K. colleges to support fashion students and help reduce industry waste. The project is a continuation of the ReBurberry initiative piloted by the council and Burberry, which donated its own fabric and helped create a centralized logistics process for more brands and colleges to participate.
Fabscrap: This New York-based nonprofit works with brands in the fashion, interior, and entertainment industries to transport, store, and redistribute their excess materials. It shreds unusable material and small scraps to create insulation, carpet padding, furniture lining, and moving blankets. Fabscrap works with brands including Marc Jacobs and J. Crew, and picks up about 4,000 pounds of material each week.
Masked in the USA
The Biden Administration awarded contracts to Parkdale Mills and Ferrara Manufacturing to help manufacture and distribute 100% made-in-America face masks to more than 1,300 community health centers and 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens in the United States.
North Carolina-based Parkdale Mills, the nation's largest cotton yarn spinner, partnered with Ferrara Manufacturing, a tailored clothing company based in New York City, to manufacture more than 17 million reusable masks. The government says it can purchase up to 22.2 million masks under the contracts.
Both companies will contract with U.S. companies across the manufacturing supply chain. Parkdale will use yarn from its facilities in North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia; Ferrara will deploy its cut-and-sew operations in New York. Since the spring of 2020, both companies retooled their operations to produce millions of masks and gowns for frontline workers.
The Department of Health and Human Services will partner with the Department of Defense (DoD) to deliver the masks to federally qualified community health centers. The DoD will also work with the Department of Agriculture to deliver masks through the nation's food bank and food pantry system.
JanSport Packs Up Surplus Materials
JanSport introduced its first backpack collection made entirely from excess factory fabric and trim. This Surplus Ski n' Hike collection gives consumers a lifetime of wear with material that otherwise would have ended up in landfills.
Every component of the backpacks are crafted with surplus factory materials, from the fabric and lining to the ladder locks and zipper pulls. JanSport also uses 100% recycled paper for the products' hang tags.
Understanding Gen Z's conscious consumption habits fueled its commitment to produce more products that meet those consumers' standards of sustainability, such as the Recycled SuperBreak that launched in 2020, the brand says. This was JanSport's first backpack made in part with 100% recycled fabric.
Gear Up for E-Textiles
Will warehouse workers wear electronics on their sleeves? Possibly. MIT researchers released a line of smart clothes that can track physical movement, and Fudan University researchers in China unveiled state-of-the-art electronic textiles that can produce visual displays.
This is all happening as wearable devices streamline supply chain operations and provide real-time feedback; 70% of warehouse facilities will adopt some form of wearables by 2023, MHI research says.
MIT's smart clothes are made of knitted conductive yarn. To make a garment, researchers develop its design in a computer program, knit it with an industrial machine, and then plug it into electronic pressure sensors that can detect the wearer's movements.
Typically, display materials are not compatible with textiles because they can't withstand the warping that occurs when fabrics are worn and washed. Fudan's design solves that problem by weaving conductive fibers and luminescent fibers together with cotton into a fabric display.
That produces a textile that can provide, for example, a touch-sensitive fabric keyboard that can withstand 100-plus laundry cycles. The researchers also say the textiles have a power supply and can harvest solar energy.
Applications for Fudan's textiles include using one's sleeve to send text messages and follow GPS instructions. Researchers say they can produce the display textiles on a large scale at low cost and are already providing them to companies. They will start to hit the market in 2021 and no later than 2022, Fudan predicts.
Treat Your Textiles
Supply chains worldwide retooled their operations to produce face masks during the pandemic. However, difficulties in sourcing melt-blown fabric—a key component—hindered efforts to produce effective masks on a large enough scale. The melt-blowing process is labor-intensive: To manufacture it, a synthetic polymer must be extruded in ultra-fine strands and blown into place using a stream of gas.
Swiss textile technology company HeiQ developed a new treatment that solves this issue. Called Viroblock NPJ03, the treatment makes textiles more resistant to bacteria and viruses, and reduces COVID-19 infectivity by 99.9%.
HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 can be applied to textiles during the manufacturing process before a fabric is cut and sewn, or manually sprayed onto surfaces. Both processes convert the textiles into an antiviral and antimicrobial surface.
The product is used to treat face masks and medical gowns, and can be used on textile surfaces in other facilities. For example, Gold's Gym SoCal is using the spray to protect its gyms. The spray forms a film that provides effective antimicrobial protection on surfaces for up to 90 days, and the staff is provided with portable HeiQ spray for reapplication when necessary.
Designers cultivate Plant-Based Leather
Fashion designers are branching out to plant-based textiles in response to growing demand for more sustainable and cruelty-free products, and as supply chains seek to lower their carbon footprint. These leather alternatives are heating up:
Cactus: Fast fashion company H&M is partnering with Mexico-based Desserto to create a new collection, including shoes (pictured above), made from cactus leather. Desserto makes the cactus fabric by turning organic nopal cactus leaves into a partially biodegradable, vegan material that resembles leather. The fabric can be used to make bags, accessories, clothes, boxing gloves, furniture, and car interiors.
Castor Oil: H&M's new collection will also incorporate EVO by Fulgar, a bio-based material made from castor oil. Fulgar says EVO is a completely renewable resource, does not require much water to grow, and does not take any farmland from food agriculture.
Apples: Once the juice is extracted from apples, the remaining pulp is normally discarded. Italian company Frumat SRL developed a fabric made from the pulp, which is dried and ground to a powder, mixed with pigments and a binding agent, and left until it resembles leather. Designer Tommy Hilfiger used it to make sneakers in its zero-waste collection.
Mushrooms: Luxury brand Hermès is partnering with MycoWorks, a California-based startup with a patent that turns the threads of a mushroom root into materials that look and feel like leather. The first byproduct of the collaboration will be a travel bag, expected at the end of 2021.