Why polyester is an issue for the business

Style has a polyester downside.

It is probably the most widely-used clothes fiber on this planet, however as an artificial materials made out of plastic, polyester wants lots of vitality to supply and is extremely water and air polluting, in response to the Council of Style Designers of America.

The style business is attempting to deal with the difficulty, however there isn’t any easy answer, in response to the CEO of one of many world’s largest garments producers. “There is not thus far (a) uncooked materials that’s as low-cost and as versatile as polyester at the moment,” stated Roger Lee, who runs Hong-Kong headquartered TAL Attire.

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

“At the moment, we not often use virgin polyester,” Lee advised 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 identical … (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 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?

In the meanwhile, solely about 14% of polyester is produced from recycled fibers, in response to requirements physique Textile Change. How near a breakthrough is the sector when it comes to recycling used clothes?

“When you speak about pure polyester, sure, we’re shut. However the issue is lots of supplies are blended 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 business extra sustainable. In November, the institute launched a “Inexperienced Machine,” developed with the H&M Basis, which might separate blended 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 individuals to purchase much less, might go some strategy to addressing an extra of polyester clothes — and which means trying on the fundamentals of the style business.

Customized clothes

Manufacturers at present “guess” what number of items of every fashion 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 offered at full value is marked down. “When it is so low-cost, or 70% off, (individuals assume) I do not actually need it, however what 70% is value it, (so) I will get that. And you then 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 is just not there prepared for you. However you say what, I like this cloth, I like on this fashion, 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 costume shirts a yr on this means.

Whereas making made-to-measure garments is at present 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 massive shops to promote … However massive manufacturers which have lots of brick-and-mortar cannot eliminate these in a single day, so it would not make sense,” Lee stated.

“What’s capturing the market are the up-and-coming individuals … we want extra individuals 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 need to be dedicated to say: I will remove this uncooked materials polyester, for instance, from my provide chain in 5 to 10 years’ time, forcing individuals to search out alternative routes, that are extra sustainable. It’s the manufacturers’ CEOs’ accountability to do this,” Lee stated.

He additionally referred to as for the business to work collectively. “Our business is extremely aggressive (and) sharing secrets and techniques about how we do issues will give one firm benefit over one other,” Lee stated. “However CEOs have to say: OK, what’s extra essential … 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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