New Technologies in Sustainability

...an A-Z guide of the latest developments in textiles

by Alina Rätsep
The textile industry is quickly changing to accommodate for pro-activity in fashion. Many new fabrics are being developed to reduce the detrimental impact that fashion has on the world and the environment. Making changes to adjust to a new way of thinking, and a new way of living should not be a choice, but an obligation. NJAL's Aline Rätsep has provided an A-Z guide of the latest developments in fabrics and technology for a cleaner fashion industry.

A
AirDye® Technology

Is a revolutionary technique that allows waterless application of color to textiles. By using air instead of water to convey dye, no hazardous waste is emitted and no water is wasted. The process also requires considerably less energy compared to the traditional dyeing methods, and therefore, lowers production costs. AirDye® does not use boilers, screen printing machines, drying ovens, or cleaning and scouring chemicals, thereby eliminating major sources of pollution. It also produces superior results compared to sublimation printing and conventional dyeing, resulting in richer colours with maximum colour durability.

B
Bamboo

Is an abundant and renewable natural resource as the fastest growing plant in the world. Bamboo grows to its maximum height in about 3 months and reaches maturity in 3-4 years, and is able to flourish without fertilizers or pesticides. It is strong and resilient, yet also amazingly soft and silky. It is more absorbent than cotton and has natural antibacterial properties.

Banana Fibre
Is a strong and versatile material. Known in the Philippines as ‘Manila hemp’, and Japan as ‘basho-fu’, it is made from the spent banana plant, which is a waste product left behind after the banana fruit have been harvested. The fibres differ depending on the part of the stem they come from; the outer layers are tougher and can be used to substitute jute, while inside layers are reminiscent of the finest silk. Banana fabric has a smooth and crisp surface, and is famed for its airiness.

C
Crabyon™ (Crab Shell)

Is made with a blend of chitosan (a compound from crab shells) and viscose. As a waste product from the shellfish industry, crab shells are an abundant and renewable resource. With a chemical structure similar to that of cellulose, the chitosan used in Crabyon™ fabric is versatile, durable, easy to dye and silky soft to the touch. It is also completely biodegradable.

Catalytic Clothing
Is the brainchild of designer Helen Storey and chemist Tony Ryan. The process at the centre of the Catalytic Clothing project is described as ‘photocatalyst’, which is when the particles on the surface of the fabric become reactive when light shines on them. Photocatalysts break down water molecules in the air into highly reactive radicals, which then interact with and neutralise pollutants such as nitrogen oxide. Still in development, the finished product is expected to be completed within the next year and half. The key idea is that if enough people wore it there could be a “noticeable reduction in the level of pollution” in cities.

D
Drying

Fabrics using radio frequencies rather than ovens is an eco-friendly process that requires much less heat than conventional methods, and is 2 to 20 times faster compared to either mechanical or thermal drying. In radio frequency drying systems, a Radio Frequency generator creates an alternating electric field between two electrodes. The material to be dried is placed between the electrodes, where the alternating energy causes polar molecules in the water to continuously re-orient to face opposite poles. This movement causes friction, which, in turn, makes the water in the material rapidly evaporate.

3D Printing
Is the emerging technology, which uses ultraviolet beams to fuse layers of powdered, recyclable thermoplastic into shape, leaving behind virtually no waste. Its numerous benefits include reduced need for transportation due to the localized environment of the production process, as well as one-size-fits-all approach, which requires less labor and reduces production time to a matter of hours.

E
Enzymes

Replace chemicals or even entire processes that pose danger to the environment. For example, enzymes replace alkali (or oxidizing agents) in fabric desizing, reduce the use of sulfide in tanneries, as well as effectively remove stains from fabrics at low temperatures to preserve energy. Enzymes degrade much faster than many other chemicals used in textile mills. When water from textile production reaches the waste-water treatment plant, enzymes are deactivated into tiny pieces of protein and carbohydrate that function as food for beneficial microorganisms. From here they are degraded into harmless compounds.

F
Finishing

Is one of the most important stages in garment production, with high water usage – especially in denim manufacturing. To help resolve the issue and save water, denim brand Levi’s® came up with a new 'WaterFish Leather
Boasts remarkable quality, resilience and strength – and is almost always a byproduct of the food industry. Fish leather processing is also less polluting compared to other animal skins. It is inexpensive, readily available, and sustainable. An increasing number of designers are using it in their lines, including Alexander Wang and Manolo Blahnik.

G
Greenfil®

Is a high-performance eco-sustainable yarn that was developed by Sofila, the French nylon yarn specialist, in partnership with chemical company Arkema. This 100% renewable nylon yarn is derived from castor beans, and can be used to produce durable textiles. It also boasts anti-bacterial properties. The castor plant's beans are used for the production of Greenfil® and are grown on poor land that cannot be farmed, without irrigation or fertilizers. The beans are not produced from genetically modified seeds and are 100% renewable biomass.

H
Hemp
 
Is an excellent substitute for cotton with a considerably reduced pesticide use. Hemp plants are naturally pest tolerant and grow astonishingly fast, able to thrive in a wide variety of climates. Hemp fabric is versatile. Although often seen as an alternative to cotton, it is softer, stronger, more durable, and much more absorbent.

I
Ingeo™

is dubbed a “natural synthetic” and can be made from almost any naturally occurring sugar, such as corn, sugar beets, sugar cane and wheat. Ingeo™ is biodegradable, however, when exposed to high heat and moisture, it can break down prematurely. A component of a wide variety of textile styles from cotton-type dress fabrics to high-tech lustrous sportswear, it combines the advantages of natural and synthetic fibres, drying faster than natural fibres and outperforming synthetic fibres with its breathability, comfort and insulation properties.

J
Soya Jersey

Is a by-product of pressing soy oil, which is fully bio-degradable. It’s a luxuriously soft, comfortable, breathable jersey with great drape, often called ‘vegetable cashmere’ for this reason. Like silk, soy jersey is warm in winter and cool in summer, and offers excellent UV protection. Not only it is thoroughly sustainable, it is also softer and more durable than cotton.

K
Knitting

Is an age-old technique with a brand new application, thanks to the sportswear giant Nike and its 'Flyknit' trainer. Using both flat and circular knitting technologies Nike created a featherweight, formfitting, and virtually seamless upper, inspired by runners who wanted a shoe that hugged the contours of the foot like a second skin. The concept spent four years in development, and involved a team of programmers, engineers, and designers who mapped out a precise framework of knit and cabled structures to provide the necessary support, flexibility, and breathability in a single layer. The result is a shoe that weights an impressive 5.6 ounces.

L
Lenpur™

Is a Rayon-type fabric made from white fir (pine tree) cellulose. It is exceptionally soft to the touch, and has thermoregulatory properties and great absorption capacity, an ability to release dampness, deodorant properties. White firs grow quicker than other types of soft wood, and can be farmed fairly densely.

M
Milkofil™

Is a soft fibre made from casein milk protein. To create the fibre, liquid milk is dried and its proteins are extracted. The proteins are then dissolved in a chemical solution and placed into a polymerizing machine to produce fibre, which is then spun into yarn. Milk fabric is relatively inexpensive but is highly durable, is breathable and captures moisture. It is said to improve circulation. The fibre is super soft and feels luxurious. Furthermore, milk fabrics are produced from surplus milk proteins not intended for food.

N
Stinging Nettles

Produce surprisingly soft, cotton-like fabric. Nettle plants grow quickly without pesticides and fertilisers, and on land that cannot be farmed for other plants. Nettle yarn is often blended with wool to strengthen the material and reduce shrinkage.

P
Recycled Polyester

Requires less energy and fewer resources for its production, offering a low-impact alternative to traditional polyester. Recycling synthetic fibres involves breaking down the fibre at molecular level and then repolymerising the feedstock. This type of polyester is usually made from post-consumer and post-industrial waste. For example, the yarn made from post-consumer waste uses plastic bottles, while post-industrial waste includes scraps of fabric and yarn waste. With advanced technology and improved production quality, the resulting fibre can be comfortable, highly breathable and feels like silk jersey.

S
S. Café™

Fabric is made from post-consumer waste coffee grounds. It has the ability not only to control odor, but also to protect from UV rays and is fast drying. The fabric contains various amounts of coffee grounds, but generally, 3 cups of coffee are used to make enough fabric for a simple t-shirt.

Sasawashi
Is a linen type fabric made from Japanese paper and Kumazasa herb. Washi used in Sasawashi fabric has excellent absorbency and keeps the moisture within the fiber. Another component of the fabric, the Kumazasa herb, has excellent antibacterial and deodorant effects. Despite being made from paper, the fabric is durable and washable as washi is structurally water-repellent compared to other paper, and is designed to have maximal waterproof ability.

Seacell
Is a new product made from seaweed cellulose mixed with Lyocell. The porous, open structure of Seacell absorbs the extra moisture from the skin, while the skin is said to absorb the vitamin and mineral-rich elements of the seaweed.

T
Tencel®C

Features oceanic micro particles, which, when in direct contact with the skin, are said to provide a cell-renewing effect. It also acts as a moisturizer and skin protector and keeps the skin's elasticity.

U
Ultrasound

Is being explored in the production of cloth, such as using ultrasound for dyeing, thereby eliminating the use of water entirely. The use of ultrasound in textile wet processing offers many potential advantages including energy savings, process enhancement and reduced processing times.

Z
Zero-waste

Is a pattern design technique that eliminates fabric waste at the design and manufacturing stages, which is on average 15% to 20% of the used fabric.