Select your language: EN JP

Industry Event Recap: Innovate Textile Week 2021

Tiffany Hua, Senior Research Associate
December 28, 2021

COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a lasting impact on the textile industry, where global disruptions have forced the sector to rapidly adapt and innovate to survive. As the industry recovers, it is clear that resiliency has been hugely lacking and must be made the top priority moving forward. Brands must be ready to handle future supply chain disruptions, evolving consumer demands, and emerging policy.

To understand the textile industry’s strategies and priorities in depth, Lux Research attended the Innovate Textile Week Conference hosted by World Textile Information Network, where we collected insights from leaders in the sector. The virtual conference touched on a breadth of topics, including sustainability, digitalization, technology advancements, supply chain innovation, and policy. In this Insight, Lux highlights the textile industry's most pressing issues and promising innovations discussed at the conference.

  • Supply chain disruptions galore, with traceability key to resiliency. It's no shock that supply chain disruptions and innovations were the most discussed topics, with traceability and digitalization driving the conversation. Throughout the conference, panelists pointed out the gaps and fragility of the textile supply chain, with companies still struggling with production stoppages, trade suspension, and retail sales. In addition, controversy regarding forced labor and sourcing from unethical suppliers in China's Xinjiang region further stressed the need for traceability. Still, traceability in the textile industry is at an early stage for the majority, which means plenty of opportunities to engage. Various types of traceability tools and companies were singled out, including digital sales platforms like Serai Trade and blockchain tools. Textile manufacturers and suppliers like Lever Style use digital sales platforms to track and communicate with their supply chain network. This company has embraced digitalization, providing sourcing and production capabilities through a digital service. Lever Style is also data driven, using e-commerce sales data to help inform its partners. Aside from forging more robust connections in the complex global supply chain and promoting transparency, blockchain and digital ID technologies support circularity and reduce counterfeits, panelists pointed out. These technologies enable proper labeling of materials and end-of-life guidelines, which can enable reuse, repair, and recycling of textiles. Blockchain technologies are still early stage, but solutions like Circularise and EON Group are leading the way forward.

  • Material sourcing discussions centered on sustainability. The word "sustainability" repeated like a broken record throughout discussions, and material sourcing was the most frequently called-out strategy. According to textile equipment supplier Oerlikon, 38% of greenhouse gas emissions of the apparel and footwear value chain comes from material production. There are opportunities to improve the manufacturing processes of incumbent materials as well as introduce alternative materials such as recycled, bio-based, and man-made cellulosic fibers. In panels discussing textile fiber and nonwovens trends, man-made cellulosic fibers were often highlighted for their scaling potential. Specifically, Lenzing and Spinnova pointed out their scaling strategy, with Spinnova citing its goal of reaching 1 million tons of annual capacity by 2031. Recycling was also called out as a top priority for many brands, although the majority of recycled-content claims are bottle-to-textile recycling. Oerlikon highlighted its stake in Worn Again’s polycotton solvent recycling process, a technology still in early stages. Oerlikon also discussed the company's biopolymer processing capabilities, where it is currently investigating opportunities. However, panelists stated that at this point, volumes of biopolymers are very limited for drop-in replacements. Novel bio-based polymers that may have biodegradable end-of-life attributes like polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are still being developed for fiber applications.

  • Demand is up for nonwovens, an area where innovation is needed. There was considerable focus on nonwoven textiles, which have seen a sales boom due to the pandemic-driven need for single-use products such as personal protective equipment and face masks. Not surprising, then, that sustainability was a difficult topic for nonwovens as 70% of nonwoven material is still synthetic with no good end-of-life path. There is activity in exploring alternative materials and polymers including polylactic acid, polybutylene succinate, starch, and cellulose to replace synthetic nonwovens and filtration materials. We've heard from companies like Kimberly-Clark that are targeting a reduction of plastic by 50% by 2030. Kimberly-Clark has partnered up with RWDC to explore whether PHAs are a viable replacement for nonwovens. Panelists stated that the largest challenge of using these alternative materials is still matching the performance of synthetics and the high cost of these solutions — these replacement materials may require modifications to production equipment, so aren't yet drop-ins.

  • Regulation is evolving, with European policy development imminent. The regulatory landscape is changing. We heard from EURATEX about potential EU policy agendas that will boost the textile industry through the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan. EURATEX teased potential upcoming EU legislation that would have major impacts on companies in areas such as textile waste criteria, compulsory due diligence, extended producer responsibility, and product environmental footprinting. As part of the new EU Industrial Strategy, the textile industry is one of 14 sector ecosystems for which the EU will develop a transition pathway or an EU Textiles Strategy. The EU will issue final statements about its new textiles strategy in December 2021, with adoption slated to start in 2022.

  • China focused the conversation on improved efficiencies, digital developments, and domestic markets. Across the world, we also heard from the China National Textile & Apparel Council (CNTAC) and its five-year plan for the textile and apparel sector in China. CNTAC focused less on policy and more on trade and incremental improvements in climate-change mitigation. While CNTAC mentioned that China aims to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, the textile sector is a smaller contributor to China’s emissions than energy and steel. Still, CNTAC is working to promote carbon reduction and transparency via an industry alliance of upstream and downstream players in China. CNTAC is pushing to digitalize China’s textile and apparel industry to enable data tracking and enhance supply chain transparency. Looking to the future, CNTAC predicts that the Chinese textile industry will undergo drastic improvements to fiber and textile quality and see a flourishing domestic textile market and brand recognition.

  • Digitalization and agile manufacturing are fueling customization trends. Customization was another topic mentioned repeatedly throughout the conference as costs are starting to ease thanks to advancements in agile textile manufacturing and to e-commerce trends. Throughout the conference, we saw multiple promotions of digital printing from companies like KyoceraEpson, and Kornit Digital that use ink-jet pigments. While much of the textile printing market is still 87% screen printing, digital printing technologies are predicted to grow in market share. These “microfactory” technologies enable on-demand production of textiles and apparel, which also supports bespoke customization that can integrate with e-commerce solutions to enhance consumer experiences. These technologies also may be appealing due to sustainability and onshoring factors. Kornit Digital talked up its ability to be agile, enabling flexible design in real time. The company said its system’s benefits included on-demand manufacturing, reduction of excessive stock, and lower water and energy use.

  • Functional coatings take a small step forward while smart textiles take a backseat. While COVID has sped up the development and adoption of functional coatings like anti-microbial coatings, smart textiles, which are riddled with technical and market challenges, took a backseat at the conference. Advanced Functional Fabrics of America shared the difficulties of commercializing functional and smart textiles while there's still a huge gap between lab stage and production readiness. We heard from companies like Aries USA and Soliyarn who are developing face masks and functional textile coatings, respectively. When discussing the challenges, the panelists mentioned difficulties in finding market fit, changing consumer psychology, and current technology gaps placing smart textiles years away from meaningful commercialization. One panelist stated that commercialization of smart textiles is likely to start as a sudden wave or hot trend set off by early adopters. Sustainability and end of life was also a tough topic for functional and smart textiles as these products typically are made of multiple materials that are difficult to separate or disassemble.

A week of collecting insights from leaders at Innovate Textile Week 2021 makes it clear that players across the textile industry must prioritize resiliency and prepare to handle future supply chain disruptions, evolving consumer demands, and policy changes. While there are lively disagreements over what is the first step toward sustainability and resiliency, transparency and digitalization via auditing of supply chains give an organization the full picture of supply chain risks and fragilities when developing long-term strategies; only then can first movers have the true advantage going forward as de-risking supply chain is as critical as tackling new market opportunities in sustainability, digitalization, and innovation.

Antimicrobial Coatings at the Front Line of COVID-19

Antimicrobial Coatings at the Front Line of COVID-19

Read More
The Future of Plastic Recycling Report

The Future of Plastic Recycling Report

Read More
Press Release: Global Megatrends Will Transform the Chemical Industry Over the Next 20 Years

Press Release: Global Megatrends Will Transform the Chemical Industry Over the Next 20 Years

Read More
More Materials Research
Schedule Your Demo