Sustainability: the current mega trend for functional materials

Regina Henkel

Published on 02.01.2020

There are currently all sorts of innovative solutions available for fabrics – from recycled fibres to recycling materials, bio-degradability and ways of saving water.

It is seemingly impossible to find any functional fabric these days without some form of ecological innovation. While manufacturers used to boast about who could produce the lightest, sturdiest, most waterproof or breathable fabric, today the most important thing is who can push back the boundaries regarding sustainability of resources and production methods.

No matter whether we are talking about recycled fibres, biodegradable materials, saving water, sustainable finishing or using natural fibres in functional textiles – there are just so many innovative products out there at the moment. This wealth of ideas is also reflected by the product innovations that fabric manufacturers are currently producing for the autumn and winter seasons 2021/22.

The Japanese fibre specialist Teijin has managed to develop the very first triple-layered material that is made entirely of recycled polyester. The degree of purity of the material enables it to be recycled again – an absolute prerequisite if products are to be fully cyclic. To date, laminated triple-layer materials have been virtually impossible to recycle because the membrane was made of a different material to the laminated fabric and they were too difficult to separate from one another.

The discovery of new fibres and rediscovery of old types of fibre also currently play a major role. Nettles, soy, ginger or abaca (banana hemp) are all being turned into fabrics. New resources are continually being used to create viable alternatives to leather and as a reaction to the increasing demand for vegan products. The Mexican company Desserto has introduced just such a substance made from the prickly pear cactus. Raffia made from palm leaves is become ever more popular for bags. In addition, fibre-specialist Tintex presents “EcoHeather”, a thread made from spinning waste from natural fibres like cotton, wool, cashmere, linen, silk or modal and viscose.

Dyeing materials involves the use of many chemicals and a lot of water, which is why we are also seeing many new developments being made in this field too. Manufacturers such as the Japanese fabric producer Toyoshima are beginning to offer textiles which have been coloured using dyes made from waste from the food industry. Water-saving dyeing processes, such as spin-dyeing and dope-dyeing, are also being used ever more widely for fabrics and associated materials. They are being used for the first time for products such as zippers, which are no longer dyed but already have their pigments added during spinning, so that the dyeing process can be left out entirely.

New production methods have also been introduced by the US-American fibre specialist Primaloft. It has reduced its CO2 emissions by around half by not heating the fibres at all during the production of insulating wadding. This technology is going to be first applied on the Primaloft Gold Series and will be extended to cover their full range of products over the next few years. Another important topic is the avoidance of micro plastics by developing new fleece fabrics that shed less fibres during washing and while being worn. The textile industry is, on the one hand, researching new fabric designs that bind the pile better, such as with Polartec, and is also looking at other biobased fibres that are more biodegradable.

Image: Primaloft