Fabric is a cloth, or other material, produced by weaving, knitting or felting textile fibres. There are many different kinds of textiles, between all of those, every textile is chosen depending on the purpose and the qualities expected for its final use.
There are textiles which have been created very recently whilst others have ancient origins. Each of them has its own piece of story behind, sometimes belonging to a country’s culture, for instance, Silk in China.
The truth is that many things have changed about the production of textiles and their use: the number of inhabitants of the world, the number of items people need and their quality.
An increasing demand for textiles together with the growth of the market has been estimated for the next 7 years. Meanwhile, practises and processes regarding the production and utilization of textiles need to be reconsidered, as the industry continues to produce negative effects on the environment and socio-economic issues.
Types of Raw Materials
Clothes are made from a wide range of different textiles. Some are sourced from natural fibres, others are synthetic materials derived from sources such as fossil fuel-based crude oil.
Natural fibres are plant-based or animal-based and they include cotton, linen, flax, silk, wool and others. Synthetic fibres are mainly polyester and polyamide (Nylon). There is another category called man-made cellulosic fibres, to which viscose belongs.
The three main categories of application
The textile market can be segmented into household, technical, fashion and clothing, and other categories of application. Fashion and clothing held a considerable share of over 70% of the total market and, according to the Market Analysis Report, it is forecasted to be the fastest-growing.
The household category includes bedding, kitchen products, upholstery, curtains and towels. For their manufacture are primarily used fibres such as cotton and linen as well as synthetic fibres including polyester and acrylic polyamides.
Technical textiles are those whose application occur in industries including construction, transportation, medical, and protective equipment. Nylon, polypropylene, polyester, and acrylic fibres are some of the widely used raw materials used for manufacturing technical textiles.
A shortcut to Kleiderly’s Fabric Series.
Cotton is a soft, absorbent and breathable natural fibre. It is highly demanded for textiles, however its overproduction causes some environmental problems and social issues. Organic cotton is produced using less chemicals and can minimise the negative impact of this textile.
Polyester is a synthetic (man-made) fibre produced with petroleum, coal, water and air. In 2015, Forbes reported that yearly more than 70 billion barrels of oil are used in polyester production. Synthetic-based clothing is one the largest microplastic polluters in the oceans which happens through wash-off of around 1,900 fibres from just one clothing item in every wash.
Silk is a shimmering textile known for its satin texture and famous for being a luxurious fabric. It takes around 35,000 silkworm cocoons to make 5.5kg of raw silk. On the other hand, it is a biodegradable, compostable material. Compared to cotton there is far less impact on land, water and air, and it doesn’t involve the use of pesticides.
Denim is a durable cotton or cotton-blend twill textile used to make jeans. It is a strong fabric made using the warp and weft weaving method which results in a diagonal denim ribbing.
Viscose is a cellulosic fabric made from wood pulp. Viscose is also called Rayon and was first produced in 1883 as a cheaper alternative to silk. Natural sources are limited to the beginning of the process for the textile production, followed by a very polluting manufacturing procedure, which is the reason why the fabric is classified as semi-synthetic.
Wool is a type of textile which is obtained from the hair of sheep, but also other animals such as goats, alpacas, etc. The chemical structure of this fibre is quite different from others, as wool consists of a small percentage of fats (lipids) and protein.
Nylon is a synthetic man-made fibre derived from petrochemicals, which is used extensively throughout the fashion industry. Nylon is a generic name for several synthetic polyamides. Silk is a polyamide which can be found naturally whilst Nylon is man-made in laboratories.
Linen is a processed plant-based fibre derived from flax plants, also called Linum Usitatissimum. In terms of environmental sustainability, flax is often considered a preferred fibre with less harmful impact. The kind of processing methods and treatments determine the eventual environmental impact, to be 100% sustainable that has to be produced in an organic way.
Elastane is a lightweight, synthetic fibre that is used to make stretchable clothing such as sportswear. It is made up of a long chain polymer called polyurethane. Elastane also results in water pollution, as it contains microplastics which finally returns to the ocean, where it is washed away.
The bigger picture: The Global Fibre Market and forecasting
According to recently published statistics, the category of synthetic fibres has been estimated to have a 63 per cent market share of the global fibre consumption in 2019 and polyester owns most of it. Cotton is the second most important fibre in terms of volumes, in 2019 the consumption of cotton was equivalent to 25% of the overall fabrics. The category of the man-made cellulosic fibre is becoming increasingly important with a market share of around 7%. The remaining 5% corresponds to other natural fibres such as linen, silk, wood, etc.
The market of textiles is huge and highly fragmented. Its size was valued at USD 961.5 billion in 2019. Over the last 20 years, the global fibre production has doubled and it has been estimated at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.3% from 2020 to 2027.
In order to reduce the footprint of the fibre and material production on the planet, it is time to invest research and development efforts for preferred fibre to use for the textile production.
Why the urgent need to find alternative textiles?
The increasing demand for textile production has significant impacts on people and the planet. The awareness of the issues provoked by the industry is increasing and both players and consumers understand the need for a more responsible use of resources. It is needed to limit the extraction of raw materials which can’t be replenished as fast as they are withdrawn from their natural path.
5 facts about the biggest issues of the textile industry
According to Ellen MacArthur Foundation:
If the industry continues on its current path, by 2050, textiles production would use more than 25% of the carbon budget for a 2°C pathway.
The overall life cycle process of clothing (production, assembling, transporting, selling and disposal) puts pressure on resources, pollutes the environment and creates negative societal impacts.
20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles.
Around 48 million tonnes of clothes are disposed of annually, with 87 per cent of them sent to landfills or incinerated!
Through washing synthetic textiles (polyester, nylon, etc), the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles are leaked into the ocean every year.
How is the sector dealing with the environmental footprint?
The “fashion footprint” term is an everyday topic being argued and tackled from many players of the sector and from those involved actively to bring awareness and enhancements for a more sustainable industry. Organizations that stimulate the emergence of a better fashion industry are not lacking.
Accelerating programs like Fashion for Good, big organizations focused on the circular economy like Ellen Macarthur Foundation, Fashion Revolution with the Fashion Transparency Index and many others, are the ones who keep unified the highly fragmented market, fostering collaborations through which the industry can finally see innovative results.
The world of fashion sustainability is composed of different categories of players:
The big giants’ fashion retailers set their sustainability goals and look for alternative solutions to achieve them; ethical brands are born with the mission to create a less footprint to the environment; entities that work for accelerating and establish the commitment to sustainability; and startups which bring the most of the innovations and solutions.
What are the innovations in the textile industry?
Any kind of awareness in the fashion world can be transformed into a trend, and to be fashion sustainable should become the most important trend practise to follow.
Innovation towards a circular economy and a more responsible use of resource can be seen in almost all fibre categories. Textile Exchange, has the mission to inspire and equip people to accelerate sustainable practices in the textile value chain. They focus on minimizing the harmful impacts of the global textile industry and maximizing its positive effects.
Reducing the environmental impacts of textiles involves a supply-chain wide effort. The Textile Exchange Report produces a long list of the ongoing research and preferred material which have been used as alternative sources. Indeed, managing impacts at the production stage is a key contributor, to limit the extraction of raw materials and use a less polluting process to produce textiles.
Also, textiles have to be designed to last longer and recycled. Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Global Fashion Agenda are sharing many facts about the high amounts of clothes disposed every year and about the small quantity of textiles recycled. This is another wake-up call for a circular economy system in the fashion industry.
What can we do?
The fashion industry can make a big difference to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. There are 17 points regarding the respect for the environment and human rights of every single citizen of this planet.
We are all able to make the difference. Us as consumers, retailers, manufacturers, farmers, influencers, CEOs. All of us are responsible for raising awareness, choosing better textiles, buying items we really need, disposing properly of items we do not want any more, being fashionable but at the same time conscious!
At Kleiderly we keep waste of clothes away from landfills and incinerators by giving them a new life, find out how it works!