Brands are also demanding more ecologically friendly alternatives for their apparel and textile finishes

Brands are also demanding more ecologically friendly alternatives for their apparel and textile finishes

As functional finishes for textile products become increasingly effective and innovative, producers are looking for new ways to meet brands’ environmental concerns with ecologically friendly solutions.

In addition, brands are seeking finishes that can be used together with complementary effects to create multi-purpose materials, such as for sportswear.

For instance, fire protection is one area that is benefiting from mixing different finishes, says Shannon Walton, spokesperson for Schoeller Textil USA. For instance, its offers ‘Pyroshell’ flame protection fabrics, which can be made from polyamide or polyester, in mono-elastic, bi-elastic or non-elastic formats. 

These fabrics can be made more potent by incorporating the company’s ‘Coldblack’ finishing process – which imparts properties preventing the absorption of heat rays – and its 3XDry finishing process, which makes the material better able to keep the wearer cool and dry.

Brands are also demanding more ecologically friendly alternatives for their apparel and textile finishes. Schoeller is working on more environmentally friendly finishing processes where producers can use the same dyestuffs but consume 30% less water and 30% less electricity.

“There are so many dyes that already exist…it’d be a shame to waste it. But if we can use more of that and use less water, less electricity, and less time, it would save quite a bit,” says Walton.

She tells just-style that the company is working on improving its 3XDry treatment, which wicks sweat from the body and spreads it over the surface of the fabric so that it dissipates quickly. This finish helps prevent sweat stains on garments and maintains a comfortable wearing experience for the user. The company is looking at creating a chlorofluorocarbon-free product.

Renewably sourced water repellent

Meanwhile, US-based finishing chemical major Huntsman earlier this year released an innovative renewably sourced water repellent treatment called ‘Zelan R3’. The finish contains 63% plant-based sources devoid of genetically modified and food source feedstock, according to a company note.

Zelan R3 repels water and common water-based liquids including fruit juice, hot coffee and red wine, says Huntsman. Textile and apparel producers can use it with a variety of fabrics such as cotton and synthetics and blends.

“Brands are increasingly demanding products that are sustainable and renewably sourced without sacrificing high performance durability. Zelan R3 finish was developed to satisfy this demand,” says Lee Howarth, global marketing manager from Huntsman Textile Effects, the Singapore-based arm of the US-based Huntsman Corporation.

Zelan R3 complies with Oeko-Tex Standard 100 requirements and the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) group’s Manufacturers Restricted Substance List (MRSL).

In addition to helping brands meet demand for environmentally friendly products, finishes can also help companies meet tightening environmental standards. For instance, Huntsman has extended its ‘Avitera SE’ dye range to include the reactive black dye Avitera Black SE, which can help companies meet “increasingly stringent environmental standards.”

The company stressed traditional reactive black dyes can potentially be impure, containing the hazardous substance p-chloroaniline (PCA). The new black dye, as with the range, is essentially free (current detection limit 5ppm) from restricted arylamines, including PCA.

These can help companies meet restrictions on hazardous substances in treated textile articles, including Oeko-Tex, Bluesign, ZDHC and the Restricted Substance List (RSL) standards of the world’s premier brands.

Mills using Avitera Black SE can also achieve water and energy savings of up to 50%, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% or more; and its low temperature and high speed wash off properties can reduce processing time to boost production by 25% or more compared to commodity black dyes, claimed Huntsman technical notes.

Innovative ideas

Japanese finishers are also particularly innovative. Aware that they cannot compete with other manufacturing nations on costs, Japanese textile companies have focused their efforts on producing innovative and high-quality products that meet – and surpass – consumers' needs.

"In 2014 and 2015, innovations in fibres and fabric in Japan continue to concentrate on a few core areas, primarily in sportswear and protective clothing," Andrius Balsys, a research analyst with Euromonitor, told just-style.

"These industrial buyers are also willing to pay more than other textile fibre consumers due to the superior performance of these fabrics in comparison to traditional ones," he added. "Another common trend that we are seeing for most buyers is an increasing demand for environment-friendly fabrics."

Teijin Ltd is one of Japan’s leaders in research and development of innovative fabrics, including products for the sportswear sector that offer protection from wind, UV light and precipitation, as well as being sweat-absorbing and fast-drying.

Fabrics such as Deltapeak, Eco Storm, Odor-Control - Type EP and Solotex offer different attributes, including softness, durability, elasticity and UV protection, while Teijin is also applying different fabrics in layers to give finished products even more resistance, Balsys says.

Teijin has also been leading the pack in terms of protective clothing, developing new generations of flame-retardant. Its FCX-210 additive has proved effective in improving protection from flames for most synthetic fabrics.

One of the company's most eye-catching achievements is the creation of a piezoelectric fabric that is able to inform the person wearing the clothing, or a supervisor on a work site, that it has been damaged or that the wearer has sustained an injury.

Producers of fibres and fabrics are also stepping up their use of organic feedstock, Balsys says, as they attempt to reduce their dependence on volatile oil supplies, as well as to meet demand for products that are kind to the environment and reduce pollution.

For instance, Toray Industries Inc, another of Japan's world-leading fabrics companies, has been promoting an environment-friendly polyester fibre called Ecodear PET that is produced by polymerising petroleum-based terephthalic acid (TPA) and mono-ethylene glycol (MEG), which is produced from sugar cane. The plant-based polymer accounts for 30% of the polyester fibre.

With additional reporting by Julian Ryall.