AATCC Discovery Summit Envisions Smarter, Better Textile Production
Just as the state of change in the printing industry continues to be both profound and transformative, the state of change and the opportunity for improvement in textile and apparel manufacturing was demonstrated at the recent AATCC Discovery Summit. The event, held in Greenville, South Carolina, and attended by more than 200 textile industry professionals, provided a view of what’s next in textile production, and how technology can bring better production and improved sustainability.
“AATCC is important because we connect the global textile community,” says Diana Wyman, executive vice president for AATCC. “It’s about making those connections and people learning about different things. This event encompasses everything, from design to polymer chemistry, exhibits, awards, and even a student competition. The industry really benefits from the connections that are built here.”
In the event’s opening session, Dr. David Hinks, dean at NC State University’s Wilson College of Textiles shared that the US workforce currently includes more than 500,000 textile and apparel jobs, and the global revenue of the textile industry is expected to increase over the next five years to more than $3 trillion annually. Education, he says, is key to promoting workforce development while also supporting sustainability, gender equality, and economic growth. NC State, he says, fosters the industry through efforts including partnerships with community colleges and an innovation lab for textile-focused entrepreneurs.
Trends in Color Communication
A cluster of presentations focused on color communication, particularly addressing how textiles can be viewed and approved digitally to improve communication during the manufacturing process, which traditionally incurs costs and generates waste as mills and customers work – often across oceans – to meet subjective goals. Keith Hoover, president of Black Swan Textiles and Russell Thorpe, managing director of VeriVide, both presented models for digital-aided color verification that can speed production, reduce waste, and maximize quality.
Beyond Color: Performance
The Summit was not simply about production and color. In a group of presentations discussing wellness and functional finishes, topics included methods to better measure fabric comfort cooling due to moisture evaporation – a great topic amid South Carolina’s palpable humidity – and a discussion of how functional textile coatings can affect thermal regulation. Suraj Sharma, professor of polymer, fiber, and textile sciences at University of Georgia, said that as sustainability efforts move producers toward natural fibers, the need for thermally-regulating functional coatings is likely to grow.
Further sessions in this interest area included proposed, new methods for anti-microbial and odor controlling properties, and how the structural properties of fabrics can increase the drying of perspiration in performance fabrics. A functional printing-focused session, using prints produced by PRINTING United Alliance member Butler Technologies, investigated the washability of screen printed heating elements in garments.
Exploring Sustainable Fabric Dyeing Options
“Sustainable color can, in fact, be better color,’ said Mike Murphy, senior advisor at e.dye, a company that has developed a system to dye yarns as they are spun. Proof of the product, he says, is whether it can be embraced by the fashion industry. He believes yes, but says understanding the sustainability downsides of unlimited color choice of colors will help the industry get there. “When you are selecting a color,” he says, “you are making a sustainability choice.” Despite having an environmentally-preferable product, Murphy says roadblocks to success including inertia, and the belief that sustainability means making a compromise and/or is only right for “fringe” customers. Regarding cost: he says the technology can meet or come in under price parity compared to traditional methods.
In his presentation, Carl Fortin, marketing executive at Archroma, described a process to turn existing textile waste into new dyestuffs. Beginning with the sobering statistic that textile waste is currently estimated at 92 million tons per year, he described how textile waste materials, as well as other waste materials, including agricultural crop waste and cotton gin waste, can be used. Fortin believes the processes he described, which are still being commercialized, are capable of scaling: 1,000 kg of waste can be produce approximately 15,000 kg of dye – enough to dye as many as 300,000 articles.
“Brands are the only ones that can change this industry,” said Kasper Nossent, managing director at DyeCoo, a company that has developed a CO2-based dyeing technology for polyester. To improve production, he said, change is needed – a completely different mindset. The result, he says, is a process that can dye either yarns or fabrics, and which provides a 50% reduction in both carbon and water footprints. Compared to traditional methods, he said the technology is, “at price parity or close to price parity.”
Finally, Yash Jagwani, project manager, synthetic fibers, at CHT Group described new, sustainable methods for dyeing recycled or advanced degraded polyester fibers. The results of the technology, which utilizes lower temperature dyeing approaches, achieved the same results, including color-fastness, of traditional dyeing methods. The presentation was strong evidence that recycled or degraded source materials can result in polyester fibers that meet the needs of today’s textile manufacturers.
Developments in Pigment Inkjet Transfer
Digital textile printing, says Doug Troyer, president of Dreier Technologies, currently accounts for 4-7% of total textile production, which he expects to grow strongly. One factor promoting that growth is the introduction of pigment-based inks and the increased ability to transfer them to natural fibers such as cotton and linen. Speaking about Neenah Coldenhove’s Texcol transfer paper, which today is intended primarily for home furnishings, Troyer explained how its transfer process is different. Unlike dye-sublimation, where only ink is transferred, this process transfers both ink a coating. The result, he reports, is more vivid color and a more sustainable process.
Digging Deeper into Sustainability
Citing facts that only 1% of textiles are recycled back into clothing, and only 12% are moved into “cascaded recycling” (such as use for mattress stuffing), and that the textile manufacturing industry produces 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases and uses 215 trillion liters of water, Leslie Malaki, sustainability product lead at UL Standards & Engagement, illustrated its profound environmental impact. Further, she said poor working conditions, including excessive hours, low wages, and abusive workplaces, are present across the textile food chain. “The fashion industry,” she said, “is built on mass-exploitation.” To answer this, measurement and standards development for sustainability and circularity are needed for the textile industry, and UL is seeking people to get involved in that effort. More information can be found at ulse.org/learn.
In a presentation discussing how sustainable biofuels can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Karen Leonas, PhD, professor, textiles and apparel technology and management at NC State’s of Wilson College of Textiles, said emissions data, including that collected in manufacturing value chains, prompts companies to purchase carbon offsets. While biofuels can be used as offsets, she says, proving sustainability includes a difficult alignment with international standards and guidelines. Thus, efforts in this area suffer, particularly from a lack of standards and reporting harmonization.
One of the final sessions focused on the sustainability of cotton versus rayon. Comparing those materials, Renee Lamb, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said both cotton and rayon work as sustainable materials because they exist at a mass market price-point, and are biodegradable. Water and pesticide use are of concern in cotton production, as is the fact that production may take place within vulnerable populations.
Conversely, rayon is produced from wood pulp, and roughly 75% is produced in China and India. It is man-made, but has natural characteristics. “Rayon can be a great alternative to polyester,” she said. But, the history of the material and the chemicals used to produce it complicate that view. So, cotton or rayon? The answer, she says, depends on the context of production. Concluding, she challenged the industry by quoting Paulo Coelho: “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.”
It was within the context of that quote that the conference ended, with textile chemists and colorists tasked to set new examples, to continue their work to develop and manufacture smarter, better processes and products.
AATCC, the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists, is an organization founded in 1921 that works to connect the global textile community to empower a more innovative, informed, and sustainable future. Learn more at aatcc.org.