At Eastman Naia, activating the creative potential of sustainable fibers in fashion

At Eastman Naia, activating the creative potential of sustainable fibers in fashion

Globally, the fashion industry is responsible for around 40 million tonnes of textile waste a year, most of which is either sent to landfill or incinerated, according to BoF’s The State of Fashion 2022 report. and McKinsey & Co. Textile production, on the other hand, consumes large amounts of water, land and raw materials. There is a growing moral and financial imperative for brands to invest in more sustainable fibers early in the supply chain as consumer and regulatory pressure increases.

Cellulose fiber brand Eastman Naia is one such company working to provide a more sustainable solution. Creating a fiber derived from sustainably managed forests, the wood pulp is fed into a closed-loop production process, which means solvents are recycled back into the system for reuse. The end product is a bio-based cellulosic fiber or yarn used in fabrics for fashion and home textiles.

Cross-industry collaboration is an important part of the company’s strategy to improve the sustainability of the textile industry. In partnership with the TextileGenesis traceability platform, Eastman Naia provides a blockchain technology platform allowing brands to track the path taken by Naia fiber from raw material to final garment.

Throughout its production process, a list of sustainability certifications is applied to the company’s commitments. The company has achieved Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and the product itself has achieved Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification, while also receiving official biodegradable and compostable certification from Tüv Austria.

Adoptions of brands ranging from Patagonia to Zara, H&M and Reformation are bringing Eastman Naia fibers into the mainstream. Continuing its efforts, the company’s Naia Renew product utilizes waste en route to end-of-life landfill. By using its patented molecular recycling technology to break waste down into blocks and produce the same cellulosic fiber, Naia Renew reduces its carbon footprint by up to 35%.

Today, BoF sits down with Ruth Farrell, General Manager of Textiles at Eastman Naia, to discuss the changing use cases for its products, the importance of earning brand and consumer trust and innovations that contribute to its business objectives.

Ruth Farrell, General Manager, Textiles at Eastman Naia.

How is the industry’s attitude towards sustainable fibers changing?

RF: Today brands want to use sustainable fibers – the conversation has moved outside of the sustainability department and is now with designers. Companies and brands are beginning to understand the importance of sustainable innovation. We are now seeing brands committing to ambitious sustainability goals and science-based ESG goals. The value chain – spinners, spinning mills and garment manufacturers – is also realizing the importance of sustainability and responding to this brand need.

The consumer, of course, is driving much of this behavior, but it is important that governments establish regulations and guidelines for businesses navigating this space, in addition to working alongside NGOs to accelerate the current momentum around sustainability.

No one can own it – all parts of the value chain, from fiber manufacturer to brand, need to be committed to bringing sustainable fibers to market.

What are the use cases for Eastman Naia’s sustainable fibers?

RF: When we started 5 years ago, it was with our Naia filament yarn, designed for elegant, mid- to high-end fashion, so women’s ready-to-wear and linings. Our second product, basic Naia, is more focused on casual wear and home textiles.

The Naia staple has opened up a whole new world of application areas to us, including loungewear, sweaters and home textiles, and it has changed people’s opinion of what acetate fiber of cellulose can do. Our staple fiber has achieved cozy comfort in fabrics, as well as many functional benefits such as fast drying time and reduced pilling.

How do you educate and engage end consumers about your process?

RF: Lasting solutions are continuous education, and the process of education itself has changed over the years. In the beginning, we worked a lot on trade shows, then on social networks, and more recently, we have worked a lot with design schools like the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to teach and inspire the youngest. generation on the use of sustainable fibers.

We also sponsor the Rise Up Sustainable Fashion Design Challenge, a fashion design competition in Shanghai where competitors from around the world use our yarns and fibers to create new collections. It’s instructive for us to see what can be done with our products, but at the same time it shows a wider audience that sustainable fibers are not a compromise, but rather a high quality material option.

Today brands want to use sustainable fibers – the conversation has moved outside of the sustainability department and is now with designers.

The work of this new generation of designers demonstrates the opportunity that lies in using this different fiber to create a very different fabric, concept and design. It also informs our collaborations with brands, as they can see the possibilities of using Naia. It’s a huge channel for education and awareness.

How does Eastman Naia approach end-of-life product strategies?

RF: The Naia product line is biodegradable and compostable. We are also trying to use more recycled content and recently launched Naia Renew ES (Enhanced Sustainability) in partnership with Patagonia, a fiber made from 60% recycled content and 40% renewable wood pulp.

This program is a key part of our multi-generational strategy to increase the amount of recycled content used to make our products, and we are also focused on increasing the percentage of recycled textile content so that we can begin to close the loop.

Which sustainability commitments and benchmarks do you think are most important to driving industry transformation?

RF: I believe everyone should have a holistic view of sustainability. Over three years ago, we launched our Naia Fabric Certification Program to provide brands with assurance that their fabrics are indeed made with sustainably sourced Naia fibers. More recently, we adopted TextileGenesis as an additional traceability tool in our portfolio to reassure our value chain and brand partners about our processes.

Being in cellulosics, we must have a responsible approach to wood pulp sourcing, chemical use, manufacturing process, end of life, biodegradability and recycled content. There are a number of certifications that target different elements of our process, but a holistic approach to sustainability is essential. You can’t have a great story about responsibly sourcing wood pulp and then create a negative situation with dangerous chemicals. Many brands are also aware of this.

CanopyStyle, for example, now has huge momentum, with over 500 fashion brand partners backing them. They review fiber manufacturers producing cellulosics and rank them against a benchmark. We just learned that we won a dark green jersey in their 2022 ranking and we are very proud of it.

To promote sustainable practices and for brands to adopt them, you need to be able to supply these fibers at scale.

I believe we all have the same ultimate goal, which is to make the fashion industry healthier and fix the past – it’s extremely complex. For example, with recycled content sourcing, there is often no infrastructure in place to collect, sort and create these recycled raw material streams, so we work with many organizations to develop policies and practical guidelines, as well as pilot projects that can demonstrate that it can work. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but you try again. It’s a journey and working together will get us there faster.

What new technologies are on the horizon at Eastman Naia?

RF: We are increasing the amount of recycled content feedstock our system can handle with our carbon renewal technology. Essentially, we take raw materials – for example, carpets recovered from landfills – and break them down into molecular building blocks. Thus, we create a raw material for acetic acid, which becomes Naia Renew’s 40% recycled content.

The reality is that in order to promote sustainable practices and for brands to adopt them, you need to be able to supply these fibers at scale. To achieve this, we are investing heavily in our Kingsport plant to develop our carbon renewal technology, which will allow us to commercialize these solutions on a large scale.

What excites you about the future of innovation and adoption of sustainable fibres?

RF: The level of commitment to sustainability in the fashion industry. Across the value chain, from fiber manufacturers to mills, spinners, apparel manufacturers and brands, we see commitment to sustainability goals as well as real action.

We are celebrating our fifth anniversary this month and it is great to see unprecedented levels of interest in sustainable fibres. Governments, NGOs and the end consumer are aware of the problem and are seeking information. We have a huge way to go, but we are seeing an acceleration which is only encouraging for the future.

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