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Why is polyester a problem for industry?



Fashion has a polyester problem.

It is the most widely used clothing fiber in the world. But as a synthetic material made of plastic Polyester requires a lot of energy to produce and is highly polluted in water and air, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

The fashion industry is trying to fix this. But there’s no easy fix, according to the CEO of one of the world’s largest apparel makers. “Up until now (a) the raw material was not as cheap and versatile as polyester today,”

; says TAL Apparel executive Roger Lee. in Hong Kong said

Besides being cheap Polyester does not crease and can be washed at low temperatures. However, the washing process also releases tiny fibers. called microplastics which may be harmful to marine life Although polyester will last for many years. But longevity is like a double-edged sword — clothing can be worn many times, but it tends to stay in a landfill and won’t biodegrade.

“Today we rarely use virgin polyester,” Lee told CNBC’s “Managing Asia: A Sustainable Future.” “What do I mean? Often times the polyacetal (fiber) we use actually comes from recycled bottles.”

Over the past two years, Lee said, there has been a huge acceleration in the use of recycled plastics in fashion. “The reason is because the cost of use comes down to the same price as using Virgin Polyester, and that’s the key — if the price is the same … (well) I can’t figure it out. It saves the environment (and has) the same commercial costs.”

TAL Apparel manufactures clothing for brands such as Burberry, J Crew and Patagonia and was founded by the Lee family, who started their fashion business with a cotton shop in 1856. The company was revived by Lee’s great uncle CC in 1947.

The CEO must say yes, which is more important … profit now or … the world of the future?

At the moment, only about 14% of polyester is made from recycled fibers. According to Textile Exchange standards, how close is the sector in terms of recycling used clothing?

“If you’re talking pure polyester, yes, we’re close, but the problem is that a lot of the materials are composites. It’s polyester mixed with something else. And that separation is a problem,” Lee explained.

TAL is affiliated with the Hong Kong Textile and Garment Research Institute. which is investigating new ways to make the fashion industry more sustainable. in november the institute has launched The “green machine” developed jointly with the H&M Foundation is capable of separating composite materials. The new machine works by decomposing the cotton portion of the material and separating the polyester. which can be spun into clothes

Preventing clothes from going to landfill or encouraging people to buy less May solve the problem of excess polyester clothing. And that means looking at the basics of the fashion industry.

made to order clothes

Brands are currently “guessing” how many pieces of each style they will produce, Lee said, and it takes three to six months to produce the garments before being shipped to stores or placed online. Anything not sold at full price will be marked down. “When it’s very cheap or 70% off (people think) I really don’t need it, but you know 70% is worth it (so) I get that. then you buy your stuff Not really necessary,” Lee said.

One solution is to make clothes that are tailored to size, which TAL has been doing for 15 years. The clothes are not ready for you. But you said you know what? I like this fabric. I like this style. you order and For example, a shirt in seven days. You can get it at your doorstep,” Lee explained. Before the coronavirus outbreak, TAL produced about 600,000 shirts a year in this manner.

Although producing garments to size today is more expensive than mass production. But it can change in the long run. “You don’t need (a) warehouses to store (clothes) … you don’t need big stores to sell … but big, brick-and-mortar brands can’t get rid of them overnight, so it doesn’t. That makes sense,” Lee said.

“What attracts the market is the up-and-coming people … we need more people to think that way,” he added. In December, Amazon launched a custom t-shirt service Made For You in the United States, while San Francisco-based Unspun sells custom-made denim.

“Brands need to be committed to saying: I’m going to get rid of polyester as a raw material, for example, out of my supply chain in 5-10 years, forcing people to find other, more sustainable ways. It’s C’s responsibility. EO of the brand in doing so,” Lee said.

He also called on the industry to work together. “Our industry is very competitive, (and) sharing secrets about how to do things gives one company an edge over another,” Lee said. “But the CEO needs to say: OK, what’s important. Than … profit now or … the future world and I think the planet of the future.”

CNBC’s Karen Gilchrist contributed to the report.


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