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

According to BoF and McKinsey & Co’s, the global fashion industry is responsible for around 40 million tonnes of textile waste per year, most of which is either sent to landfill or incinerated. State of fashion Report for 2022. Meanwhile, textile production consumes a huge amount of water, land and raw materials. There is a growing moral and financial imperative for brands to invest in more resistant fibers at the beginning of the supply chain, as both consumer and normative the pressure is building.

Cellulose fiber brand Eastman Naya is one such company working to create a more sustainable solution. Creating a fiber sourced from sustainably managed forests, the wood pulp is fed into a closed-loop manufacturing process, meaning that 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 a significant part of the company’s improvement strategy sustainability textile industry. In partnership with Eastman’s TextileGenesis traceability platform, Naia provides a blockchain technology platform for brands to track the journey of Naia fiber from raw materials to the final garment.

Throughout the production process, a list of sustainable development certificates applies to the company’s commitments. The company is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the product itself has passed the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification, as well as being officially certified by Tüv Austria as biodegradable and compostable.

Adoption by brands from Patagonia to Zara, H&M and Reformation makes Eastman Naia fibers popular. Continuing its efforts, Naia Renew’s product recycles waste destined for landfill at the end of its useful life. By using its patented molecular recycling technology to break down waste into blocks and produce the same cellulose fiber, Naia Renew reduces its carbon footprint by up to 35 percent.

BoF now sits down with Ruth Farrell, General Manager Textiles at Eastman Naia, to discuss the changing use cases for its products, the importance of building brand and consumer trust, and innovation that drives business goals.

How are industry attitudes toward sustainable fibers evolving?

Russian Federation: Brands today want to use sustainable fibers – the conversation has moved beyond the sustainability department and is now being held with designers. Corporations and brands are beginning to understand the importance of sustainable innovation. We are now seeing brands take on ambitious sustainability goals and science-based ESG goals. The value chain—mills, spinning mills, and garment manufacturers—is also starting to realize the importance of sustainability and respond to brand needs.

The consumer is, of course, a major driver of this behavior, but it is important for governments to set regulations and guidelines for companies operating in this space, in addition to working alongside NGOs, to accelerate the current momentum for sustainable development.

No one person can take responsibility for this – it must be all parts of the value chain, from the fiber manufacturer to the brand, who commit to bringing sustainable fibers to market.

What are the uses for Eastman Naia sustainable fibers?

Russian Federation: When we first launched 5 years ago, it was our Naia filament yarn, which is designed for elegant mid to high-end fashion – so women’s ready-to-wear and linings. Our second product, Naia staple, is more focused on casual wear and home textiles.

The Naia staple has opened up a whole new world of applications for us, including leisurewear, sweaters and home textiles, and has changed the way people think about what cellulose acetate fiber can do. Our staple fiber has achieved the comfort of a cocoon in fabrics, while also providing many functional benefits such as quick drying time and reduced pilling.

How do you inform and engage end users in your process?

Russian Federation: Sustainable solutions are about continuous education, and the learning process itself has changed over the years. In the beginning we did a lot of work through exhibitions and then social media, and more recently we’ve been working a lot with design schools like the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to educate and inspire the younger generation about using sustainable fibres.

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. This is information for us to see what can be done with our products, but at the same time it shows the general audience that sustainable fibers are not a compromise, but an option for a high quality material.

Brands today want to use sustainable fibers – the conversation has moved beyond the sustainability department and is now being held with designers.

The work of this new generation of designers demonstrates the possibilities that lie in using this different fiber to create a completely different fabric, concept and design. It also informs our engagement with brands as they see opportunities to use Naia. This is a huge educational and informative channel.

How does Eastman Naia approach its product end-of-life strategy?

Russian Federation: Naia’s product portfolio is biodegradable and compostable. We’re also trying to use more recycled content and recently launched Naia Renew ES (Enhanced Sustainability) in partnership with Patagonia, a fiber that’s 60 percent recycled and 40 percent renewable wood pulp.

This program is a key part of our multi-generational strategy to increase the amount of recycled content used in our products, and we are also focusing on increasing the percentage of recycled textiles so we can start to close the circle.

What sustainability commitments and mandates do you see as most important to transforming the industry?

Russian Federation: I believe that everyone should have a holistic view of sustainable development. Over three years ago, we introduced our Naia fabric certification program to give brands the confidence that their fabrics are indeed made with Naia fibers from sustainable sources. Most recently, we adopted TextileGenesis as an additional tracking tool in our portfolio to convince our value chain and brand partners about our processes.

Being in pulp, we must take 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 focus on different elements of our process, but a holistic approach to sustainability is key. You can’t create a great story about responsible wood pulp sourcing and then create a negative situation with dangerous chemicals. Many brands understand this too.

CanopyStyle, for example, has huge momentum right now, with over 500 fashion brand partners supporting them. They look at fiber manufacturers that produce pulp and rate them against a benchmark. We just found out we earned a Dark green shirt in its ranking of 2022 and 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 that we all have the same ultimate goal, to make the fashion industry healthier and to fix the past, which is very difficult. For example, when sourcing recycled content, there is often a lack of infrastructure to collect, sort and create streams of recycled raw materials, so we are working with a large number of organizations to develop practical policies and guidelines, as well as pilot projects that can demonstrate that this can work. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but you try again. This is a journey and working together will get us there faster.

What new technologies are on the horizon at Eastman Naia?

Russian Federation: We are increasing the amount of recycled feedstock that our system can process with our carbon renewal technology. Essentially, we take raw materials – like reclaimed carpets from landfills – and break them down into molecular building blocks. This is how we create the raw material for acetic acid, which makes up 40 percent of the recycled material at Naia Renew.

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 do this, we are investing significantly in our Kingsport facility to develop our carbon upgrade technology, which will allow us to sell these solutions at scale.

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

Russian Federation: The level of commitment to sustainable development in the fashion industry. Across the value chain, from fiber producers to mills, spinning mills, garment manufacturers and brands, we see commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals as well as real action.

We’re celebrating our fifth anniversary this month, and it’s great to see an unprecedented level of interest in sustainable fibers. Governments, non-governmental organizations and the end consumer are aware of this problem and are keen to learn. We have a long way to go, but we see accelerated momentum that is simply encouraging for the future.

https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/sustainability/eastman-naia-cellulosic-sustainable-fibre-ruth-farrell-general-manager-textiles/ At Eastman Naia, harnessing the creative potential of sustainable fibers in fashion

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