Companies adopt various strategies, which include using textiles from natural sources and modifying production processes, to make eco-friendly clothing.
China-based apparel suppliers are embracing "green" manufacturing practices as consumers worldwide exhibit greater awareness of environmental issues and interests.
Adopting sustainable natural materials is the most common measure taken by many companies that turn out eco-friendly clothing. Cotton, wool and silk are among the popular fabric options. Bamboo rayon and charcoal, Tencel and soybean protein fibers are also gaining ground.
Cotton has always been widely adopted for China apparel. It is easy to dye and blends well with other yarns, including spandex and polyester. Moreover, clothes that come in the textile require minimal maintenance and are hypoallergenic.
Organic variants are also increasingly being employed. They are grown under chemical-free conditions on soil devoid of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for at least three years. The crop's natural wax is retained during processing, leaving a distinct smoothness. The cultivation and preparation of organic cotton are tracked and controlled to ensure all steps meet standards such as the GOTS.
A number of businesses choose imported fabrics bearing the Cotton USA mark or certified by the Japan Organic Cotton Organization.
Typically utilized in suits and outerwear, wool is favored for its elasticity, and moisture-absorbing, insulating and flame-retardant qualities. Silk boasts strength, luster and a smooth hand, and is mainly used in formal shirts, blouses and dresses.
Bamboo is considered a renewable resource as the material matures quickly, taking only two or three years. Rayon derived from the plant soaks up moisture and inhibits bacterial growth, but the filament is too thin to be adopted alone in apparel. The input is often mixed with cotton.
The grass may also come in the form of charcoal fibers, which provide softness and a deodorizing feature to garments.
Some cotton blends contain up to 25 percent Tencel, a type of yarn made from the natural cellulose found in wood pulp. The input drapes easily, and is comfortable and moisture-wicking.
Extracted from leftover tofu and soymilk via wet spinning, soybean protein fibers highlight a texture similar to cashmere. They are said to have 16 amino acids beneficial to human skin.
A few companies that produce eco-friendly clothing are exploring the use of recycled polyester as well. Factories procure both generic and branded fabrics from domestic providers.
Earth-friendly materials are not limited to the actual apparel. Several businesses, for instance, are utilizing corrugated cardboard in constructing exhibition booths for trade shows. Doing so can help reflect their commitment to addressing ecological issues.
Besides adopting natural inputs, suppliers in China have been revamping some manufacturing processes to lessen the harmful effects on the environment. Dyeing,in particular, is receiving heightened attention because the type of chemicals and amount of water employed, and the waste produced during the process are detrimental to the surroundings.
In fact, the procedure yields between 3 million and 4 million tons of wastewater daily, accounting for 80 percent of the total volume discharged by the whole textile sector. The recycling rate, however, is only 7 percent because the industrial sewage generated is highly polluted and hard to decolorize.
Many of the pigmenting plants, whether independent or owned by garment makers, are now clustered in designated areas or industrial parks with centralized wastewater treatment facilities. They choose colorants free of azo and heavy metal, usually imported brands that meet international requirements.
Variants extracted from plants and fruit are increasingly used, especially in organic cotton. The cost of these dyes, however, goes up by about 10 percent during winter when vegetation is sparse.
The sublimation method of applying motifs on fabrics or clothes is becoming more popular. Since washing and drying are not part of the procedure, there is no wastewater or gas generated. Expenses for this kind of printing are roughly 70 percent higher than other processes.
Further, the local government in major apparel hubs plays a part in promoting earth-friendly approaches. It monitors waste quantity closely and implements regular on-site inspections. Operations that do not pass examinations will be suspended.
Refuse disposal is a concern at denim clothing factories as well. Some enterprises have invested in their own liquid discharge treatment systems, which often include devices for chemical precipitation and oxidation.
Going 'green' involves not just materials and manufacturing processes but also fair trade practices. While such methods are not yet a priority for China businesses, a few have started giving attention to corporate social issues and even obtained WRAP or SA8000 certification. It is projected that more companies will go in this direction in the years ahead.
Model: Bayern 2011
Model: Mullier Jersey 2011
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Note:This article was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.
All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.
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