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Jennifer Marks

Textiles Industry Going Green

Now that it's hip to be green, the home textiles industry is producing a bumper crop of product to feed what it hopes will be a hearty appetite at retail for organic, or at the least “eco-friendly” products using vegetable dyes, low eco-impact dyes and/or sustainable fibers.

Fiber makers are cultivating the category as well, and not just in the United States. Last month, Lenzig organized a home textiles workshop in China for manufacturers and buying offices to promote its Tencel brand cellulose fiber. The fiber is made of wood pulp from a South African company certified for its sustainable forest management, according to Ernst Sandrieser, general manager of the China operation — which includes a new Lenzig plant scheduled to open in early 2008 in Nanjing.

“Ninety percent of the solution we use in the processing of the wood pulp is recycled back into the process,” he noted, which profoundly reduces the amount of waste water left over.

Fiber producer BASF is also pushing forward in the sustainables front; last week it won an award from the Licensing Executive Society's chemical sector for use of ionic liquids developed to dissolve cellulose. The honor was jointed awarded to the University of Alabama, which has granted BASF exclusive patent licenses for the new technology — which reduces the amount of waste generated in the cellulose-making process.

“We intend to tap this potential fast and purposefully by developing this new activity together with our customers and our research partner,” said Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, BASF's research executive director.

On the end user's side, as demand for new technologies is heating up. So is the interest in organic cotton, which is estimated to account for just one-half of 1% of the conventional cotton supply, according the sports marketer Nike, itself a large consumer of organic cotton.

But demand has begun to boost supply, according to organic pioneer Marcy Zaroff, whose Under the Canopy apparel brand is now moving into home. Zaroff is part of a group that is working with farmers and manufacturers to expand organic production. “It's growing rapidly. The number of farmers and the number of countires that that are jumping into it is significant.”

It isn't just environmental concern that's propelling organic, she said. The product is simply much better than it used to be.

“The style and quality have now caught up with the market. Now, finally, it's a value add. You don't have to comprise on style, fit, quality, color or hand.”

But shoddy standards remain a concern, she said, and her coalition is working with legislators to ensure that certification standards will be set on a federal level. “Right now, the industry is self-policing,” she said.

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