One of the most talked about issues in the global apparel industry lately has been the massive fluctuations in cotton fibre prices that pushed apparel factories to look for alternatives of cotton that are good on performance as well as sustainable. Though it can safely be stated that the use of cotton can never be neglected, at the same time, wood-based cellulosic fibres have to be given due weightage which are showing up strongly and promisingly, especially at a time when no predictions rightly work in the cotton industry. Lenzing Group – a market leader in wood-based fibre industry – sensed the opportunity of making the industry more sustainable and innovative way before others could even think of it!
Team Apparel Resources (AR) recently had an interaction with Jayaraman S, Senior Commercial Director, Asia-Pacific and South Asia; and Avinash Mane, Commercial Director, South Asia, Lenzing Group to understand how disruptions within the textile and fashion supply chain are paving way for increased adoption of fabrics and raw material made up of Lenzing’s wood-based cellulosic fibres in India as well as in the global market.
- Wood-based fibre market is expected to grow as uncertainty in the cotton market is prevalent
Recent turbulence in cotton prices has impacted the apparel and textile industry substantially. The cotton prices skyrocketed by almost 110 per cent between 2020 and 2021! From Rs.45,000 –Rs.50,000 per candy in Q1 ’20 to Rs. 110,000 per bale all through the remaining 2020 and mid-2021, cotton prices made a dent in companies’ profitability that too at a time when factories were struggling to get orders from buyers. The cotton prices dropped to Rs. 75,000-80,000 per candy by 2021 end but it’s still not seeing a constant price fix! The predictions have failed in the cotton industry and spinners cannot have their cotton sourced in advance now at a consistent price. This is hurting the stakeholders in the entire textile supply chain.
Apart from this, it’s a fact that cotton is a thirsty crop that requires a huge amount of water and takes massive portion of fertile land to grow; however, as the population is increasing worldwide, it won’t be easier for the cotton industry to increase its market share as the land could be otherwise used for growing food grains which are going to be the priority in the coming time. As disruptions are already hitting the industry, the market of wood-based natural cellulosic fibres is expected to grow at a much better pace, particularly because of the comfort factor these fibres offer.
“The growth opportunities are more for wood-based cellulosic fibres and this market will grow between CAGR of 4-6 per cent in coming years. We, at Lenzing, are manufacturing these fibres in a sustainable way because we understand natural resources can’t be (and it shouldn’t be) exploited. The growth rate is in single-digit but it will pick pace once all the industry players in natural fibres crack the method of producing these fibres more sustainably,” commented Avinash.
- Sustainability and product development should go hand-in-hand
As a market leader, Lenzing proudly says all its innovations are sustainability-driven and these innovations don’t compromise when it comes to end-product application, aesthetics or characteristics. According to the company, sustainability has two angles:(1) the development of products in a sustainable way in the first place; (2) focus on circularity later on so that the used product can be put back into the cycle.
Lenzing’s REFIBRA technology involves upcycling cotton scraps from garment production and the final fabric after recycling is said to be not compromising on any fabric property unlike recycled polyester and cotton that have some limitations. The mechanically recycled cotton will have its colour and the length will be short as required. The method involves transforming cotton scraps into cotton pulp. Up to one-third proportion of this is added to wood pulp, and the combined raw material is transformed to produce new virgin TENCEL™ Lyocell fibres to make fabrics and garments.
“Next big innovation which Lenzing has come up with is carbon-neutral TENCEL™ fibres. With this innovation, the industry can shift its product range that are made of current TENCEL™ fibres to carbon-zero TENCEL™ fibres. As an innovative fibre company, we understand that the amount of carbon footprint is getting created by different raw materials and by processes. So that’s where the innovation is,” commented Avinash.
Lenzing is following new-age sustainable approach not just for dope-dyed fibre but also for the new innovation of modal indigo too where it is putting actual indigo into the fibre at the manufacturing stage.
“The conventional process takes large amount of dyes, chemicals and water! All these requirements are completely eliminated and you get the same denim effect at the end product,” said Avinash.
The innovation is in line with Lenzing’s strategy as its sights are set on net-zero emissions by 2050, so the company prioritises the continuous reduction of carbon emissions through efficient production, new technologies and renewable energy sources to meet targets set through the Science Based Targets initiative.
- Collaboration with the industry is a key strategy for growth
Lenzing believes in ‘pull’ strategy, rather than going for a ‘push’ strategy and this is why it keeps collaborating with retailers, brands and front-end people in the industry who are responsible for product development and fibre/fabric selection, rather than focusing just on the back-end spinners.
Having offices in all key markets such as the USA, Japan, UK, Germany, China and South Korea among many others helps Lenzing work closely with global fashion brands and retailers which then helps Lenzing innovate and develop fibres which are in demand – not just today but in future.
“We are collaborating with both global and Indian fashion brands such as Levi’s and Jockey to name a few. We keep giving them feeders as to what kind of innovations can be done in fibres,” averred Avinash, adding, “PVH, Bestseller, H&M, M&S, Primark, Otto and all other major brands which are now moving towards more sustainable products – we interact with this entire cross-section of retail brands to help them in their endeavours of making the industry more innovative as well as sustainable.”
In India, Lenzing has worked with House of Anita Dongre and Rajesh Pratap Singh to develop their collections made up of TENCEL™ and LENZING™ECOVERO™ fibres. “LENZING™ ECOVERO™ fibre was launched in India in collaboration with renowned designers Abraham & Thakore and later with Ritu Kumar, whereas Carbon Zero TENCEL™ fibre collection came into the market with a collection developed by Rajesh Pratap for Satya Paul,” informed Avinash. Not just designers, Lenzing has also worked with industry leaders in retail such as Jockey, Arvind, Tata Trent and Indian Terrain etc.
- ‘The Lenzing Conclave’ aims to educate the regional customers to create better quality products using alternatives of cotton fibre
India is a country of over approximately 1.4 billion people. The consumers in Tier-1 cities are aware of the products they purchase and, now gradually, consumers in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are also trying to pace up with the trends by accessing information through digital channels that make them aware of better products in the market that are made of innovative and sustainable fabrics. This is driving the vision of textile and apparel firms too as they are bringing more innovations in their products.
‘The Lenzing Conclave’ is an India-first initiative by Lenzing group which is aimed at empowering the textile industry with best global practices in sustainable textiles. Till now, the conclave has been held in Salem, Solapur, Delhi-NCR, Surat, Rajapalayam, Tirupur, Karur and Mumbai. Explaining the motive behind these conclaves, Jayaraman said, “We are striving to solve the crucial problem with cotton availability and costs. Blends of cotton with Lenzing fibres are turning out to be a good alternate option for the industry with product benefits being passed throughout the supply chain to the end consumers. With our future-ready sustainable fibre offerings, we see the opportunity to support the supply chain with superior products offered at a great value for them and their consumers. The current success of our TENCEL™ and LENZING™ECOVERO™ fibres is proof of this vision.”
With these conclaves, Lenzing is imparting required knowledge in the domestic hubs that make products ranging from apparel, home textiles to kitchen linen, and encouraging them to create innovative products using TENCEL™ or LENZING™ECOVERO™ fibres that can be pitched to retailers and brands not only in India but also in the global market.
“Delhi, particularly, is a hub where we have representatives’ offices of global fashion retailers and brands. Not just brands, the NCR region does have a strong presence of buying offices as well as leading Indian ethnicwear brands. All these stakeholders are invited at a common platform through ‘The Lenzing Conclave’ where we can share insights on recent trends and our offerings on the alternative options of cotton such as TENCEL™ and LENZING™ECOVERO™ fibres,” added Avinash.
- Lenzing’s strategy to push itself to be future-ready
Companies in the industry are focusing on sustainable growth and are going for systematic expansions. Lenzing, being the market leader, remains the frontrunner with its on-point strategic expansions. Recently, Lenzing has started the world’s largest TENCEL™ fibres plant in Thailand that has a capacity of producing 100,000 tonnes of fibres per year. For Lenzing, the project also represents an important step towards strengthening its leadership position in the specialty fibre market and into a carbon-free future.
“We have also started producing half-a-million tonnes of pulp in 2022 which gives us backward integration capacity to the sites. If I go by numbers, we almost spend 10 per cent of our EBITDA every year on our expansion and R&D initiatives. The key focus behind this investment remains on one simple approach – producing fibres without spoiling the environment,” commented Jayaraman.
In terms of market share, South Asia has taken over all the markets to become the top destination for Lenzing during the last five years. “We have been growing in South Asia ever since we started operating from Coimbatore in 2006. We have offices in major hubs with our own labs, we are entirely self-sufficient in our entire branding process which is something up and running for the last five years,” said Jayaraman.
Jayaraman further mentioned that many global and regional retailers have a clear target for achieving zero carbon emissions – that’s Lenzing’s aim as well – and also going for sustainable fibre, therefore Lenzing will continue to work to support them in achieving their targets.
- Unanimous policy support is required to tap growth in natural fibres
The Indian Government has recently launched an array of schemes and policies that are mainly brought to support the cotton industry and to encourage companies to diversify into MMF-based apparel products. However, one area that has always held the ground without any significant support from the policymakers is natural fibres such as viscose. In fact, viscose staple fibre attracted anti-dumping duty during the last twelve years which was removed only last year (in 2021). However, linen – another important material for making garments – was put under anti-dumping duty regime recently, making it difficult for the industry to purchase raw material at globally competitive price points.
“We fully agree to the approach of having a unanimous policy which supports the industry to an extent that bridges the voids which are still there,” concluded Avinash, adding, “Good thing is that the policymakers are quite dynamic and gradually schemes are coming out that cover the entire spectrum of textile value chain.”