In recent years sustainability has become more than just a catchphrase within the apparel industry. Today, the fashion and apparel industry remains a leading contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss, accounting for over 8% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to approximately 30% of the microplastics leaking out into the environment. In addition, due to the ongoing complexity and lack of transparency within its global supply chains, there are still excessive cases of unsafe working conditions, child labour and modern slavery.
The Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013 highlighted the pressing need to better protect those who make our clothes through sustainable reform. Since then, there have been several international responses promoting policies to protect garment workers and ensure safe working conditions, such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, as well as calls to let textile workers unionise. However, there is still more work to be done. Although consumers hold purchasing power in their hands, it is up to fashion brands, corporations and governmental institutions to drive sustainability - especially within the workwear segment.
The importance of functional workwear
Workers around the globe require apparel that enables them to carry out their jobs safely and comfortably. Wearing comfortable apparel that is suited to the workplace and work type should be a basic requirement for all workers, regardless of sector. Over the years, there has been increasing demand for functional workwear, as innovative fibres have demonstrated their worth in difficult and demanding environments, from healthcare to mobility and manufacturing.
Workwear in healthcare, for instance, must be durable, safe and comfortable as it is often worn for extended periods of time and must always look presentable. However, in the past, workwear was mainly manufactured from synthetic materials such as polyester due to cost-effectiveness and other aspects like durability. “On the fashion side, consumers have the freedom to choose eco-friendly clothing. But for workwear, the decision lies with the companies – employees don’t have a choice,” points out Alexandra Steger, Global Project Manager Workwear, Business Management Protective Wear and Workwear, at Lenzing.
From functionality to sustainability
Price currently remains one of the largest hurdles for many companies worldwide when it comes to investing in more versatile and sustainable workwear for their employees. However, workwear that is manufactured from synthetic materials has a larger environmental impact, both during production and end of life. At the same time, it remains less comfortable and versatile than natural fibre alternatives. New initiatives, like the European Green Deal, encourage organisations and companies to use more eco-friendly alternatives for workwear and are investing in the efficient use of resources by promoting the benefits of a clean, circular economy.
Together with industry players like Lenzing, it is becoming easier for companies to switch into green workwear without hurting their bottom line. For example, Lenzing, the global innovation leader of the production of specialty fibers made from renewable wood sources, was among the first to promote sustainability within this segment. LENZING™ branded lyocell fibres, made from wood derived from certified and controlled sources, absorb significantly more moisture than synthetic fibres, offering superb comfort, which is important for multiple work environments. The high tenacity profile also ensures the fibres can withstand repeated industrial washes.
Through Lenzing’s specially developed e-branding system, yarn makers and fabric producers of the workwear segment can also take advantage of the system to access sustainable raw material fibers and acquire licenses under the TENCEL™ brand, Lenzing’s specialty fiber brand for textiles.
Future-proofing with Lenzing
In order to accelerate the circular economy transition within the fashion industry, Lenzing developed the pioneering REFIBRA™ technology, which upcycles cotton scraps from garment production and transforms them into cotton pulp. Using this and blending it with wood pulp, Lenzing can create new virgin LENZING™ Lyocell fibres to produce sustainable fabrics and garments for the workwear industry.
“The future of workwear requires a combination of performance, comfort and sustainability," adds Steger. "It is becoming more important for companies to consider the potential end of life solutions when designing workwear garments." With functionality, sustainability and innovation always at the forefront of Lenzing fibres, the manufacturer aims to continue promoting responsible production within the workwear segment.
Photo credit: Lenzing