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Interview: Eastman on its new ‘truly circular’ fibre, Naia Renew

By Huw Hughes


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In September, Eastman, the US producer of sustainably sourced Naia cellulosic fibre, introduced Naia Renew, a new traceable fibre with certified biodegradability made using hard-to-recycle materials that would otherwise go to landfills.

While the Naia and Naia Renew fibres are indistinguishable, the processes to make them are not. Naia is made using 60 percent wood pulp and 40 percent acetic acid, which is sourced from fossil-based feedstocks. The new Naia Renew fibre, however, uses certified recycled waste plastics as its feedstock for acetic acid, which is generated via Eastman's patented carbon renewal technology (CRT).

Available as both a filament yarn and a staple fibre, Naia Renew is a “truly circular solution”, according to Eastman, and was last month used for the first time by Swedish fashion giant H&M in its new Conscious Exclusive autumn/winter 2020 collection [pictured above].

FashionUnited spoke with Ruth Farrell, the global marketing director of textiles for Eastman, about Naia Renew, its implications in circular fashion, and the recent launch of Naia Renew in H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection.

Why do you think Naia Renew is so exciting for the fashion industry?

Naia Renew is the exact same as Naia in terms of end quality but is sourced from 60 percent wood pulp and 40 percent recycled plastics. With that 40 percent, we are recycling a huge amount of waste plastics that can't be recycled through mechanical recycling.

There are plenty of companies recycling PET for example, but we are recycling up to seven different complex plastic types through our carbon renewal technology. The fact that we can recycle a wider range of plastics also means we can do it at a larger scale, and therefore can genuinely divert large amounts of waste from landfill.

How does Naia/Naia Renew shape up in terms of performance with more established fibre alternatives?

The fibre itself is naturally breathable - Naia fabrics are up to twice as breathable as nylons. It dries faster than nylon and viscose and as quickly as polyester. The fabrics are also 25 percent cooler than polyester. We’ve also really focused on the ease of care and durability side. For example, fabrics with Naia have improved pilling performance, by up to 20 percent on the Martindale Pilling test. Performance like this is really important in terms of sustainability and this idea of ‘buy better, last longer’.

We also spent a lot of time extending the versatility of the Naia product. A lot of people think of acetate yarn as something silky and luxurious you can design in a wedding dress or ball gown or lining. But it can actually be hugely versatile, it can be used in crepes, jerseys, silks and other fabric styles. We’re now focusing on womenswear; ready to wear and also comfort everyday clothing and loungewear, which are all very popular at the moment.

Naia Renew is made from 60 percent wood pulp and 40 percent recycled plastics. Have you thought about changing these components or the ratios?

Yes, we’ve already started tests using waste textiles as a feedstock in our carbon renewal technology instead of the recycled plastics. We are hoping to come to market soon with something.

Would you want the use of waste textiles to completely replace the recycled plastics?

We will probably maintain both for now because there are a number of complex elements to consider when bringing products to market. One of them is the sourcing of plastics and of waste textiles - we want to ensure that any waste we are sourcing is genuinely waste that is being diverted from landfill or incineration while also sourcing as closely as possible to our plant from an LCA perspective.

It’s also very complex in terms of the supply chain. We brought Naia Renew to market at scale and we’d like to do the same when we bring waste textiles to market - this isn’t a small investment from Eastman's perspective, it’s a major one.

Do you have plans to change the 60 percent wood pulp component?

Yes, we are looking at whether we can get pulp from other non-forest areas, which is where waste textiles could again play a part. We have set a goal to commercialise a next-generation fibre solution with non-wood-based cellulosic pulp in 2021. We then want to progressively increase its proportion in our portfolio. The goals are aggressive and ambitious and this is the advantage of having the powerhouse of Eastman behind you.

What types of waste textiles could you use?

That’s what we’re figuring out at the moment. We will start with largely polyester-based blends but our ultimate vision is to use as wide a range of textiles as possible. I think that's going to be hugely important because fashion is a world of blends and that's complex, so we need to be able to manage that complexity.

H&M recently announced it was the first brand to use Naia Renew in its Conscious Exclusive autumn/winter 2020 collection. Could you tell me a bit about that tie-up?

H&M is a real sustainability champion that shares our vision at Eastman to democratize sustainable fashion and make it accessible for all. We’ve been working with H&M for the past few years and when we started talking about this circular solution their team got really excited. We’ve been working with them for the last few months on bringing it to market, which you saw in the four-garments in their Conscious Exclusive Collection launched in December.

It was very collaborative from the start, they really wanted to understand what we were doing in the development process so they could share their ideas and input. I think that is how things are right now in the wider industry, as you start bringing new products to market there is a real deep collaboration that starts very early on between brand partners to make sure that what you’re developing has a very strong sustainability profile but is also going to match the ultimate consumer needs.

Photo credit: H&M Conscious Exclusive collection

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