Unpacking Australia’s Sustainable Textile Production Revolution

Date:

Sustainable textiles are critically important in today’s fashion industry, combatting the
industry’s notorious reputation for resource-intensive practices and clothing waste. These
textiles also encourage innovation, fostering the development of alternative materials such
as recycled, blended, and bio-based fabrics.

“Consumers are increasingly valuing sustainability, and brands adopting eco-friendly textiles gain a competitive edge,” explains Rajesh Bahl, sustainability expert at the International Exhibition & Conference (IEC) Group. “This shift aligns with growing regulatory pressure to mitigate fashion’s negative impact, pushing the industry toward eco-conscious materials.”

The IEC Group are the organisers of the upcoming Global Sourcing Expo in Melbourne,
taking place from 21-23 November at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. A
core aspect of the Global Sourcing Expo is the much-anticipated Global Sourcing Seminars,
presentations and panel discussions from experts that cover the most pressing topics
relating to sourcing, retail and product development.

“Sustainability is a huge focus of our Global Sourcing Seminars, and this will be highlighted
in the Fibres of Australia panel discussion, where I will be joined by moderator Melinda
Tually and panellists Ashley Hollis, Brand Relations Manager at Cotton Australia and Adrian
Jones, Co-Founder of textile recycling company BlockTexx to discuss the future of
sustainable textiles,” Rajesh says.

“Australia has emerged as a global leader for our ability to produce, in particular, cotton in a manner that reduces water usage and chemical applications. Work is also underway to
lower carbon emissions,” adds fellow Fibres of Australia panellist Ashley Hollis.

Australia’s cotton industry

Primarily grown in New South Wales and Queensland, but also in the Northern Territory and
Western Australia, cotton is a major commodity, representing 30 – 60% of the gross value of the total agricultural production in these regions and employing up to 15,000 people with
more employed in support roles for the industry.

After concerted efforts over the last three decades, the Australian cotton industry is
recognised as among f the most water-efficient cotton industries in the world. “Cotton
farmers have achieved a steady increase in yield from less water, meaning that they can
grow more with less resources ,” says Ashley.

This figure is especially momentous considering that a single 227kg bale of cotton can
produce either:
– 2,100 pairs of boxer shorts OR
– 3,000 nappies OR
– 215 pairs of jeans OR
– 1,200 t-shirts OR
– 4,300 pairs of socks OR
– 250 single bed sheets

“In an average year, Australian cotton growers produce enough cotton to clothe 500 million
people,” she adds.

Cutting-edge clean technology gives new life to blended textiles

Clothing crafted from pure cotton boasts both a lengthy lifespan and biodegradability,
rendering it exceptionally sustainable. However, the same cannot be said for blended
textiles.

“Blended textiles are everywhere, and they're very difficult to recycle as they consist of both synthetic (plastic) and organic materials,” explains fellow panellist and BlockTexx co-founder, Adrian Jones.

“We address the recycling challenge by unlocking valuable components in blended textiles.
For example, a standard bed sheet is part cotton, part polyester (plastic) and both can be
converted into high-value raw materials.”

BlockTexx begins by collecting blended textiles from all corners of Australia. These garments are decommissioned by expertly removing tags, buttons, and zips. It is done in collaboration with NDIS social enterprises and Queensland Correctional Services, which offers prisoners skill development and income opportunities.

The textiles, now prepared for processing, enter a reactor where polyester is separated
from the cotton. BlockTexx then meticulously washes and dries the materials, resulting in
two distinct streams: pure polyester and pure cellulose. The cellulose is further processed to remove excess water, transforming it into a thick clay-like substance. The polyester, on the other hand, undergoes additional steps to become recycled PET pellets. These two materials are now primed for reuse, ensuring minimal wastage in the recycling process.

Stronger legislation needed to reduce wastage

While the water usage reduction improvements in our cotton industry and the pioneering
textile recycling work done by BlockTexx are huge steps in the right direction, Adrian
believes that further legislation is needed to improve the sustainability of Australia’s textile
industry and reduce wastage.

“We cannot keep exporting our problem to other countries. The government should follow
a similar approach to the rules around the exporting of plastic bottles and tighten up the
legislation of textile exports and recycling. People need to start asking questions about
where their old textiles go and what happens to them after collection,” says Adrian.
“We believe that in less than twenty years, textile-to-textile recycling will become the norm
and everyone will look back on this period of excessive waste and consumption with
embarrassment. In the interim, BlockTexx is proud to be part of the solution,” he adds.

‘Tell consumers your sustainability story’

As consumers become more eco-conscious, it’s crucial that brands demonstrate their
commitment to reducing environmental harm by effectively communicating their
sustainable production and sourcing strategies.

These strategies will be discussed in depth in the Fibres of Australia panel discussion, but
Rajesh has the following recommendations for brands wanting to get a head start:

  • Tell consumers the sustainability story of the materials used in manufacturing your
    products. This should be reinforced by documented facts and figures to support your
    sustainability claims, such as data on resource usage, environmental impact, and the
    reuse of materials at the end of their life cycle.
  • Utilise swing tags (informational text attached to garment), labels and marketing
    collateral from fibre producers on your products. This helps reinforce credibility to
    consumers.
  • Educate eco-conscious consumers on the broader economic impact of sustainable
    sourcing. Sustainable sourcing comes at a cost, and support from consumers is vital
    for businesses within the textile value chain to remain economically sustainable.

“By implementing these strategies, brands can effectively convey their commitment to
sustainable sourcing and build stronger connections with consumers who value sustainable
products,” Rajesh concludes.

Unveiling the Fabric Revolution: Fibres of Australia Panel Discussion takes place on 22
November from 10:00-11:00am at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Bhargav Pathak
Bhargav Pathakhttps://textilesresources.com
With a passion for the textile, apparel, and fashion industry, I embarked on a journey fueled by education from NIFT Gandhinagar and affiliation with NDBI at NID Ahmedabad. Since 2006, I've contributed to various corporate ventures, specializing in B2B, B2C, SaaS, and AI products within the textile domain. In July 2023, I launched TextilesResources.com, a knowledge hub offering the latest news, articles, and soon-to-come features like interviews and a trade fair calendar. Grateful for the growing community, we've recently introduced a Business Directory for enhanced visibility. Join us on LinkedIn and stay connected with the ever-evolving textile landscape!

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