DNFI Meets at Heimtextil

Natural fibre production rebounds; innovations continue apace. IWTO reports on the annual meeting of the Discover Natural Fibres Initiative

The resilience of natural fibres over the course of the last 12 months is the biggest takeaway from the meeting held 23 June by the Discover Natural Fibres Initiative (DNFI).

Speaking for DFNI at the Heimtextil trade fair in Frankfurt, Dr Terry Townsend, CEO of Cotton Analytics and member of the DNFI Steering Committee, reported that, despite challenges from lockdowns, travel disruptions, labour shortages and trade barriers, natural fibre production has tracked upwards since 2021.

That was the good news.

On the flip side, synthetic fibres rebounded even more sharply during the same timeframe, and natural fibres continue to lose market share, Dr Townsend said.

It is a sobering statistic because what is at stake for the natural fibres industries is not an issue of shareholder dividends or returns on capital investment but the livelihoods of millions of households.

In many areas of the world where natural fibres are produced, such as jute, alpaca, sisal and others, there is no alternative activity for earning a living.

The total number of households producing natural fibres globally is 40 million, Dr Townsend reported. 23 million of these are cotton. 5 million of these produce wool and other luxury animal fibres.

Covid continues to challenge the future

The high price of raw materials is the number one industry concern for the next six months, Dr Christian Schindler, Director General International Textile Manufacturers Federation, told meeting attendees.

His survey of manufacturers also revealed high energy prices, high logistics costs, and weakening demand at the top of the list of worries for the second half of 2022.

Wool and other natural fibres innovations

On a cheerier note, Dr Maryam Naebe, of the Fibre and Sustainability team at Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials, presented an array of ongoing projects in addition to an update on her award-winning innovation that uses wool as insulation for the electric-powered automotive industry.

The wool insulating material, which won DNFI’s 2021 innovation award, takes waste wool along with virgin wool and combines them into a bonded web structure that offers excellent thermal resistance and noise reduction. Added benefits are antimicrobial activity, biodegradation, odour-resistance and flame-retardancy – the bonded wool material outperforming both commercial polyester (PET) and a commercial cotton/polyester blend (CEL/PET).

“Wool is one of the natural wonder materials,” Dr Naebe said. Further innovations include a wool powder, made from waste wool, which can bond with starches for 3D printing. Non-wool related projects involve cotton gin waste, which would normally go to landfill, and a biodegradable paper using some unexpected plants.

DNFI’s annual Innovation in Natural Fibres Award for 2022 is now open for entries.

Sustainable textiles strategy update

Rounding out the meeting, IWTO’s Dalena White presented for Make The Label Count, highlighting key developments in the EU’s textile-related policies. See https://www.makethelabelcount.org/ to learn how the natural fibres industries are working together to ensure credibility for green claims in EU textiles.

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