Pandemic Accelerated Demand For Safer, Eco-Friendly Textiles

With operations in more than 90 countries and six primary manufacturing facilities in six countries (China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Thailand), Huntsman Textile Effects is a leading global provider of high-quality dyes, chemicals and digital inks to the textile and related industries. President Rohit Aggarwal speaks to Fibre2Fashion about the impact the pandemic has had on the textile dyes and chemical business, and the focus on circularity and sustainability in the current scenario.

How has COVID-19 impacted the global textile dyes and chemical business?

There's no doubt that covid-19 has had an impact on chemical companies, like most other businesses, and tested our ability to navigate our business through 2020. The pandemic has changed the way we work, but it also affords the opportunity to reshape our industry as a whole—the possibility of industry consolidation, with reshoring accelerating this trend as the global supply chain changes to accommodate the new geographic shift in manufacturing. 

Based on consumer preferences, how has your business altered?

Consumer lifestyle changes are a key driver that impacts the textiles value chain. Consumers' desire for more comfortable clothing is increasing demand for blended varieties of artificial and natural yarn, opening up new markets and growth opportunities in the coming years. The pandemic has also accelerated the demand for safer, eco-friendly textiles, particularly around protection and hygiene.

How is Huntsman positioned to deliver complete end-to-end system for protection effects?

Huntsman Textile Effects has one of the industry's most complete end-to end systems for high-performance protection effects, from pre-treatment to coloration and finishing. Drawing on our decades of expertise and experience, customers can combine these technologies to create safe and sustainable products that meet consumer needs and help them stand out in a crowded market. Our solutions include pre-treatments that reduce processing time; resource-saving dyes and inks; durable water repellents for rain and stain protection; color-retention solutions for sustained performance; moisture-management for enhanced comfort; UV-absorbing technologies for lasting sun protection; antimicrobial and odor-control solutions for garments that stay fresh for longer; and flame retardants for high-performance functional textiles.

How will Huntsman's recent collaboration with Sciessent help manufacturers differentiate their products?

Huntsman Textile Effects and Sciessent are collaborating to bring revolutionary antimicrobial and odor-control solutions to mills and brands worldwide. These solutions can be combined with our other technologies and are ideal for the production of safe and sustainable activewear, outerwear, home textiles and other products. With the support of Huntsman and Sciessent, manufacturers will be able to develop and deliver innovative products with long-lasting protection against microbial growth and odor for a world that is increasingly interested in health and hygiene.

Which of your chemicals are playing a big role in protecting woven and nonwoven garments against viruses, bacteria and the likes?

Textile finishes can be applied on knit, woven and nonwoven fabrics to render them more effective against viruses and bacteria. This makes them ideal for PPE, such as surgical masks, coveralls, scrubs and face coverings. For example, fluorinated and non-fluorinated oil and water-repellent finishes help prevent liquids such as oil, water or alcohol from penetrating into the substrate, thus creating a barrier that stops droplets from percolating through the material. Some finishes extend the durability of fabrics, whether synthetics, cotton, wool or blends, allowing items made from them to be washed and reused multiple times. Lastly, our anti-static agents help improve wearer comfort without influencing hydrostatic pressure or the fabric's alcohol or blood repellence.

Our Phobol and Phobotex products, Zelan along with other supporting auxiliaries and anti-static agents, are being used for PPE and face masks. As an example, we began working with Vietnam's Bao Minh Textile to produce fabric for high-grade isolation gowns as early as May 2020.

What new innovations you are likely to come up with to meet the demands of a COVID-hit world?

Huntsman Textile Effects is constantly innovating. We invest heavily in R&D, and our research teams, manufacturing and formulation hubs, labs and field experts work closely with our customers so that we are always able to respond effectively to their changing needs. The pandemic has heightened interest in products that promote health and hygiene. During the initial outbreak, we were among the first suppliers to ramp up production of functional finishes to meet the surge in demand for surgical masks and gowns. 

The post-COVID landscape will be even more focused on innovating to heed the call for safer and eco-friendly textiles. We are also continuing to transform the way we work as a key supplier in an increasingly digitized global economy.

Circularity is increasingly in focus. What is the stand at Huntsman in this regard?

As a leader in the textile dyes and chemicals industry and a long-time advocate for sustainability, we promote collaboration, transparency and resource management to support the journey towards a circular economy. We believe strongly in optimizing the eco effectiveness of the entire ecosystem to create shared value. For example, many leading brands and retailers have committed to using more recycled polyester (rPET), but processing rPET fibers poses challenges for mills. Due to rPET's properties, mills have had to extensively re-dye the fiber for batch-to-batch color consistency and use chlorine bleaching to produce white shades—both with a high environmental cost. Huntsman Textile Effects offers end-to-end rPET solutions that are economical and environment friendly. These include pre-treatment chemicals, fluorescent whitening agents, state of-the-art coloration systems and finishing solutions for high performance protection and comfort. All are fast and easy to incorporate into existing processes, while delivering right-first-time quality for productivity and competitiveness.

Where do you stand in the world market today as a manufacturer of textile dyes and specialty chemicals? What has been your growth story in the last three years? What is the action plan at Huntsman Textile Effects for the next two years?

As a key partner in the textile value chain, we pride ourselves on leading the industry's response to complex challenges, both as an innovator and an advocate for sustainability. We do so by promoting collaboration, transparency and resource management. 

In recent years, we have focused on growing as the industry's leading specialty business, expanding our portfolio through our award-winning Avitera SE dyes, our High IQ effects, and innovations for resource-saving polyester dyeing, light-fast disperse inks for the automotive sector, and our new antimicrobial and odor-control collaboration with Sciessent, for example. At the same time, we have championed an industry-driven approach to sustainability as a founding member of the Sustainable Chemistry for the Textile Industry (SCTI) alliance, which launched last October. 

Even before covid-19, the textiles sector was facing challenges with cost escalation, increasingly strict environmental standards and rising trade tensions. Given all this disruption, we see even greater value in our ability to help mills and brands differentiate with high-performance protection effects that are both environment- friendly and cost-effective. Our plan is to continue to stay close to our customers and to remain focused on innovation and sustainability.

What percentage of profit is ploughed back into R&D? By what per cent has it gone up this year?

While many in our industry are cutting back on R&D, we consistently invest around 6-7 per cent of our turnover on research and technical service. Our R&D centers around the world are well-equipped and resourced to support our innovation pipeline.

What is the annual production capacity of your products-textile dyes, chemicals and digital inks?

While we don't release the details of our annual production capacity, I can tell you that we have facilities in all regions where our customers are present, which enables us to respond effectively to their needs. 

Where are your production centers?

We have a global manufacturing footprint across the Americas (Mexico, US), Europe (Germany) and Asia (India, Indonesia, Thailand and China) and 11 formulation centers. 

How do you differentiate your products from that of your competitors'?

Huntsman Textile Effects has one of the industry's most complete end-to end systems for high-performance protection effects, with a full range of innovative and sustainable technologies from pretreatment to coloration and finishing. Our solutions are well established and validated, with the potential to enable mills to meet high performance standards and achieve increased productivity while saving cost and resources and reducing their environmental footprint. Our success is built on innovation and we will continue to focus on R&D to help us expand our product and solution offerings.

Which are your major markets application-wise and geographically? Which markets hold potential?

While Asia remains a key market for Huntsman Textile Effects, both in our applications as well as for our end-use segments, our reach is global. Turkey, Italy, Pakistan and Central America are also important and strategic markets.

What steps do you take to make your products environment friendly?

Beyond our core value in ensuring product EHS compliance, we are committed to developing products and solutions that reduce our industry's environmental footprint. Sustainability is at the heart of all that we do. We support our customers to deploy eco-friendly solutions that also result in better resource optimization and cost efficiencies. We are a key member and contributor to the ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Program and many of our products are Bluesign certified.

To develop environment-friendly products, we begin with a thorough understanding of the needs of our customers and the markets, and leverage our decades of technical and process expertise. We are adamant that we will never shy away from the industry's challenges-like water scarcity or the use of volatile organic compounds. 

Take Avitera SE, for example. We first introduced this technology in 2010 as the first new reactive dye molecule to be invented for almost 20 years. We were building on work we had been doing with reactive dyes for decades, and we continue to expand the range to deliver unbeatable ecological value, outstanding performance and cost reduction for cotton and its blends. Avitera Black SE, for example, was developed to be free (at the current detection rate of 5ppm) from the restricted arylamines, such as PCA, normally used in reactive black dyes. 

The latest addition to our dyEvolution range, Eriopon E3-Save, is another breakthrough that seeks to meet industry need for dye solutions that save water and energy. Polyester dyeing is traditionally costly and time consuming as well as resource intensive. Our dyeing auxiliary transforms this process by combining pre-scouring, dyeing and reduction clearing in a single bath to provide the shortest possible processing cycle.

Any new collaborations in the pipeline?

Several initiatives are under way in collaboration with customers, brands and retailers and innovation partners in the industry. We work closely with customers and partners and take a leadership role in our industry. Coupled with the focus on innovation and sustainability for consumers and textile mills, this means we are always open to creating opportunities that will help the industry towards a more sustainable future.

This article first appeared on Fibre2Fashion

Rohit Aggarwal, President, Textile Effects

#Innovation #Sustainability #Collaboration