Following China’s rise to the top of the world’s apparel market last year, the country is reportedly witnessing a rise in the sustainability expectations from local consumers. In fact, sustainability was under the spotlight during the Intertextile Expo held in Shanghai on March 12-14.

Consumers Know about Sustainability and Ask for it

Consumers are increasingly more aware of pollution and the environmental and health issues related to it. This increased awareness translates into a growing demand for sustainable solutions.  As a result, in the past year, Chinese brands have become increasingly interested in all possible sourcing alternatives for their fabrics. A growing number of high street brands is having to adapt to this shift in consumer demand and solutions, such as the recycled, sustainably dyed fabrics produced by Chinese manufacturer Huafu are becoming more and more widespread.

A Global Phenomenon

While demand for sustainable products was usually concentrated in the Western World and Japan, the Chinese textile industry is now beginning to understand the crucial importance of shifting towards a greener direction. With education on this subject becoming gradually more consistent throughout the country, China may be on track to become a major market for all types of eco-responsible textile and apparel products.

This year’s edition of Intertextile saw numerous sustainable products showcased. Amongst the most notable, Green Defense project, developed by The Lily Textile company is an easily recyclable anti-bacterial polyester fabric produced using natural ingredients such as almond and cinnamon. Hua Mao Nano-Tech instead developed a recyclable fabric with heat-retaining properties derived from basalt. Amongst the non-Chinese representatives, Japanese firm Toyoshima showcased an innovative way to turn food waste into raw material for dyes.

Credit: Intertextile 

Millennials are the new target

The current shift towards a greener industry in the Chinese textile industry has been linked to the growing influence of Chinese millennial consumers, the main target of brands and producers with an eye on sustainability.
Global millennial consumers are becoming more and more aware of sustainability, with sixty-six percent reporting to be willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable, according to the State of Fashion 2018 report by BoF & McKinsey. The Chinese industry, also in line with its five-year plan with sustainable development at its core, is moving in a greener direction.

The Gap and The Challenge

However, similarly to sustainable fashion in the West, a gap between customer aspirations and the Chinese textile industry manufacturing reality subsists in China as well. According to Chen Dapeng, president of the China National Garment Association (CNGA), environmental sustainability is one of the industry’s three major challenges, alongside the need to improve quality and creativity, and the need for automated manufacturing tools. Dapeng believes that technology innovation will significantly influence the shift towards eco-sustainability. “We ought to be using natural products only, but we know there aren’t enough of them to satisfy demand,” said Dapeng, “Therefore, while we must encourage consumers to use natural materials, we must also find, through technology, a way to make all the other materials less polluting. This will take time. And the size of our industry will only make this evolution slower. However, this isn’t just a national problem: the entire textile industry worldwide is involved” .