By: Noah Ing and Catherine Kai Lin Cha
Now that you’ve heard about digitally printed textiles, would you buy clothes made from it? What influences the public opinion on its sustainable attributes and what does the average consumer think?
According to our interview with Frazer Chesterman, Director at FM Future Ltd. and Co-Creator of EventLaunchPad, many elements must be considered in order to make the inkjet textile printing process more sustainable: the substrate, whether water-based inks or chemical-based inks are used, the method with which the ink is cured, and the way the product is disposed. These aspects of production are less known to consumers, but allows retailers to put a green label on their products.
Industry Sustainability Trends
In the fashion industry, there is a major shift towards sustainability and specifically a more circular product lifecycle. In regards to a circular product, this means that when the product is about to be disposed of, it can still be either repurposed or is disposed of in a non-harmful way.
A deciding factor to this positive change is what material is used for manufacturing. As an example, many industry leaders are seeking innovative materials such as Eastman, a textiles company. They are currently developing a material called “Nia Reuse,” essentially a synthesised fiber thread from recycled wood pulp and plastic waste. The basic science behind it is the utilization of acetic acid mixed with the wood pulp, creating nia, a cellulose acetate yarn. The acid is a product of the plastic waste and is about 40% of the yarn while the other 60% is the pulp. The benefits of nia is that it’s an aforementioned circular solution with no compromises on factors such as, quality or functionality. As long as it is 100% nia, Eastman claims that it is completely biodegradable in environments such as soil, compost and water. This product was said to launch sometime during October 2020 for commercial products.
Overall quality for most current and past fashion trends is poor, due to the nature of fast fashion and mass production as the leading factor for manufacturers. A result of focusing heavily on quantity of products is the compromise of quality, as such things like sustainability and overall durability are lost in the product. However, these oversights are not acceptable going forward due to the trends in fashion industry emissions and rising consumer awareness. Consumers are becoming more educated and self aware of a product’s effect on the environment. It is desired for a product to be eco-friendly and this can be seen with Hubbub’s research where they polled british citizens on what they seek in a clothing product. The result was 65% wanted eco-friendly products with government support. Eastman also is a leading forefront in the education of consumers. They found that 20% of people read product labels and are actively changing that by promoting sustainable materials and prompting their consumers to read said labels.
Textile Print Quality
Dot deformation and physical dot gain are more common in textiles than paper due to the nature of textiles being more porous and more unevenly textured than paper. Anything from the structure of clothing fibres, the yarn, the textile, and the finishing will affect colour appearance and print quality.
In 2012, Arianna Valentini found that consumers were acutely aware of print image quality in their clothing. They preferred the textiles with the most amount of image clarity, these being samples with high amounts of optical brightening agents and tighter weaves of fibre.
Customers also tend to prefer cotton over the more common polyester blends for their clothing. When it comes to accessories such as canvas bags, however, the sturdiness comes before the tactile feel and image quality.
With the rise in demand for personalization, many companies now offer custom-printed, on-demand pieces for consumer wardrobes. Items are made to order without excess.
Some examples of personalized digital printing services are Spoonflower’s custom home decor, Vistaprint and Zazzles’ wide range of both home and business products, Nike By You and Converse custom shoes.
Redbubble, Society6, and Design by Humans are platforms that allow designers to upload original clothing print designs online for sale. When these products are ordered by consumers, they are then printed on demand and shipped directly to the consumers without ever needing to go through the creator or third party.
Expanding on the point of print on-demand, our interview with Rob Ens further explains how there is a shift to smaller scale production from the mass production. The print on-demand proves to cut down on carbon emissions due to the customizability of tailoring a product to a customer over the problem of overstocking for the general consumer with mass production. Ens also illustrates how smaller scale production can help with not only sustainability but can synergize with online stores who have the ability to take orders and not have to worry like storefronts which have to manufacture a product for display unsure when a sale may occur.
Variable data digital printing opens doors for future possibilities, especially with the surge of ecommerce.
Chesterman tells us, COVID-19 was thought to make waves in the fashion industry, bringing attention to topics such as re-shoring and supply chains. However, sustainability is still very much a prevailing thought and highly valued by young consumers. The millennial and Gen Z markets value ethical sourcing and sustainable processes more than others.
With fashion trends, it can be said that the rise of new innovative materials can pose a benefit for digital printing processes such as inkjet. This is due to its unique ability to fabricate custom designs without loss in quality of manufacturing time.
Bae, J. H., Hong, K. H., & Lamar, T. M. (2014, February 13). Effect of texture on color variation in inkjet‐printed woven textiles. Color Research and Application, 40(3), 297-303. Wiley Online Library. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1002/col.21865
Davies, J. (Producer). (2020, October 13). Sustainable Innovation in the Textile Industry [Video file]. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.greenbiz.com/webcast/sustainable-innovation-textile-industry
Restorick, T. (2020, September 14). New parliamentary report calls on government to support sustainable fashion. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.hubbub.org.uk/blog/new-parliamentary-report-calls-on-government-to-support-sustainable-fashion
Valentini, A. C. (2012). Consumer perception of inkjet printed textiles (Master’s thesis, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2012) (pp. 1-138). Ann Arbor: ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. doi:http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1024270595?accountid=13631