American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series

American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series – Unifi, Inc.

North Carolina-based Unifi Inc., a global producer of synthetic and recycled performance fibers, has been a leader in the industry—not only through its corporate culture and REPREVE® recycled performance fibers, which have touched every corner of the apparel supply chain, but also through campaigns and collaborations with organizations to raise awareness of the corporate stewardship aimed at mitigating the impact of manufacturing processes on the environment.

The company’s recycling efforts have been driven and widely adopted by the entire apparel supply chain.

Unifi’s REPREVE brand, launched in 2007, has transformed more than 19 billion plastic bottles into recycled fiber for new clothing, shoes, home goods and other consumer products made by leading brands. The company is on track to hit its goal of 20 billion plastic bottles in 2020.

Jay Hertwig, Unifi’s Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing

The brand uses 45% less energy, 20% less water, and has reduced greenhouse gases by 30% versus virgin polyester production, according to Jay Hertwig, Unifi’s Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing. The company’s total recycling of 20 billion bottles will offset the use of petroleum needed to produce virgin fiber, conserving 323.4 million gallons of water.

“REPREVE was born through a manufacturing excellence project where Unifi was trying to determine how we could be more efficient from an overall manufacturing standpoint. Even though we have a high production efficiency rate, we still produce waste,” Hertwig said. “We developed a product made from 100% waste in 2007.  Patagonia and Polartec started demand for Repreve as Patagonia was looking for fleece with recycled content.”

REPREVE has come a long way in just a decade. The number of customers using Unifi’s recycled fibers has grown significantly—from those two brands in 2007 to more than 700 brands globally, according to Hertwig.

Moreover, Unifi has invested heavily in recycling technologies and manufacturing—more than $150 million—over the past decade.

The company now operates its own recycling center in Yadkinville, N.C., which opened in 2010, as well as the REPREVE Bottle Processing Center, a $28 million investment, which opened in 2016.

“We continue to grow our REPREVE production year over year. It has become almost 40 percent of the total production at Unifi today.”

Asked whether Unifi could achieve 100 percent REPREVE production, Hertwig said “Once we started to see demand grow for REPREVE, our vision formed to one day run 100 percent recycled REPREVE production. It’s a lofty goal that comes with many challenges, but one we still strive to meet.”

“As we continue to invest in sustainable and recycling technologies, Unifi expects a larger portion of our production will be REPREVE-based in the future.”


Green Movement and Congressional Scrutiny

As consumer awareness, activism around pollution and calls for more eco-driven products continue to deepen, lawmakers are also increasing scrutiny of plastic pollution in particular and considering proposals to curb it. Some experts have warned that similar bills could be proposed to target microfiber pollution from petroleum-based materials such as polyester, acrylic and nylon.

Hertwig addressed some of the underlying concerns from a sustainability perspective within the context of the end-goal that Unifi is pursuing—curbing pollution through recycling, while creating more cost-savings and efficiencies.

“There are many opportunities for increasing recycling, especially in the United States, where the recycling rate is less than 30 percent. Recycling around the rest of the world is much higher,” Hertwig said.

“We are actively working with our customers and our stakeholders to explore potential impacts that microplastics and microfibers have on the environment. All the while, we remain dedicated to diverting billions of post-consumer plastic bottles, and textile waste, from oceans and landfills. We feel this is one of the most effective ways to mitigate plastic pollution, including microplastics, and to help to shift our economy from linear to circular,” Hertwig added.

As more attention is paid to microfiber pollution in synthetic clothing, companies are taking a closer look at solutions, investing in testing and exploring the effects of fiber shedding.

“We’re working with some brands that are doing research around microfiber pollution. It is a challenge to be overcome—to prevent loose fibers—but laundry equipment manufacturers offer some solutions in terms of removable filter systems,” Hertwig said. “The majority of our production is filament yarn, and if the yarn and fabric is processed in the right way, the fabric doesn’t shed.”

Unifi is on track to meet its goal of recycling 20 billion plastic bottles by 2020 using its REPREVE® technology.


Champions of Sustainability

Hertwig said Unifi’s REPREVE brand is expected to have another good year.

“We are definitely seeing more and more demand in various supply chains that we have around the world for REPREVE and recyclable material in general.”

Unifi launched its sustainability awards in 2017 to recognize brands, retailers and textile partners that are committed to sustainable sourcing.

Unifi announced the recipients of its Third Annual REPREVE Champions of Sustainability Awards on Thursday, Feb. 13.

The awards were given to 26 brand and retail partners that transformed 10 million or more recycled bottles and 42 textile partners that each transformed 50 million or more bottles through the use of REPREVE performance fibers.

Unifi recognized several companies, including H&M which recycled more than a half billion bottles and Walmart and Quicksilver, which reached the quarter billion bottle milestone.

“What we wanted to do with Champions of Sustainability is recognize brands, retailers and fabric suppliers, and highlight their efforts in producing eco-friendly sustainable material with REPREVE,” Hertwig said. “It generated such a level of interest in the supply chain, that many brands, retailers and mills contacted us to learn more about how to be recognized for using Repreve. As the sustainability movement started to grow within their organizations, they wanted to make sure they were getting credit. It has been a surprisingly successful program.”

At the end of the day, Hertwig said Unifi aims to create a higher level of awareness. The REPREVE tagline is “For the Good of Tomorrow.”

“Part of our goal is to create awareness and also educate as many customers and consumers about the importance of recycling through our different marketing campaigns and event appearances,” he said. “We’ve been doing that with our REPREVE national mobile tour, which is relaunching later this spring. It’s traveling across the United States to brands, retailers and different sporting events promoting the importance of recycling, while showing consumers how a bottle can become a pair of shoes, a jacket or automotive seat material.”

Unifi’s REPREVE® on display outside of their factory in Yadkinville, North Carolina.

American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series

American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series

The U.S. textile industry’s investment in sustainability and the “circular economy” comes at a pivotal time.

Consumer demand continues to grow for eco-friendly products, legislators and regulators are taking a hard look at environmental issues across manufacturing industries, and executives across a broad industry spectrum are making sustainability a pillar of their business models.

For years, domestic textile producers have been developing effective sustainable technologies, practices and products to address the myriad challenges associated with reducing manufacturing waste, water and energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions—moves that have helped curb environmental impact.

While there is ample anecdotal evidence showing that the steps textile companies are taking in the U.S is reducing waste, water and energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, no academic or scientific studies exist to date that measure either the impact in the U.S. in aggregate.

However, scores of U.S.-based textile producers, brands and retailers publicly highlight their sustainability goals, commitments, policies and products on their websites.

Most industry executives and experts cite the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as the best credible source for measuring global textile and apparel pollution. China, which has a poor environmental track record and relies largely on coal-based energy, is the number one supplier of apparel imported to the U.S.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the global supply chain is accountable for consuming 98 million tons of non-renewable resources—from the oil used in synthetic fibers to pesticides and fertilizer in cotton production. Globally, the textile industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water annually, including cotton farming, according to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation study in 2017. In addition, the Circular Fibres initiative (a consortium of NGOs, philanthropists, brands, and cities cited in the MacArthur report) estimates the global textile industry generated 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Experts warn that all stakeholders both here and abroad will continue feeling the pressure to make greater progress in the years to come.

U.S. textile executives fully understand the drive for sustainability, which often yields benefits in the form of cost-savings and increased efficiencies, and many are at the forefront of the country’s recycling efforts, conservation efforts and advanced technology developments.

Against that backdrop, NCTO is launching a blog series on sustainability that will feature interviews with several textile executives and experts to highlight the industry’s progress, while also outlining challenges companies face in the quest to ultimately contribute to a cleaner environment.




2019 NCTO Accomplishments

2019 NCTO Accomplishments

Completed NCTO Leadership
Transition & Hosted Listening Sessions
As new NCTO President & CEO, Kim Glas led regional industry roundtables and listening sessions of fiber, yarn, fabric and industry support council members. New staff additions were introduced to members: Kristi Ellis, VP of Communications, Rebecca Tantillo, Digital Projects Manager and Don Vavala, Director of Procurement and Technical Affairs. The new NCTO staff heard from members on industry opportunities and challenges and their suggestions for NCTO’s overall strategy moving forward. We thank the membership for their support throughout this transition.
Secured Congressional Passage of USMCA NCTO led efforts to improve textile provisions in the NAFTA renegotiation and engaged heavily in the push to bring the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to a vote. NCTO advocacy produced new usage requirements for regional components, such as sewing thread and pocketing; tariff preference level reductions; closure of the Kissell Amendment Buy-American loophole; and stronger customs enforcement tools. The revamped agreement was signed into U.S. law in January 2020 and awaits ratification in Canada prior to entry into force.
Advocated for a Strong Berry Amendment During consideration of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, NCTO pressed Congress to adopt provisions that would strengthen the Berry Amendment. As a result, the House Armed Services Committee has required DoD to review the domestic non-availability determination (DNAD) waiver process and brief the committee on the program’s current levels of effectiveness and transparency. We also marshalled strong bipartisan, bicameral support for fixing the Berry threshold.
Fought Expansion of GSP to Textiles & Apparel In 2019, brands and importers revived a concept to extend duty-free preferences on textiles and apparel to developing countries through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program. NCTO joined with Western Hemisphere allies to voice strong, united opposition to undermining our negotiated FTA structure. Our active lobbying efforts produced op-eds, letters of opposition from Congress, regional industries and embassies, and numerous meetings with stakeholders—successfully preventing a bill from being introduced.
Engaged in China 301 Tariff Process NCTO supported the Trump administration’s Section 301 case against China’s intellectual property abuses, testifying on and submitting written comments documenting the damaging effects of China’s IP theft on U.S. textile manufacturers. NCTO advised placing tariffs on finished products, such as apparel and home furnishings, which would bring greater benefit to the North American textile supply chain. NCTO also advocated for an exclusion process for manufacturing inputs not available domestically. USTR reached a Phase 1 deal with China in December 2019.
Continued Industry-Wide Public Relations NCTO expanded its efforts to amply the voice of the American textile industry through a multi-pronged communications strategy. Through internal efforts, NCTO generated an ad equivalency value of more than $3.6 million in earned media. Adding to important assets such as and the weekly Textiles in the News (TIN) newsletter, NCTO launched a new blog at and debuted a weekly press roundup.
Fostered Improved Textile Customs Enforcement CBP Executive Assistant Commissioner Brenda Smith spoke to attendees of NCTO’s Annual Meeting in March, highlighting the agency’s renewed engagement with the domestic textile industry on customs enforcement. This engagement includes regular meetings between NCTO and CBP personnel to improve industry-agency communication and collaboration on e-allegations and improve dialogue on CBP’s enforcement efforts.
Joined Formaldehyde Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) Consortium In early 2019, the EPA proposed formaldehyde, an important ingredient in textile finishing, as one of 20 high priority chemical substances for upcoming risk evaluations and potential regulation. In response, the American Chemical Council formed the Formaldehyde TSCA Risk Evaluation Consortium, which has been coordinating industry interests, providing a discussion forum and ensuring that industry participation is coordinated and complete. Consortium participation is open to all NCTO members.
Grew NCTO Military Activities NCTO continues to engage directly with the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the DoD procurement arm that buys almost $2 billion in clothing & textiles annually. NCTO participated in numerous DLA planning and information-sharing forums including DLA Troop Support’s Clothing & Textiles partners meetings and DLA Industry Day at DLA headquarters in Virginia. NCTO was one of only six associations invited by the DLA Director to join his industry association advisory group.
Raised Profile with TextilePAC The TextilePAC is a vital aspect of NCTO’s advocacy efforts in Washington. Thanks to the active participation of NCTO member companies, the TextilePAC raised $135,661 and contributed a combined $111,500 to candidates for the House and Senate in 2019.
Supported MTB Process & Petition Vetting NCTO members were encouraged to engage in the new MTB cycle by filing petitions. NCTO worked with member companies, the Commerce Department, and International Trade Commission to review hundreds of MTB petitions and register objections to petitions that would directly hurt U.S. textile manufacturers. In 2020, NCTO will continue to work on behalf of its members to advance petitions on needed inputs while blocking harmful petitions on end items.

2019 NCTO Accomplishments

2018 NCTO Accomplishments

2017 NCTO Accomplishments

2016 NCTO Accomplishments

2015 NCTO Accomplishments