Factories are adopting ecologically safe materials and manufacturing processes.

Amid heightened awareness of global warming, more China undergarment and sleepwear makers are venturing into environment-friendly lines.

Amplified by increased demand for ecologically safe items, the supplier base has grown 20 percent in the past two years. At present, 1,500 companies are involved in the category.

Businesses adopt varying strategies in approaching the endeavor. About 90 percent sources earth-friendly fabrics, but does not practice “green” manufacture. To reduce the amount of pollution generated, these makers subcontract dyeing and printing to specialist plants. Pigmenting factories are often clustered in designated areas or industrial parks with proper wastewater treatment facilities.

Alternatively, 8 percent of suppliers carry out ecologically safe procedures, but procure conventional materials. Companies invest at least $1,000 in obtaining ISO 14001:2004 certification and submit to annual inspections to ensure continued compliance.

The rest of the industry consists of large businesses boasting both environment-friendly inputs and operations. Most run two factories and can create green textiles in-house. They also have separate dyeing facilities located close to refuse liquid processing plants.

Regardless of strategy, the majority is practicing proper waste disposal. For instance, leftovers and cut-offs are sold to scrap buyers rather than burned or thrown away.

 

Range of materials

Most inputs for China’s underwear and nightclothes lines are biodegradable and Oeko-Tex Standard 100-compliant.

Among the popular fabric choices are organic cotton, modal, and bamboo rayon and charcoal. Other options include corn-derived PLA, Tencel, chitin, and soybean and milk protein fibers.

Organic cotton is a variant grown under chemical-free conditions. The soil used does not carry any synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for at least three years. Moreover, when processed, the crop’s natural wax is retained, leaving a distinct smooth texture.

Modal is made from reconstituted beech cellulose. It is one of the most-durable green filaments, similar in strength to polyester. The textile boasts high elasticity and resembles the feel of silk. The fabric also drapes well and is softer than regular cotton and cotton-Lycra blends.

Compared with conventional cotton, modal’s hand remains the same even after 25 washes. The material is widely adopted in men’s and women’s underwear, and some pajamas.

Bamboo is a common option as the plant is sustainable, maturing every two or three years. The input is available as either rayon or charcoal fiber. The first variant is anti-bacterial and retains this property despite repeated rinsing and solarization. The textile is also hypoallergenic, and withstands static and UV rays. The filament, however, is too thin to be used alone in apparel. Suppliers therefore mix the fabric with spandex or Lycra when utilized in undergarments.

Bamboo charcoal, meanwhile, is selected for its deodorizing, soft and comfortable characteristics.

Another renewable choice is PLA from corn as the crop can be harvested in several months.

The material is resistant to wrinkling and UV rays, and the flame-retardant quality is similar to wool’s and higher than polyester’s.

Chitin fabric is made from natural polysaccharides created by certain crustaceans, insects and fungi. Much like cellulose found in plants, it blends easily with natural textiles. The input also withstands odor and static, and is anti-bacterial.

Tencel is a byproduct of conifer trees, and is moisture-wicking, soft, comfortable and easy to drape. This variant is usually employed in underwear.

Soybean protein fiber is extracted from leftover tofu and soymilk via wet spinning. The resulting material is similar to the texture of cashmere, and is said to contain 16 amino acids that are beneficial to human skin.

Milk protein filaments, meanwhile, are processed from dewatered and skimmed milk. Compared with wool, the textile is softer and performs better in terms of heat insulation and air permeability. The input also boasts durability and anti-pilling. The disadvantages are the elevated shrinkage rate and the difficulty in dyeing.

In terms of expenses, green fabrics are at least 10 percent higher than regular variants as the former require more complex production procedures and a longer lead time. Bamboo rayon and charcoal are 20 to 30 percent costlier, andorganic cotton 100 percent.

As regards dye, many companies are employing earth-friendly active types that adhere to ecological standards under REACH.

Most materials are domestically sourced. Those bearing overseas brands such as DuPont and Lenzing are often procured from local distributors.

Under efforts to cultivate the environment-friendly garments line, China makers are boosting R&D.

In particular, underwear suppliers are improving usability and design. Many bra companies are creating models to suit larger body types. Recent items are available in size 46E or higher.

Moreover, several shapewear factories are offering multifunction styles. Apart from enhancing the figure, pieces such as bodysuits and slimming camisoles can now be worn outside or partially revealed.

Releases are in solid red, black or white, or have allover prints. They are embellished with lace, chiffon or embroidery.

Further, businesses are developing men’s undershirts designed to contour the midsection. Variants feature firming panels around the stomach and back, and provide lumbar support to improve posture.

Some boxers and briefs also highlight wide elastic waistbands that help tighten the torso.

The latest briefs adopt vibrant colors such as purple, yellow and green, and may be printed. Traditional black, blue and red models, however, remain popular. Conventional white kinds are best-sellers in Europe and North America.

Most pairs come in organic cotton or bamboo rayon. Several are blended with modal.

As regards sleepwear, companies are focusing on visual interest. To illustrate, women’s nightgowns are often trimmed with lace on the straps, chest and neckline. Hems are usually ruffled. Releases are knee-length or longer, and employ silk. They utilize solid colors.

Casual sleeping sets, meanwhile, may come in one hue or contrasting shades for the top and bottom. Variants include shirts and pants, or camisoles with pants or shorts. Nightgowns are offered in long-sleeved or sleeveless cuts. The products use earth-friendly dyes.

In terms of price, green garments are at least 20 percent more expensive than conventional types.

Low-end models are between $0.60 and $3. They are made of pure cotton, cotton-modal, modal-spandex, Tencel blends or bamboo rayon. The category consists of camisoles, panties, briefs, boxers and sleep shorts.

Midrange variants are $3.50 to $7. Designs utilize conventional or organic cotton, bamboo rayon, modal-spandex, modal, or chitin or soybean protein fiber. Undershirts, camisoles, bras, boxers, sleep shorts, nighties and short-sleeved pajamas are available.

High-end versions adopt organic cotton, milk protein fiber, Tencel-Lycra, or bamboo charcoal or rayon. Women’s and men’s long-sleeved sleepclothes, and shapewear are popular. These exceed $7.

Quotes are expected to climb more than 10 percent in the next six months amid mounting material costs. For more on “Companies embrace ‘green’ trend”.