Weaving sustainability into the fabric of the future

Posted on 5 Oct 2021 by Jonny Williamson

Carrington Textiles is the largest manufacturer of workwear fabric in the UK, producing 130 million metres annually across the international factories of the wider group, and exports to more than 80 countries. Based in Lancashire, the birthplace of British textiles, the business has 130 years of experience and one of Europe’s largest fully integrated textile processing and finishing operations. The company played a key role during the Coronavirus pandemic, supplying more than 10 million metres of specialised fabric to the healthcare sector in the UK and mainland Europe. It has also expanded its portfolio to supply flame retardant, waterproof, defence and sustainable fabrics to the market. The Manufacturer caught up with Research and Development Manager, Kirsty White, to hear how an innovation led environmental strategy is the ace up Carrington Textiles’ sleeve.

‘Eco-innovating’ is a key aspect of Carrington Textiles’ enviro-strategy. How does what you do in R&D support that?

We specialise in the development of fabrics capable of performing in the most demanding workplace environments including the emergency services, oil and gas, construction and healthcare. Longevity of the product is absolutely key to supplying markets such as these.

That doesn’t mean just deploying more efficient manufacturing techniques. It also means keeping up-to-date with exciting new technologies and fabric developments.

It can be a challenge to balance longevity and sustainability because recycled polyester, for example, typically doesn’t offer the same strength capabilities as virgin polyester. That’s why the research and development team are so instrumental.

Yet, changing one aspect of the process to make a product more sustainable can have a negative effect elsewhere in that product’s lifecycle. That’s why we take a wider holistic approach to sustainability across our operation and collaborate closely with fibre producers, spinners and weavers, our manufacturing sites and customers.

To continue being at the forefront of innovation means looking at what’s currently available in the market as well as what’s at the cutting-edge. It also means leveraging developments in other sectors adjacent to workwear such as outdoor textiles.

Kirsty White- R-D manager-Carrington Textiles. Image courtesy of Carrington Textiles

Kirsty White, Research and Development Manager at Carrington Textiles

What does your typical day look like?

I’m very fortunate that it varies from day to day. Being involved in most of R&D across our group requires a lot of coordination with our four production facilities: Pincroft Dyeing and Printing and Alltex Dyers and Finishers, both in the UK; Carrington Textiles International in Pakistan. MGC in Portugal, and Adventum Technologies in Russia.

In terms of fabric and product development, I work closely with our technical and quality teams, alongside our weaving partners to ensure the success of trials across all sites.

We conduct tests to validate the greige [the raw, unprocessed fabric] before it goes into production along with end process and final product testing.

Carrington Textiles is a member of several key sector bodies, including The European Textile Services Association and The Microfibre Consortium, which aims to minimise fibre fragmentation and its release into the environment

We’re also involved in lots of national and international R&D projects, such as POPFREE which aims to develop water and dirt repellent clothing without the use of harmful PFAS [fluorine].

We also work on projects with competitors. That might be unusual but if we are going to address big global challenges like climate change, then collaboration will be vital – even if we are in competition with each other.

Pincroft- Carrington Textiles' biggest UK factory. Image courtesy of Carrington Textiles

Pincroft – Carrington Textiles’ largest UK factory

What investments has Carrington Textiles made to become more sustainable?

Over the past decade, more than €45m has been spent on new machinery and processes, with further investments due to be made in new laboratories, machinery, warehousing and sustainable energy projects.

Our dyeing processes use less than 50% of the water traditional processes use and we’ve cut our energy usage by more than 40% by introducing LED lighting.

Our heat recovery system saves 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year and we look to harvest or re-use energy wherever possible. Any chemical we use is recycled where possible and those which can’t have a ‘run to dry’ system which minimises the amount of waste chemical at the end of the process.

New lab equipment allows us to conduct lab trials and more of them, that frees up time on the production line, generates less waste and improves the chances of a development being successful.

On the production side, we have two automatic cutting machines which help optimise yield and a digital colour measuring system on our dye range and sanforizer enabling us to check tolerances directly on the line.

That means any necessary adjustments can be swiftly made to ensure the product meets the customer specification. That keeps our waste levels low and means no quality issues or delays for our customers.

With our spinning and weaving being done overseas, having a strong collaborative relationship with our sites means that we can carry out trials and validations remotely prior to the product actually leaving the factory.

That really provides a strategic advantage in terms of maximising the speed of developments while reducing our carbon footprint.

Can you provide an example of Carrington Textiles being at the forefront of innovation?

As far as I’m aware, there isn’t anyone within the workwear sector that utilises CiCLO technology, developed by Intrinsic Advanced Materials.

CiCLO is a sustainable textiles ingredient in the form of an additive that is combined with polyester at the very beginning of the fibre making process. When CiCLO Polyester ends up in the environment either through washing or end of life of the garment, it behaves like natural fibres and breaks down.

The additive doesn’t have an impact on the lifecycle of the product, it still offers the same longevity, but it greatly reduces micro-plastic pollution and textile accumulation.

Part of our Balance Range of sustainable fabrics, Hawksbill and Orca – due to be launched in the coming months – will incorporate CiCLO technology.

It’s not something the market has asked us to develop, it’s an opportunity that we think is really innovative, and will satisfy customers’ need for more sustainable fabrics. The expansion of our stretch range and the introduction of lighter, yet durable fabrics are also a key focus for Carrington Textiles’ research and development strategy.

*all images courtesy of Carrington Textiles

Sustainability is a major theme of this year’s Digital Manufacturing Week, including Smart Factory Expo and Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit.