In its third annual sustainability report, UNIFI Inc. announced exceptional strides towards its sustainability strategy, in the midst of deep demand disruption in the apparel industry. A global textile solutions provider, UNIFI is known as one of the world’s leading innovators in manufacturing synthetic and recycled performance fibers.
In 2007, the company launched REPREVE, a branded recycled fiber made from PET bottles which would otherwise end up in landfills forever. This innovation began as a way to resolve their own manufacturing waste problem, but it grew into one of UNIFI’s key products and bolstered its sustainability ambitions. By the end of the 2022 fiscal year, the REPREVE product line successfully removed over 35 billion bottles from the landfill, which placed the effort on target to divert 50 billion bottles from landfill by December 2025.
Through supplying top apparel brands with a recycled fiber option, the REPREVE technology enables designers to avoid virgin polyester materials. This not only produces fewer carbon emissions, but it prevents plastic bottles from entering oceans and landfills.
A recent report from the U.S. Plastics Pact revealed that the national recycling rate was only 13.3% for plastic packaging. Yet many leading brands are shifting to REPREVE as consumer pressures build for transparency in supply chain. Patagonia, Reformation, Nike, The North Face, and J. Crew all purchase sustainable fibers from REPREVE and typically mark such apparel with a recognizable green tag.
In addition, UNIFI announced a major expansion of their Textile Takeback program to create a sustainable solution for waste accessible. Their partners will now benefit from a larger global footprint and product application scope.
“Finding new ways to help our partners meet their sustainability goals is always top of mind,” said Meredith Boyd, SVP of Technology, Innovation & Sustainability at UNIFI. “By expanding our Textile Takeback initiative, we are one step closer to shaping a future where waste is the exception – not the rule.”
Among other improvements, the sustainability report lists the following highlights:
- 19% reduction in carbon emissions per revenue dollar*
- 14% reduction in the total pounds of waste produced per revenue dollar*
- 20% energy savings per pound of product produced in new texturing technology
- Increased transparency and traceability through expanded certification abilities
The report also promises an uptick in the percentage of recycled materials that they make and sell, with REPREVE to comprise at least 50% of their FY2025 revenue. The company hopes to expand innovative product offerings and circular processes on a global scale.
Unfortunately, demand for production substantially declined in the beginning of fiscal year 2023, as apparel retailers worked to reduce excess inventory and find steady supply chains. Not only did the COVID-19 resurgence in China cause demand disruption, but inventory levels were higher than normal across global brands. Overall, the industry is cautious about their upcoming orders because of the concern that inflation will reduce consumer spending – leaving retailers stuck with a glut of extra inventory.
“As we look forward, the mid- and long-term drivers of our business remain intact,” said Eddie Ingle, CEO of UNIFI, in a recent quarterly fiscal update. “We expect to see improvements in volumes and operating performance as we move through calendar 2023 and customer ordering patterns begin to normalize. We should also experience improved performance and efficiencies across the business as a result of various cost saving measures currently in effect, along with stabilized raw material input costs. Our global business model and the long-term demand for sustainable solutions remains unchanged.”