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Black in nature does not exist: the future of sustainable fabrics and natural dyes.

The recycled and degradable fabrics and natural dyes will change the impact of the fashion industry on the environment: the Iluna Group case study

Varese, Italy. February 22nd 2021

The market has been asking brands to pay more attention to their impact on the environment, and younger generations, such as Millennials and Gen Z, are more focused on this issue than their older counterparts. Among the trends that have been in the spotlight, the recycled and degradable fabrics and natural dyes made with plants are the ones encountering major success. 67 percent of consumers consider the use of sustainable materials to be a relevant purchasing factor, and two-thirds of surveyed consumers who state that it has become even more significant to limit impacts on climate change (McKinsey survey). Founded in 1969 by Luigi Annovazzi, Iluna Group has been an environmentally conscious family company with an international scope, specialized in microfiber and tulle fabrics for the underwear industry, rigid and elastic laces for the underwear, corsetry, and beachwear industry, as well as for outerwear manufacturers.

In 1985, as part of a precise market strategy, Iluna acquired a new factory in Cuggiono (VA) and specialized in elastic fabrics production. They were also the first in Europe to introduce electronic machines on the market to produce elastic lace. This marked their entry on the international scene, and today Iluna counts 200 employees, all highly specialized, who contribute to the creation and production of collections selected by manufacturing and distribution groups in Italy and abroad. In the last few years, a department of technological and stylistic innovations called Iluna Lab has been added to the product range, widening the offer and introducing the Black Label series, enriched by ultra-thin laces in 20 Denier, as well as the outwear and beachwear line. This new line of products has contributed to the victory of the award ‘Creators of the Year 2013’ of Interfiliere. «Our company has paid attention to environment and sustainability since its foundation, in the Sixties. It all started in Parco Lombardo del Ticino, a conservation area, and this is one of the reasons why we always had a special attention for environmental protection», said Federica Tersch Annovazzi, Head of Designer of Iluna Group, now established in Cuggiono (VA). 

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Iluna Group factory, details of fabric production

«Our collections of recycled yarn were born in unsuspected times, when the market still did not understand the added value of recycled fabrics», says Annovazzi, reminding all the times she had to explain why a recycled fabric has an added value. Investing in sustainable production and performing strict controls throughout the entire supply chain, Iluna has achieved OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification and the conformity Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certificate. «We wanted to give the fashion industry a more solid foundation, not just trends and consumerism. Up to 70% of our green labels are for the international market, from China, to Russia, to US». Which are Iluna’s strong points when it comes to sustainability? There are no doubts from Annovazzi’s perspective: the natural dyes and the recycled and degradable fabrics. 

Natural dyes have been a hot topic recently, and many well-known brands have already used them in their collections. However, working with these kinds of dyes in the fabric industry can be challenging. «You can only produce certain colors, and it is tricky to work with darker shades. Black does not exist as a natural dye. The whole process has an artisanal approach: color production takes time, and you cannot correct the outcome, as you can do with artificial dyes», continues Annovazzi. «We do not add any chemicals or softeners, and to dye our lace and textiles, we use plants and flowers that come from India, certified for durability. Colors change every year, since every season has its imprinting on plants, which is the reason why colors cannot be identical from one year to another». The whole process reminds of alchemical experiments, and the outcome varies, depending on who is making it. «The approach is personal; you have to understand how plants react and which color you are going to have as an outcome before finishing the process, since you cannot correct it afterward. We now have fourteen colors available in our catalogs, but our research and development team is working to implement four more colors every season to meet the market’s requirements». Working with natural dyes means creative and economic effort; all the colors must be tested for durability, and every tint is working only for a specific kind of lace. Annovazzi is not bothered by these difficulties: «Green approach is in our DNA. 70% of our machines have been producing sustainable textiles for more than one year, and we aim to increase the percentage of recycled yarn in fabrics and natural dyes shades».

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Iluna Group, closeup of colored lace fabrics

Besides the natural dyes, another commitment Iluna takes to protect the environment is about green yarn. «We prefer to talk about green, instead of recycled», explains Annovazzi, «we are able to address the full life-cycle of our product in a circular business model, and we manage to produce a yarn that is degradable in 3 to 5 years in an anaerobic environment. We do not simply recycle; we work hard to make our future better», continues Annovazzi, while many brands are investing in collecting plastic from oceans to transform it into recycled fabrics, when asked about this topic, Annovazzi pointed out that at Iluna, they chose a different path: «to produce our sustainable lace, we only use pre-consumers industrial waste, from our thread manufacturers. This way, we can avoid chemical processes that impact the environment and produce a yarn only through mechanical treatments while keeping softness and quality. Even if safeguarding the oceans from plastic is more exciting than recycling industrial waste, we decided not to do so for two main reasons. Because the outcome using pre-consumer waste is softer to the touch and, to stay loyal to our values, to avoid chemical processes and water consumption that this kind of recycling process requires».

«A project in the making. I would love the fashion industry to have talking labels in the future, like the ones the food industry has». She wants to achieve transparency throughout the entire fashion supply chain, and she already introduced such labels within the company for internal use. However, what she wants is «to export these labels to finished products as well, to provide product information on the yarn, about which dyes have been used, and to give absolute traceability to final consumers». When asked whether the market has changed in the last few years, Annovazzi explains: «We are evolving; the market has understood these needs about a year and a half ago. Today the increment of our sustainable production is a turning point that allows us to focus even more on green collections. We are constantly studying how to implement new recycled fabrics, such as lurex, and how to increment the percentage of recycled yarn, which is something the market is asking for». As the market demand for eco-friendly materials and transparency arises, Iluna research and development team and fashion designers are on the look-out to innovate in order to protect the environment and not create more damage. At the question of what their goal is for the future, Federica’s answer was, «We are looking for new things. We want to propose what is not yet on the market: we believe in our project, and we will keep investing in it».

IMAGE GALLERY

Iluna Group is a lace and microfiber environmentally-conscious family company in the province of Varese, which focuses its production on high quality recycled and sustainable fabrics.

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