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How the world’s largest textile fair is making sustainability its top priority

The clothing and textiles industry is the second-largest polluter globally, behind only the oil industry in its environmental impact. And while fast fashion often gets the lion’s share of the blame, the home furnishings industry is far from innocent.

Heimtextil, the largest international trade fair for interior textiles, is starting the new decade with a pledge to be more sustainable. In its “Material Manifesto,” published in anticipation of the Frankfurt fair’s 50th edition, which opens next week, the show committed to six overarching concepts, including using as many recycled or borrowed materials in its exhibitions as possible; sourcing from local resources wherever available; managing waste responsibly; and designing exhibitions with recyclability in mind. Heimtextil is doing more than just taking a pledge—the fair is also weaving the topic of sustainability throughout Trend Space, a high-profile section of the show curated by a group of forecasters that spotlights trends for the upcoming year.

Textiles that informed the 2020 Trend SpacePietro Sutera

One environmentally minded highlight of the 2020 Trend Space will be the Future Materials Library curated by London design studio FranklinTill, which will present emerging innovations in sustainable materials. Focused on material composition and manufacturing advancements—including both recycled materials and cultivated textiles (as in, they were once living organisms)—the library aims to provide insight and inspiration for both visitors and exhibitors, complementing the exhibition of more traditional design and color trends. Each featured sample will be displayed with information about the material’s origins, the manufacturing process to create it and its potential afterlife.

In late December, representatives from the Messe Frankfurt Texpertise Network, a global network of textile trade fairs that host Heimtextil, joined the Conscious Fashion Campaign and the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP) at the U.N. headquarters to discuss how they can implement sustainable development goals across the textile industry as a whole. “Along with digitalization, sustainability is a topic currently exerting a significant influence on the global textile industry,” said Detlef Braun, a member of the executive board at Messe Frankfurt, during the meeting. “Messe Frankfurt has been accompanying this development with its worldwide textile events under the umbrella of the Texpertise Network for more than 10 years. It is therefore a logical conclusion that the sustainable development goals should be integrated in our worldwide textile events to generate acute awareness of the importance of sustainability in the textile industry.”

Detlef Braun speaking at the UN in December.

Detlef Braun speaking at the UN in December.Rich Dodge

During next week’s fair, Lucie Brigham, chief of office for the U.N. Office for Partnerships, will present the U.N.’s goals during the opening press conference. The objectives will also be presented and discussed at an interactive stand in the fair’s Green Village, a section of the expo dedicated to environmentally and socially responsible exhibitors.

More than 250 companies will be presenting sustainably produced textiles at Heimtextil this year—the highest number of sustainable exhibitors the fair has ever had. (Though with more than 3,000 exhibitors at the fair, the industry clearly has a long way to go.) For the 10th year, Heimtextil will publish The Green Directory, an exhibitor index of sustainability minded vendors and their latest product innovations.

“Materials can be the building blocks of a sustainable design agenda,” said Caroline Till, the co-founder and director of FranklinTill, in a 2018 episode of the podcast “Thought Starters.” “We’re in this linear system of take, make, discard in terms of the way we use materials at the moment. … I’m a big advocate that design can effectively stop the majority of problems we face if we actually focus on them as a design problem … and I think brands have a massive role to play in this and can be advocates of bringing cutting-edge research into practice.”

Heimtextil, the largest international trade fair for home and contract textiles, will be held January 7 to 10 in Frankfurt, Germany.

Homepage photo: The 2019 Trend Space at Heimtextil | Pietro Sutera

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