Guatemalan Textile Producer Liztex Putting an End to Garment Waste

 

From as early as 400 B.C. people were recycling. Glass was being reused in the ancient city of Sagalassos back in the imperial Byzantine times and the regimented rationing of World War II saw metals from jewelry and coins melted down and re-shaped, used as weaponry on the battlefield – and even plates, forks and spoons.

Textiles were being reused as far back as the eighteenth century during the Napoleonic War. The resource-depleting battle caused virgin wool shortages and wool fibers had to be garnered into new yarns for new uses as clothes.

Bringing the clock forward some 300 years, heavy textile consumption continues but recycling as common practice isn’t prevalent.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average person throws away 70 pounds of clothing per year. That adds up to 3.8 billion pounds of waste. Meanwhile, clothing and household textiles make up a staggering 5.2% of landfill.

The Council for Textile Recycling also reports that the per capita consumption of fiber in the US is around 67.9 pounds with over 40 pounds (59%) per capita being discarded per year. 

Technological fabric advancement - in the way textile mills use recycled materials and yarns to make new textiles - is a phenomenon the 21st century hopes to be known for.

Laroche, a maker of fabric recycling machines, began its textile recycling business in the mid-thirties in the French area of Laronche-sur-Yon. The manufacturing firm first developed a new process to recycle waste from old clothing, mattress and floor covering. Then, new advanced steel machines surpassed their classical predecessors.

Laroche machines today carry out the automatic removal of foreign parts on clothing in other global firms too - buttons, zips and metallic hardware – preparing the clothes to be used again. Such revolutionary recycling capabilities have gone to the far corners of the earth.

Located in the heart of Guatemala, Liztex couldn’t be farther from the west coast of France, but – using Laroche machines, the Central American textiler is putting an end to garment waste. 

Liztex is a vertically integrated woven factory,” explains Christian Ausburg, head of client relations at Liztex, when asked about Liztex’s holistic operations.“Our product catalogue is very big. That way we are able to accommodate most of our client needs.”

Liztex has been coined the ‘supermarket of textiles’, particularly by those who do business with the fabric giant regularly. And like Laroche, Liztex has a rich history.

In 1956, Alberto Habie Mishaan and Jose Habie first established what is now Liztex. The father-son duo bought and sold fabrics for several years before buying looms of their own, making material from Salvadoran yarns. 

By 1973, the pair started exporting textiles to the US. Some forty years on, Liztex now employs 2,500 locals. And houses some of the best machinery. 

It’s hard to ignore the production scope. The mill has four systems for spinning yarn (open end, spindles and compact) with air jet models being installed, and manufactures cotton, polyester, linen, lenzing viscose, modal and tencel.

From the Amatitlan factory, Liztex produces over 2.5 million yards of woven and knit fabric per month, which equates to 3.5 million kilograms - made up of woven textiles mostly. Its major end products are yarn dye shirting, bottom weight twills, indigos denim, corduroy, and cotton poplin, and sells one third of its production to the local market.

Such high production levels see Liztex as a mill of incredible influence. And with such quantity, comes responsibility and accountability for how it chooses to manufacture its fabrics. 

Liztex uses the Laroche Starcut 500 recycler - a huge khaki-coloured machine. The standard model boasts a rotary cutter with a cutting head, which holds four flying knives. A feeding conveyor rolls out of the machine for easy access. This is where Liztex inserts old clothes to be broken down.

“We get scraps and we put it into the Starcut,” explains Ausburg. “Then, the machine tears the scraps apart and turns them into fiber.” The Starcut produces four veils of fiber per hour, he adds. “This fiber is then used in our product in order to use the most sustainably-grown cotton where possible.”

A large part of Liztex recycled production is indigo fabrics, which eventually form denim jackets, shirting and jeans for men and women.

Liztex exports nearly two thirds of its fabrics to North America and Europe. Some of the fashion brands currently working with Liztex are PVH, Express, Kohls, JC Penney and Lucky brand.

But there remain brands – and certain sustainability programs – which Liztex would like to join and support. “As a social and environment conscious company, we believe that we can support H&M with its Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle program,” explains Ausburg.

A new source for making new garments with low-impact materials, H&M is reducing waste and minimizing the need for land, water and chemicals to make virgin raw materials – with its Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle Program.

In 2014, the Swedish retailer gathered more than 7,684 tonnes of used garments – donated by customers across H&M stores worldwide. In the same year, products with at least 20% recycled material from collected garments were released as part of H&M’s seasonal collections. In 2015, H&M hopes to increase the amount of recycled items on the shopfloor by 300%.

However, the Stockholm retailer still faces technological challenges in increasing the amount of recycled cotton to a component that is higher than 20%. It can do so, but not without quality loss. 

This is where Liztex could partner with H&M, believes Ausburg. “We believe that what Liztex makes is special because we use 100% recycled cotton in our fabrics.”

In the meantime, the future of Liztex yarns and recycled fabrics continues to be altruistic.

Liztex has begun selling energy as a bi-product of its manufacturing to users as far away as Costa Rica. The mill also has adopted new forms of energy including thermal, solar, coal and bio-mass fuels, making it one of Guatemala´s most important economic drivers.

“Our goal is to communicate the benefits of recycling and renewable energy with the quality of our products,” says Ausburg. “We want to be able to inspire other textile factories to do the same.”

The 24th annual Apparel Trade Show, held in Guatemala back in May, highlighted Central America as a future global textile hub. According to experts at the tradeshow, Guatemalan textile exports are expected to rise 6% to $1.6bn this year, on the back of an increase in U.S. demand.

The growth prediction outstrips last year’s 1% expansion, when Guatemalan sales to North America suffered a demand halt, only reaching $1.5bn in 2014. The figures total fabric exports predictions fulfill current prophecy.

Ausburg does see a shift in how the industry is approaching social and environmental processes, “due to the responsibility that we as humans owe to the planet we live in.” 

And it goes beyond textile mills and fashion brands. The consumer is changing too.

“In fashion, consumers are becoming younger, trendier and more idealist,” adds Ausburg. “Today, people who buy fashion are more concerned about the world around them.”