Transforming the textile dyeing industry
To reduce the impact our business has on the environment, IKEA constantly strives to minimise the amount of resources used. Together with our biggest textile supplier, we have recently introduced a new fiber dyeing technique that reduces water consumption by 80%.
“I’m always thinking of new ways to make better products, that’s the way I am. I’ve introduced several new fabrics and production techniques to IKEA over the years and dope dyed polyester is the one I’m most proud of. The benefits for the environment are great,” says Frank Chen, part owner of Hilong.
Hilong, located in the Shanghai-area in China, has been an IKEA supplier since 1997. During these years they have gone from being a small trading company to the biggest IKEA textile manufacturer, currently producing around 4 million products for IKEA on a yearly basis.
In 2012, Hilong came up with the idea to develop dope dyed polyester for furniture cover production. Dope dye is a technique used to colour synthetic textiles such as acrylic, nylon and polyester. The dope dye process differs from traditional fiber dyeing since it involves one less process step.
In the dope dye process, pigments are added to the liquid polymer solution before synthetic fibers are extruded. Compared to traditional fiber dyeing – where colour is applied in a second process step; after fibers have been extruded – the process saves approximately 80% water, 20-30% dyestuff, 80% other chemical agents and it also requires less energy.
However, since polyester is a relatively small part of the IKEA range and an oil-based material which scores poorly on the IKEA Product Sustainability Scorecard, it took Hilong quite some time to convince the IKEA management to invest time and effort in developing the technique.
“We worked hard together with Hilong to make people understand what dope dye is and what the benefits for the environment are. We needed to show what a dope dyed fabric would look like and how it could be produced,” says Eric Peng, business developer at IKEA.
From idea to large scale production
Dope dyed filaments used to produce silk imitations have been around for some time, but IKEA wanted dope dyed staple to produce colourful cotton and linen imitations. This technique was poorly developed at the time.
“We optimized and developed the whole production process for dope dyed staple. The biggest challenge was consistent colour in each batch. In the beginning the colours varied a lot,” says Weizhong Yang, general manager of SHA Different, a dope dyeing factory and sub-supplier to Hilong.
Furthermore, the dope dye staple production required investments in new spinning machines and implementation of a new spinning process. The design of the textiles also needed adaptations because making printed patterns using the dope dye technique isn’t possible and developing new dope dye colours is quite costly.
It wasn’t until the end of 2014 that the first dope dyed IKEA products reached the market. That’s when the traditionally coloured EKTORP SVANBY grey sofa covers were changed to the dope dyed EKTORP NORDVALLA grey sofa covers.
Today, several IKEA suppliers use dope dyed synthetic textiles. Currently, nearly 50% of the polyester used in the IKEA supply chain is dope dyed and the number is constantly increasing. Only in Hilong, the introduction of dope dyed polyester has led to annual savings of approximately 300 000 tons of water.
“More environmentally friendly fabrics are the way of the future. In cooperation with our suppliers, we wish to expand dope dyeing to more materials such as recycled polyester, viscose and textured filaments,” says Eric Peng.