Bemberg™: Sustainable Cupro Fiber for Indian Traditional Wear
Bemberg™ is the brand name for cupro fiber from Asahi Kasei. It is sustainable regenerated cellulose fiber made from cotton linter. Asahi Kasei is now the only manufacturer in the world. Bemberg™ has integrated itself into the culture of countries around the world, bringing beauty to people’s lives for many years. In India, with its unique lustre Bemberg™ is used for traditional wear such as saris and dupattas since more than 40+ years. Popularity of Bemberg™ rests on its reliable quality, gliding smooth textures, bright colours, and excellent comfort in any climate.
History of Bemberg™ in India
Growth with India
In India, Bemberg™ is a familiar fabric that is used for traditional wear such as saris and dupatta for more than 40 years now. We provide support at production sites to ensure that local people are actively involved at all stages of the value chain, from the procurement of the raw material (cotton linter) to the distribution of the final product. We also work to improve technologies, create employment, and secure stable income.
In 1931, Asahi Kasei built the Bemberg™ plant in Japan, and started operations.
In 1954, export of fabric for luxury saris begins.
In 1977, sales of yarns for traditional wear in India begins.
In 1980, textile mills in India who use Bemberg™ come to Japan.
In 2016, participation in the Business Call to Action (BCtA) led by the United Nations Development Programme with initiatives in India.
In 2017, Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certification is obtained from Textile Exchange. Asahi Kasei is now the only manufacturer of cupro fiber (Bemberg™) in the world.
Features of Bemberg™
Bright, Vivid Colours Rooted in Cultural Heritage
With its silk-like lustre and bright colours, Bemberg™ is used to make traditional wear such as saris and dupattas.
Feels Silk-like Smooth and Breathes with the Skin
Beauty with Colour Depth
Beautiful lustre and rich dye colours add to the diverse appearance of the fabrics. Bemberg™ fibers have many extremely small waterways and non-crystalline regions, making them quick to absorb dye. Bemberg™ fabric can therefore be dyed a deep colour in a short space of time. With its beautiful lustrous colors and unique textures, Bemberg™ creates a sense of presence.
Sustainability of Bemberg™
Derived from Cotton Linter
Cotton linter, the raw material of Bemberg™, is the short downy fiber enfolding cotton seeds, and is not used for cotton yarn production. This cotton linter is procured from various parts of the world including India. We transform this pre-consumer material into a pure regenerated cellulose fiber with our unique technology. We use already available by-product and not a separate resource and hence reducing the burden on the environment.
Cotton boll (left), Cotton seed (center), Cotton linter (right)
Non-refined linter (left), Refined linter (center), Bemberg™ continuous filament and staple fiber (right)
Born from Nature, Return to Nature
Made from a natural material, Bemberg™ is a biodegradable and compostable fiber that breaks down naturally after disposal. The fiber is decomposed by living organisms and returns to the soil. The images below are 100% Bemberg™ buried in the soil during summer conditions (temperature: 35C; humidity: 80%). The weight of the material decreases by one half in nearly two months. Even when burned, Bemberg™ produces fewer toxic substances.
Original fabric (left), After 1 month (center), After 2 months (right)
Social contribution of Bemberg™ in India
In this article we would like to share how Bemberg™ is cooperating with the Indian textile industry and we pursue through our business solutions to the social issues faced by India.
Supports for Sustainable Business Growth of Fiber Industry in India
Throughout all stages in the value chain, from the procurement of the raw material, cotton linter, to the distribution of the final products, Asahi Kasei supports for local plants to improve production technology, training of young human resources, and creating job as well as securing stable incomes. Free loan of an equipment of gathering cotton linters as well as technical support for the education of productivity improvement by our technicians are provided to some Indian companies. At three national universities, we give lectures, provide materials for on-campus fashion show and graduation projects and also offer an internship in Japan where interns experience a wide range of practices, from the production of yarn to textiles. These approaches were highly regarded, that led us to participate in the Business Call to Action (BCtA) run by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Beyond selling yarn, Asahi Kasei is undertaking many different initiatives throughout the supply chain, from raw materials to final products. These efforts help to increase the income of workers and produce solutions to social issues such as the empowerment of women in society. We also believe they benefit Asahi Kasei’s operations in terms of its ability to innovate and obtain new customers. Here are some examples of Asahi Kasei’s efforts in India.
Bemberg™ supporting education through Industry-Academia collaboration
With the goal of improving students’ knowledge and skills, we cooperate with academic institutions and contribute to the development of young human resources who will lead the future textile and fashion Industries. We have been working with National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad (NID), National Institute of Fashion (NIFT), Mumbai and Bengaluru and DKTE.
NID AND NIFT MUMBAI
NID (National Institute of Design): Located in Ahmedabad, NID is a national design college representative of India. It engages in industry-academia cooperation
focused on students who major in textiles and garment design.
NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology): A national education institution specializing in fashion design, NIFT has campuses in major cities in India such as Delhi and Mumbai and many of its graduates, mainly designers, are active in the apparel industry.
Asahi Kasei began working with these institutions in 2016 and has focused on lectures about Bemberg™. We also arranged a visit to Surat, a major Bemberg™ production center, as an
extracurricular event. We have been also working on projects after the lectures so that students can use their knowledge gained and skills acquired to work on the fabrics and garments using Bemberg™.
In 2017, NID and NIFT Mumbai held fashion shows for their graduating students, with Asahi Kasei as the main sponsor. Students presented wonderful collections made from Bemberg™.
The collaboration with NIFT started with its Mumbai school. In 2018, we also began lecturing at NIFT Bangalore. The activities have developed and we have become comprehensively involved with NIFT, a fashion education institute with campuses in major Indian cities.
The first materials lecture about Bemberg™ was held in 2018. DKTE located at Ichalkaranji, which is also known as “Manchester of Maharashtra”. It is primarily a engineering college and very well known for Textile engineering. We educated the students on the characteristics of Bemberg™. Based on the knowledge about Bemberg™ obtained from the lectures, students experimented with weaving and knitting fabrics and also analyzed and compared them.
Lecture at DKTE and MoU signing activity at DKTE
Lectures at NID and NIFT have continued since 2016 and almost 700+ students have been a part of it so far. Collaboration with DKTE started in 2018. These collaborations have gradually increased the visibility of Bemberg™ and Asahi Kasei’s activities in India. Moreover, our relationships with the schools have grown stronger. The young students are full of ideas and are capable of analyzing materials in a fresh way that may even lead to the development of new applications. They also give Asahi Kasei a lot to learn from. Indeed, these industry-academia collaborations are bearing fruit.
Today, sustainability is one of the most important issues in the textile industry and it draws the attention of educational institutions and their students. By learning about Bemberg™, an environmentally responsive material, and using it in their work, students have meaningful opportunities to discuss the sustainability efforts that the world requires. Learning about sustainability supports the eco-friendly development of the industries. Communicating information about the trends of textiles in Japan and Western countries nurtures students’ awareness of international culture and creates opportunities to cross-culturally learn about the industry.
The core of the industry-academia cooperation in India is the development of young human resources that will lead the textile and fashion industries in the future. The ability to gain more customers through the greater visibility of Bemberg™ materials will also support the weavers involved in the production of Bemberg™ in India.
Providing technical assistance to local stake holders to improve both our product quality and material producers’ skills and profitability
Technical experts from Japan visit India and we also organize fabric development seminars because we are committed to achieving the improvement of local producers’ skills, securing steady income for them, and other goals.
The experts guide on stabilizing the fabrics quality to ensure customer satisfaction and also how to reduce unnecessary waste and contribute and improve production efficiency.
Visiting local weavers
Meanwhile, we also regularly arrange seminar for fabric producers to show the development and offer ideas for new products. For example, seminars introduce the many different kinds of materials that Asahi Kasei makes experimentally in Japan and the latest fashion trends for the Indian market. We also aim to increase workers’ wages by nurturing material producers’ capability of developing products that satisfy many different needs and by helping to increase their profits.
Since 2000 when the efforts began, the quantity of Bemberg™ sold by local producers has increased nearly six-fold. Our activities have taken on greater meaning.
Qualitative improvements of the materials produced by local producers and a greater variety of materials enhances the value of Bemberg™ as a brand. The increased use of Bemberg™ materials by apparel companies is another significant result.
Our activities raised the quality of materials and made it possible to deliver higher quality products to Indian consumers.
Enhancing material producers’ technical and developmental skills can be expected to increase sales, profitability and the variety of merchandise available. The improvement of business performance stimulates new hiring in India.
In addition to wage increases following the improvement of a company’s profitability, workers can expect their improved skills to result in wage increases. These trends work to train the younger workforce and contribute to lasting technical improvement of material production areas in India, including improvements in their labor environments.
Technical assistance to local raw material suppliers to improve their skills and profitability and ensuring the consistent purchasing of raw materials
We pursue goals such as the improvement of the skills of raw material suppliers, the creation of jobs and the securing of steady income by, for example, lending equipment to Indian oil mills for free and providing technical guidance.
Bemberg™ is made from the fuzz around the cotton seed, which is called cotton linters and is not normally used in cotton yarns. Cotton linters are supplied by the oil mills that make oil from cotton seeds. Being a natural material, however, there are problems in procuring cotton linters due to climate change and extreme price fluctuations. This is attributable to the unavoidable instability of the prices and quantities involved in the procurement of the raw materials that are an indispensable part of the production of Bemberg™ yarns.
As one of the world’s largest cotton producers, India has enormous potential to be a new supplier of cotton linters. But the number of oil mills equipped with cotton linter manufacturing facilities was limited in India and the country also lacked skills sufficient for the qualitative management of cotton linters.
The process of making cottonseed oil from cotton is described in Figure 5 below. In fact, however, nearly 95% of the oil mills in India extract oil without delinting the cotton seeds as shown in Figure 1 below. This only extracts the oil and its residues from the cotton seeds. As a consequence, Indian cottonseed contained many impurities and was of poor quality. Valuable by-products such as cotton linters and hulls, which could be obtained if delinting facilities were available, were not utilized.
We started pursuing solutions to these problems, the need to improve the profitability of the local oil mills, and our need for consistent procurement of raw materials.
Asahi Kasei lends, free-of-charge, the equipment and analytic devices necessary for the production of cotton linters to multiple oil mills in India, and dispatches staff to India regularly to provide technical guidance. This has led to the qualitative improvement of cotton linters, a raw material for Bemberg™, and has mitigated procurement concerns.
The quantity of Asahi Kasei’s purchase of cotton linters from India increased nearly three-fold from 2010, when the lending of equipment began, to 2019. We contribute to the increased profitability of oil mills.
Local cotton delinting plant
Cooperation with raw material suppliers has enabled Asahi Kasei to consistently procure high quality cotton linters. This been a significant result that has stabilized the Bemberg™ business.
Asahi Kasei’s free lending of equipment and technical assistance have enabled oil mills in India to produce high-purity cottonseed oil and improve their profitability and technological capabilities. Moreover, the oil mills have successfully developed new sources of income such as the sale of cotton linters, a by-product of cottonseed oil. Asahi Kasei will continue sending its technical experts to India to continue its efforts to ensure consistency in product quality. The commitment will continue to deepen as we intensify our pursuit of traceability which is becoming increasingly necessary in the global fashion industry.