Impact of COVID-19 on Malaysia’s tech textiles market mediocre to huge
Malaysian company NanoTextile Sdn Bhd taps into nanotechnology to offer a wide span of opportunities and possibilities in the textile industry. The company provides a complete solution of knit and woven fabrics, laminates and composites. Chief executive officer (CEO) Thomas Ong P S speaks to Fibre2Fashion about the company’s preparations to tackle the crisis arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q. When was the company founded and who are the people behind its foundation?
A. Nanotextile was established in 2015 to spearhead the potential of nanotechnology after realising its opportunities for the textile industry. I took on the pioneer executive leadership and lead to a RM2.4-million textile technology and innovation start-up. A spin-off company, a joint venture between Nano Commerce Sdn Bhd which is the wholly-owned company of NanoMalaysia Bhd, with Nanopac (M) Sdn Bhd and a series of investors.
Q. Tell us more about Nano-embedment technology and its usage in fashion?
A. Besides nano-composite manufacturing, we are focused on nano-embedment processes as well, i.e., we do the final finishing on to the textile product (fabric of which could be leather, cotton, PE, chiffon, etc) and optimisation of the embedment process is also done by us via our proprietary processes. The technology finishing differs from each other. An array of technologies we offer in the hygienic, care, comfort, protection, advanced and premium series. For example, the hygienic series would consist of the anti-fungus, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, self-cleaning and odor control technologies. Market segments we target are home, clothing, automotive, industrial and medical. Clothing textile sub-sectors are not limited to kidswear, women’s clothing and sportswear.
By offering the nanotechnology embedment technologies and processes, we allow our clients to maintain their supply chain undisrupted. We come into the picture only at the final stage, before the final packaging.
Q. How do the costs of producing nanotextiles weigh in relation to normal textiles? Is it a commercially viable method?
A. By maintaining the supply chain, it boils down to us—the clients and Nanotextile—to build the best feasible business case consisting of agreed upon terms like volume, exclusivity and contractual period to maintain our clients’ profit margin. We remain focused at enabling businesses while guaranteeing them the surge in sales on their new offerings to their customers. This business model is deemed by many of our existing clients as a friendly and approachable model without complex terms like royalty or profit sharing, making it commercially viable for many of them.
Q. Since production of nanotextiles requires advanced machines, how do you maintain such machines in the long term? What special care is required?
A. We are dedicated to ensure our machinery is well calibrated and optimised. We do the optimisation check twice a year and maintenance once a year. There is no special care that is required, because our staff is trained to handle them. Furthermore, we do not exhaust our machinery with overproduction. Hence, the capacity of our production limits (or determines rather) the schedule and business commitments, unlike many other industries like electricals or electronics, where the businesses or contractual supply determine the production capacity.
Q. It is known that nanoparticles get released in the environment due to many factors, washing being one. In such a scenario, how can the life of nanotextiles be enhanced to make them wear and tear proof?
A. This is true for nano-finishing textiles and the durability is somewhat limited by how optimised are the nano layers with the fabric. However, most advancements are focusing at nano-composite and nano-fibre manufacturing. We are therefore dealing with yarns and weaving methods that are at nano size. The compatibility of the resultant fabric with nano-finishing is therefore stronger. Hence, the durability can be enhanced.
Q. How do the textiles disintegrate once their life term comes to an end? Are they fully sustainable, nay circular?
A. I would like to perceive sustainability of a fabric or clothing as eco-fashion, whereby the sustainability concerns more than addressing fashion textiles or products. It comprises addressing the whole system of fashion and the usage of alternative raw materials like recycled cotton, organic linen, bamboo fibres, etc. I am fully supportive of circular economy and fashion revolution, which are the future of textiles.
We also participated in an event jointly held by the ministry of international trade and industry and the ambassador of Sweden to Malaysia. Weaving the pathway to a better future, this fashion evolution is casting the future of textiles in a fashionable and sustainable way. While textile remains a commodity, the vital change the industry players could make is to make a change in the business model from a linear to a circular one, hence making it sustainable.
Q. Last year, you had quoted that the nanotextile segment of technical textiles would have a double-digit growth rate during the next five years. Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic is going to hasten things?
A. Yes, indeed. If we look at the prospects of downstream businesses, their market segments consist of clothing textiles, which has the highest contribution by value to the global textile industry. Globally on an average, sales plummeted by 8.7 per cent, the largest-ever fall on record. This is nearly triple the previous worst month on record in 2008. And clothing and brands took the biggest hit, dropping by a large 50.5 per cent. However, we always believe that textile industry isn’t a sunset industry and it is here to stay. My hope is to see the textile industry seeking to revive with a new growth engine based on high-tech products. In my opinion, COVID-19 has definitely created a sudden stroke to the industry in terms of development and advancement, while consumers are adapting to the new norm. Nonetheless, it would also be important for the industry to quickly adopt new technologies to stay relevant in the business.