To put it in perspective over 4 bn m² (4000km²)-year of PU synthetic leather worth $10bn are manufactured worldwide every year.
Fully, 90% comes from China, according to China Plastics Processing Industry Association’s synthetic leather committee, sometimes translated into China Synthetic Leather Association. The country has 500 PU leather makers with 1,500 production lines spread between Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces.
Shoes, bags, clothing
Each year, China produces around 7 bn pairs of fashion shoes, 1 bn pairs of sports shoes, 2 bn bags and 1 bn garments with PU leather and other PU coated fabrics.
And as demand increases environmental concerns grow and there is an increasing demand for waterborne coatings.
“China’s waterborne PU textile coating sector is expected to see up to three digit growth in the next few years, and it has the capability to become the world’s largest market,” said Nick Smith, vice president of Covestro’s textile coatings business.
China’s waterborne PU leather production is expected to reach 140m m² – or $662 m (Yuan4.2bn ) in value – over the next few years, added Tian Jingyan, vice chairman of China Plastics Processing Industry Association’s synthetic leather committee.
“Innovation and sustainability are not two different things,”
Nick Smith, Covestro.
This spectacular growth prediction arises from the fact that waterborne PU coated textiles currently account for less than 1% of China’s overall synthetic leather production.
It was against this backdrop that Covestro launched Insqin in 2014. This waterborne polyurethane dispersion (PUD) technology has 60% solid content, said the firm.
Its also reduces water consumption by up to 95% and energy consumption by up to 50% in the coating process, Covestro claims. “Innovation and sustainability are not two different things,” added Smith.
Drier and waterborne?
Covestro has been taking that message to the brand owners and OEM factories in fashion as well as sportswear including as H&M and Adidas, with whom it has been developing customised coatings – both solvent and waterborne – since 2011.
This work with international clothing and footwear brands helped to encourage Covestro to roll out a number of new products in its Impranil range in May 2015 using Insqin technology.
These products are mostly produced by Covestro. A majority of upstream materials – isocyanates and polyols – are supplied from Bayer’s sites in Caojing, Shanghai and Dormagen in Germany, the same sites where the Insqin products are made.
It also encouraged Covestro to develop the Insqin Partner Manufacturer Program. This is designed to connect Covestro’s direct leather and fabrics manufacturers with the ultimate specifiers, the brand owners.
A further impetus to develop waterborne PU coatings came in 2011 when a group of major multinational clothing bands including Adidas, Nike, G-Star, Puma, GAP, Li-Ning, H&M and Levi Strauss formed a group called ZHDC. This stands for Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) and the group has set 2020 as the deadline to achieve this.
Get with the programme
The Insqin Program should benefit the brands, Smith said. “It’s hard to find out the origin of the materials for brands and we are offering more transparency in the supply chain,” Smith explained.
In addition the Insqin Program requires each member to be subject to yearly third-party audit by Bureau Veritas Consumer Products Services (BVCPS) to ensure that their products meet the requirements of the scheme. Member companies are trained in technology and process management to enable them to better adjust to the changes in technology.
“As the only coating maker among ZDHC members, Covestro has strong influence in setting the benchmark,” said Tian
“I believe this innovative program can truly help the sector,” he added.
"There is a Swiss brand that has been considering us for five years, and initiated contact with us after they saw the news we are joining the Program,"
Xue Taiwen, Xiefu
The Insqin Program signed its first manufacturer, a subsidiary of Korea’s sportswear fabrics maker Duksung in Guangzhou, Guangdong this July, and its second, fashion-focused PU leather maker Xiefu New Material in Kunshan, Jiangsu in October.