01/11/2011 05:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fibers for the Future Lie in the Past

The economic climate is still recovering, yet retail trends seem to be rolling along in step with the changing seasons. But what is really going on in the retail industry? Fiber prices are escalating and the front of house is trying to retain its steady composure while the back of house is scrambling to make production ends meet. The devastating floods that hit Pakistan as well as fluctuating import and export tariffs for fibers coming out of India and China have industry experts worried about the ability of the fabric supply to respond to the demand at a rate that is profitable.

"Once these higher fiber prices filter through the supply chain, it's going to be painful," said Gary Raines, vice president of economics and analysis with FCStone Fibers & Textiles. "Who's going to crack first? Will consumers willingly pay higher year-over-year prices for apparel? I'm not sure. 2011 is shaping up to be unlike any year we've seen. There is a major disjoint between retail trends and what's happening on the fiber side."

So how will brands adapt to the approaching reality of 2011 prices and supply? One option is to source from pre-produced materials. This idea is old hat for eco-brands who have been making use of leather and other fabric scraps, tire waste and plastic bottles in a process known as upcycling.

Now it is time for big brands and even luxury brands to join the pre-produced material sourcing crowd. Sports brands have been innovating at this level for years. Nike Considered is working towards a closed loop system. They offer a take back program in which consumers submit previously purchased pieces from the brand, and then use that material coupled with a percentage of new material to produce a new article of clothing or shoe. Gap ran a 'Recycle Your Denim' campaign in March of last year to motivate Gap shoppers to bring in their old denim and receive a 30% off coupon towards a new pair. Giuseppe Zanotti used factory floor waste to produce a fashion forward boot in their A/W10 collection, showing that upcycled fashion can operate at the luxury level.

Sourcing isn't limited to same brand sourcing or industrial waste either. Companies like Teijin Fibers Limited specialize in shredding textile waste down to the fiber state to then reweave it into a new fabric available in standard yardage rolls.

With 23.8 billion pounds of textile waste going into the US landfills each year, and a reported 95% of that which is recyclable, it looks like the retail industry may have found the silver lining in affordable material sourcing with an eco-added bonus. The fibers of the future might just be those of the past.