Since Covid it has been a bit of up and a bit of down for all aspects of the textile care industry and no less so for linen supply. As things improved, albeit gradually after the pandemic started to recede, people could be forgiven for thinking the worst was behind us but then came the Russian war on Ukraine and now the worsening situation in the Middle East, resulting in attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. Unfortunately, that is beginning to have an effect on the supply chain.

Steve Gould, sales director, MIP UK says: “As ever, procurement of healthcare linen remains price sensitive with the NHS trying to stretch budgets and Care Homes feeling the pinch due to inflation. The green agenda is coming into play more and more with suppliers stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to balance the cost of product, which may be best when sourced halfway around the world, with a more locally produced product which costs more but delivers a lower carbon footprint.

“Recent events in the Red Sea /Suez Canal are the latest challenge for the industry with transport costs increasing five-fold which will possibly impact the cost of goods at some point in the not too distant future. The container ships are re-routing which adds two to three weeks to a journey and could potentially cause stock outages in the industry unless the situation improves soon.”

Over at Trade Linens which supplies ,high end hospitality establishments, company founder Robert Lancaster-Gaye says: “We are definitely seeing an increase in conscious choices with sustainability rising up the customer and consumer agenda in spite of the economic challenges. With sustainable business practices being at the heart of how Tradelinens does business, this is creating some exciting opportunities for us. With our longstanding relationships with innovative and socially conscious mills, this re-emphasis by customers and consumers is something we’re well-positioned to deliver.”

TSA said recently that laundries were back to more than 90 per cent of pre- Covid levels, is this what Tradelinens have found? “We have definitely been noticing how much more positive the hospitality sector feels. At Tradelinens we are working on several new openings, our hotel clients are reporting being at capacity and our laundry customers are busier than ever, so even allowing for the impact of the cost of living, we are certainly seeing the effects of the leisure and business travel bouncing back.”

Dr Vikas Shah of Linen Connect says: “The contrast in demands between luxury and budget hotel sectors is increasingly stark. High-end establishments focus on top-quality linen that offers utmost comfort and conveys sophistication. Linen Connect, renowned for its hospitality offerings, meets this demand with a selection of superior, long-lasting fabrics that endure regular laundering while maintaining their sumptuous feel.

“On the other hand, budget hotels, though still valuing durability, are more driven by cost considerations. Their priority lies in functional, affordable linen options that provide comfort without the premium cost. Linen Connect caters to this segment with cost-effective solutions that do not compromise on fundamental quality standards.

“Sustainability has transformed from a trend to an imperative. Hotels are increasingly scrutinised for their environmental impact, a concern extending to their choice of linen. Eco-friendly linen, crafted from organic or recycled materials, is becoming popular. Linen Connect offers products that are not only environmentally responsible but also designed to minimise water and energy usage during laundering.”

Shah says the international linen supply chain has faced considerable challenges, intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Issues like labour shortages, logistical disruptions, and variable raw material costs have influenced the availability and price of linen. “Linen Connect has responded to these challenges by diversifying its supply sources and fostering robust partnerships with manufacturers, ensuring a steady supply of quality products to its clients,” he says.

As for climate change, he believes this poses a significant obstacle to linen procurement as severe weather conditions impact the cultivation of natural fibres such as cotton, leading to variability in availability and pricing. He says Linen Connect is aware of these challenges and is exploring alternative, more climate-resilient materials, while promoting sustainable farming practices among its suppliers.

“The hotel sector is gradually recovering post-Covid, but progress is patchy across different regions. Linen demand is closely linked to this recovery. As hotels reopen and occupancy rates rise, there has been an upsurge in linen demand. However, the industry also faces new expectations regarding hygiene and cleanliness, prompting hotels to invest in higher quality, durable linen capable of withstanding frequent and intensive cleaning regimes.

In summary, he says: “the linen procurement landscape is rapidly evolving, influenced by a mixture of market demands, environmental considerations, and global challenges. Luxury hotels are searching for indulgence and customisation, whereas budget hotels emphasise cost-efficiency. Sustainability has become a pivotal factor in procurement decisions, reflecting both environmental and cost concerns.

“The realities of supply, compounded by climate change impacts and the Covid-19 pandemic aftermath, present ongoing challenges.”

Conserving stocks

Concentrating more on conserving existing stock than procurement, when it comes to making strides in linen sustainability, Regenex is going great guns with its reclamation of used linen. Regenex has reached its target milestone of successfully returning 1,000 tonnes of linen to its customers – saving 3,000 tonnes of carbon in the process. Founded in 2017, the West Yorkshire-based company has continued to grow following the interruption of the pandemic and has since rescued 1,000 tonnes of the UK’s dirtiest linen which would otherwise have been condemned to landfill or ragged.

Regenex’s patented multi-bath cleaning process means customers no longer need to purchase top-up stock as often. Having received 1400 tonnes of dirty linen to date, the stain removal treatment has over a 70% success ratio, with the remaining 400 tonnes of material rejected due to rips and holes or as a result of residual staining — the remaining linen is then sold on as premium rag to extend its life cycle just that bit further.

Paul Hamilton, technical director, says: “Here at Regenex, we’re incredibly proud of this achievement and would like to thank our loyal client base. While the bulk of our business is with hospitality linen providers, we have also worked with NHS laundries, independent B&B chains as well as smaller, high-end industrial laundry providers. As of November 2023, Regenex has achieved over 50 tonnes of linen returned to three of its clients, with another client set to receive 100 tonnes successfully returned within the coming months.

On average, for every tonne of linen processed by Regenex it saves three tonnes of carbon and five million litres of water – compared to a 3,000 tonnes of carbon and 5 billion litres of water that would have otherwise been used if the 1,000 tonnes of linen been replaced with brand new polycotton.*

The Textile Services Association (TSA) has launched simple-to-understand video guides in an effort to help reduce lost and damaged linen. Every year the hotel industry loses more than 12.5 million pieces of linen, which equates to 61% of the total stock of linen and towelling. It’s not just a massive cost, but also a real blow to the industry’s sustainability targets. Now the TSA, in association with UKHospitality and the UK Housekeeping Association, has created two simple videos designed to train staff about the importance of looking after linen – and the environmental impact of wasting it. The video tells the life story of Pasha the Pillowcase, including how hotel linen is made, how to take care of it, and how looking after it enhances sustainability as well as saving money.

It’s not just the linen itself that is wasted. Replacing the 12.5 million lost pieces of linen with freshly made fibres generates 39,000 tonnes of carbon. Growing the cotton consumes vast amounts of water – the equivalent of 937 million bathtubs full! That’s enough for every person in the UK to have 14 baths.

This is why the TSA decided to tell the tale of Pasha the Pillowcase, which explains the entire life cycle of linen in a fun, easy to understand form and provides simple tips about how to handle linen – and how not to handle it – in order to ensure that it has as long a working life as possible. Two videos are available, one focused on hotel staff and the second for laundry staff.

The story is told using simple yet clear graphics and a voiceover, allowing staff who might be less confident in English to easily grasp the concepts it conveys.

Pasha is part of a portfolio of resources aimed at educating both the hospitality and the laundry industry about the importance of looking after textiles and making linen last longer. Anyone interested in getting to know Pasha can watch the videos and find the other materials on the TSA’s website, by clicking on the hospitality section within the document library.

Meanwhile, when it is finally time for the bell to toll at the end of linen life, the TSA and the UK Hospitality Association are working on a scheme with national stock aggregators such as Salvation Army, charities such as Multi- Bank, recyclers, logistics, and technology partners to deliver a valuable recycling operation for the UK commercial laundry industry. Infinite Textiles is on a mission to facilitate the largest laundry industry textile recycling project in the world.

Infinite Textiles estimates the scheme, which encompasses the entire life cycle of the products, will save tens of thousands of tonnes of carbon per year, save billions of litres of water per year, achieve significant efficiencies, and contribute to overall carbon reductions in the future of textile manufacturing.

Jon Cooper, operations director at Johnsons Hotel Linen comments: “The Infinite Textile Scheme can potentially provide a sustainable solution for our industry’s three-tier solution – Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle – to the hundreds of tonnes of linen that has reached its end of primary use. The TSA scheme enables a single focal point for collaboration and partnership between SMEs and large PLC laundry companies such as Johnsons Hotel Linen to achieve a significant step towards a sustainable textile life cycle and avoid sending end-of-life textiles to landfills. Johnsons Hotel Linen is proud to be involved and leading this innovative approach that spans across the value chain and not just recycling.”

Luxury market

The luxury hotel/spa market according to BC Softwear remains focused on seeking new ways to meet sustainability targets and become ever more environmentally friendly, according to BC SoftWear. New figures released by the leading towelling supplier reveal that almost half (45%) the bathrobes selected by hotels in 2023 were from its eco-friendly SupremeSoft range, compared to just 17% in 2019. BC SoftWear’s energy saving ranges – SupremeSoft and SmartKnit – now equate to 20% of turnover; this figure was just 8% in 2019. (See news, page 4.)

For restaurants, Richard Haworth’s napkin and table linen range has expanded to reflect a shift in restaurants upgrading their napkins as some move to opting not to use tablecloths to dress their tables.

The company has introduced a variety of new napkin options to its range to meet customer requirements, including 100% linen hemstich, Partridge Eye and 100% cotton and 50/50 cotton mix satin band. There also mofre colours to choose from in its best-selling Amalfi table linen range, currently running at 27 colours.

Richard Haworth is servicing a number of Michelin star restaurants in the London market where the requirement is for an unfussy heavier napkin with 100% linen Portofino napkins handcrafted in Italy.