Italian producer Nearchimica taps chemicals research to boost sustainability

Italian producer Nearchimica taps chemicals research to boost sustainability

Translated by

Nicola Mira


Jun 7, 2024

The latest innovative solution developed by Nearchimica is ambient-temperature garment dyeing. The aim is to “cut energy costs while also saving a huge quantity of water, since our reactive dye for cotton garments makes cold-water dyeing possible,” said Roberto Camera Magni, boss of Nearchimica, an Italian producer of chemical additives and textile dyes, talking to at the company’s headquarters in Legnano, north-east of Milan, on the eve of the Denim Première Vision show, held in Milan on June 5-6.

Nearchimica has developed a natural, salt-free dye that reduces water and energy consumption – ph DM

Camera Magni is keen to meet the needs of his clients, mostly Asian textile manufacturers but also several fashion brands. With N-Ice Dyeing, one of the new products Nearchimica presented at Denim PV, he is trying to help his clients offset the sharp rise in energy costs that occurred in the last two years, as well as to better recycle their waste water. “There are major restrictions on water usage in India. We have therefore developed a textile dye that is salt-free and makes it easier to recycle water, since salt is an agent that damages [water] filters,” he said.
For the last 40 years, Nearchimica has concentrated on developing chemicals with minimal environmental impact, within a sector that is nevertheless regarded as one of the most polluting. “We’re only a link in the supply chain. We create new chemicals and chemical engineering solutions using sustainable technology. Like solving a puzzle, R&D helps us to add value by eliminating obsolete processes that are no longer viable,” said Sabrina Beretta, who is in charge of product development and marketing at Nearchimica.

“Change is constant. It never stops. There’s no end to it in sight, I think, given the speed of technological evolution. We must endlessly adapt by improving operational practices, in an effort to reduce the steps in the manufacturing process. Either by developing more advanced machinery, or by adopting new technology,” said Camera Magni, who also thinks that “zero impact doesn’t exist.”

Roberto Camera Magni in the Nearchimica showroom – ph DM

Nearchimica was founded in 1981 by Alfredo Camera, Roberto’s father. In 1993, the company opened two major labs in Legnano, where it tests its products by simulating actual industrial conditions across the entire fabric manufacturing cycle, from washing to dyeing and finishing. High-performance and outdated washing machines sit alongside laser-printing machines operated by highly skilled technician-designers. Other machinery is used to pulverise the dyes, which are then set using laser tools. Small stacks of pumice stones are held in pots scattered around the lab. Before the adoption of laser technology, pumice stones were used to bleach denim.

“All our prototypes are chlorine- and potassium permanganate-free. We have developed a range of natural dyes, and all our products comply with the strictest regulations and certification standards. We have 38 employees, and two of them are dedicated full-time to monitoring safety data and certifications. [Apparel] brands often ask us for specific safety certificates,” said Camera Magni. He noted that some fabric softeners, which were banished by the European Union several years ago, are still to be found in many t-shirts sourced from China, but “there’s no way of controlling this.”

Finishing solutions

A team of finishing specialists is working in a room set slightly apart, whose shelves are covered with glass vials and vats containing mysterious substances. The room is equipped with microscopes, and a chart showing the chemical characteristics of various types of fabric hangs on the wall in a corner. The specialists use complex tools to analyse the composition of fabrics and their colours, check their robustness and set printed patterns on them using heat, as well as drying and spraying them.

Nearchimica works with spray and laser-applied dyes – ph DM

Besides dyes, Nearchimica also produces chemical additives used to degrade or soften fabrics, or to boost some features of textile finishing treatments, like antiperspirant treatment. It operates with two divisions: the textiles division accounts for 70% of revenue, and the apparel division for 30%. The company has some 400 clients in 30 countries, and generates 60% of its revenue outside Italy, chiefly in Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc.) and Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, among others). In 2014, Nearchimica opened a subsidiary in Colombia.

Until 2022, Nearchimica’s annual revenue ranged between €15 million and €16 million. In 2023, it slumped by 9% to €14.9 million, but the forecast is to return to usual levels this year. “Until 2022, we used to post revenue rises of up to 300% on some products, and between 30% and 40% on others. Then a perfect storm hit between 2022 and 2023. The post-Covid consumption surge generated expectations that were entirely at odds with market reality, while raw material prices began to rise. Add to that, the Red Sea maritime transport crisis, and two wars,” said Camera Magni.
“The problem is that brands are continuing to ask for very tight delivery deadlines, and many of them are still producing nearly 30% more in volume than they are actually selling. The situation will continue to deteriorate, unless planning improves, and production volumes decrease,” he concluded.

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