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Sustainability and utility should — and now, can — go hand-in-hand. And that’s why global science solution firm 3M created Thinsulate, a featherless down alternative insulation made of 100 percent recycled plastics. Thinsulate is praised for its thin, light style and warming capabilities that allow consumers to avoid the bulky and often unfashionable trappings of outerwear. Its applications and can be used in everything from winter coats to hats, gloves and boots, the company said.

“We are always asking ourselves, how can we do a better job of using the resources that are already out there?” said Ken Cox, lead application engineering specialist at the 3M Thinsulate Global Design Lab. “We’re really good at optimizing how to put the construction of Thinsulate together,” added Mike Mandanas, lab manager, 3M Home Care Division. “We use multiple recycled fibers with different characteristics to be the best-performing product we can design.”

Here, Gayle Schueller, vice president, chief sustainability officer at 3M, discusses the creation of Thinsulate and “the science of warmth.”

WWD: What prompted the development of Thinsulate?

Gayle Schueller: When outerwear design changed in the late Seventies — from big puffy jackets to coats with thinner silhouettes — 3M Thinsulate Insulation was invented and was a way to help keep the warmth in and the bulk out. Now, Thinsulate is used in numerous products from jackets, gloves and boots to duvets and even washing machines and cars, where its acoustic properties help muffle noise.

3M Thinsulate Insulation began introducing 50 percent recycled product in the Nineties, and over the years demand has increased among customers and consumers for clothing that is better for the planet. Just last year, the team introduced an 83 percent recycled product. Now, 3M is introducing the first 3M Thinsulate Insulation made with 100 percent recycled plastic content this fall. It’s designed as a replacement for down and retains its extreme warmth even under damp conditions.

The new insulation is part of 3M’s work to help outwear manufacturers reach their sustainability goals and is part of 3M’s strategic focus on advancing a circular economy that designs out waste, keeps products and materials in use and integrates more renewable raw materials.

3M’s Thinsulate recycled featherless insulation. Photo courtesy of 3M.  BENNETT_WOOLMAN

WWD: Why is Thinsulate differentiated in the market?

G.S.: 3M is a 117-year-old company global science and innovation company. What differentiates Thinsulate is quality and sustainability backed up with science — and a brand that is always innovating and evolving to collaborate with customers to meet consumer and market needs. For example, in the move to 100 percent recycled Thinsulate, it wasn’t just a matter of switching out virgin materials for recycled. The new product still needed to perform. The engineers who have developed Thinsulate test and prove its ability to perform in terms of weight and warmth using thermal imagery and numerous durability tests.

The new product has received the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Class Certificate, signifying that it meets the human-ecological requirements for products for babies and young children. It is also Bluesign approved, which signifies it complies with strict ecological and toxicological requirements of the bluesign criteria, allowing for production with minimum impact on people and environment. The sustainability focus doesn’t stop at what goes into warm clothing. 3M manufacturing plants that produce Thinsulate insulation are recycling 100 percent of their polyolefin waste material, selling it to companies that use it for everything from oil booms to furniture.

WWD: Would you elaborate on the science behind Thinsulate?

G.S.: The microfibers in Thinsulate trap air molecules between you and the outside world — the more air it traps, the warmer you stay. Thinsulate fibers are finer than those used in other synthetic and natural insulation materials‚ so they trap more air in less space, making it a more efficient insulator.

Creating Thinsulate with recycled content and in different applications calls upon 3M’s technology expertise in non0woven materials, polymer processing, adhesives, thermal management and sustainability. The Thinsulate design lab and other 3M lab teams do extensive testing including thermographic imagines to make sure the product is maintaining warmth. Depending on whether the application from skiing to urban fashion, they work with customers to create new products and meet aesthetic needs.

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