LONDON — The next big thing for Hugo Boss? Green suits.
The German clothing giant is putting its money behind a new type of yarn that Swiss textile and materials developer HeiQ describes as the “holy grail” of clothing fibers. Called AeoniQ, it is carbon-zapping and recyclable while its manufacturing generates near-zero waste and emissions.
Boss confirmed plans to invest an initial $5 million in the HeiQ subsidiary that makes the new AeoniQ yarn, and has pledged a further $4 million based on a series of performance milestones.
This is Hugo Boss’ first sustainability-linked investment, and is part of chief executive officer Daniel Grieder’s “Claim 5” five-year growth strategy, announced last summer. As reported, Grieder’s multipronged strategy is about claiming the brand’s position as “the leading premium tech-driven fashion platform.”
Boss also has ambitious sustainability targets, which include climate neutrality at the company by 2030, and throughout the entire value chain by 2045. It has also been putting a particular emphasis on establishing an end-to-end circular business model.
“Our exciting partnership with HeiQ represents yet another important milestone on our journey toward becoming the leading, premium tech-driven fashion platform worldwide,” Grieder said.
He called the collaboration with HeiQ “game-changing” and said it will enable Boss to push innovation and sustainability further across the brand’s offerings, “thereby driving measurable impact for environment and society alike,” he added.
Shares in HeiQ, which is quoted on the London Stock Exchange, closed up 8.9 percent at 0.92 pounds on Monday, Feb. 14. Shares in Hugo Boss were down 1.3 percent to 56.26 at the close of trading.
Alongside Boss, the Lycra Company has also invested in AeoniQ, and will be the exclusive distributor of the yarn. Lycra said it had made a “significant, undisclosed investment,” and is committed to developing the AeoniQ technology for broad application in textiles.
Lycra’s CEO Julien Born said “through our close collaboration with HeiQ, we are working together to fast-track the commercialization of HeiQ’s AeoniQ yarn, and are excited by the impact this ground-breaking innovation will have on the apparel industry.”
Last summer, HeiQ unveiled a broad-based collaboration with The Lycra Company across multiple technology and brand platforms. The two companies said they want to bring “innovative, quality-enhancing and sustainable textile technologies” to consumers worldwide.
According to HeiQ, AeoniQ yarns are made from cellulose biopolymers that, during growth, bind carbon from the atmosphere.
The yarn’s manufacturing uses 100 percent renewable energy, while the fiber itself can be recycled many times. It generates minimal waste and emissions.
There are no toxic chemicals involved in the yarn’s production, and it does not draw on arable land, pesticides or fertilizers for its feedstock, HeiQ said.
AeoniQ has been designed to substitute existing oil-based filament yarns, such as polyester and nylon, which constitute more than 60 percent of global annual textile output.
HeiQ said the global polyester and nylon fiber market is worth an estimated $135 billion and will grow more than 3.5 percent over the next decade. HeiQ argues that for every ton of polyester and nylon substituted by AeoniQ, up to five tons of CO2 can be reduced.
The proceeds raised from the Hugo Boss investment will primarily be used to scale up and commercialize the technology that goes into making the yarn.
HeiQ plans to build its first commercial AeoniQ “giga factory” in Central Europe by the end of 2024, and is currently scaling up a pilot plant for fiber production which is set to begin operating later this year.
Carlo Centonze, cofounder and group CEO of HeiQ, said the new yarn’s climate-positive qualities “create a very exciting market opportunity for HeiQ, as fashion brands and retailers come under increasing pressure to do their part in decarbonizing their products and reducing their environmental footprints.”
In an interview, he pointed out that 70 percent of current textile demand is met by polyester and nylon, which takes up to 1,000 years to fully degrade, with micro particles leeching into the environment with every wash.
He said the Hugo Boss investment marks the first time that HeiQ has co-invested on a technology project with a client — and it’s not stopping there.
HeiQ plans to invite 20 brands the size of Hugo Boss to invest. The plan, Centonze said, is to get additional brands on board by the middle of this year and to create the “club of 20” as quickly as possible so that HeiQ can start rolling out the technology and scaling the yarn’s manufacture.
About 2,500 giga factories are needed to create enough yarn to start replacing polyester and nylon, said Centonze, adding that future production facilities will operate under license from HeiQ.
Centonze believes there are multiple environmental benefits linked to the manufacture of AeoniQ.
He said there is also an opportunity to tap into existing “waste streams” to produce the fibers. Cellulose, he said, can be extracted from coffee grounds, sugar cane and cotton waste, which is often discarded or burned.
He added that AeoniQ will be more expensive than polyester, but cheaper than nylon and viscose and believes its use will “not impact significantly” on the end product.
In an interview last summer, Centonze said his ultimate dream is for consumers to fall in love with their clothes, keep them for longer, care for them and ensure they don’t end up in a landfill.
At HeiQ, he is working to make textiles not only greener, but smarter, too. He wants them to resist viruses and stay fresh, dry and odor-free after hours of wear. He also specializes in developing fibers that can retain heat, or keep a body cool.