The next steps in sustainable products and manufacturing — recycled and regenerated fibers and fabrics, and a unilateral system to measure the entire process — were the subject of two seminars at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Summer Institute this week.
Speaking in a session on “Regenerated Textiles,” Steve Davies, director of public affairs at Nature Works, which produces the Ingeo brand of carbon-based biopolymers used in 21 different product sectors, said, “We’re in the business of turning greenhouse gasses into performance materials. We take a plant’s sugar and we ferment it — it’s a lot like making beer or wine.”
About 150,000 tons of Ingeo are produced annually for products that range from textiles, apparel and nonwovens to plastic drinking cups, packaging and durable goods.
Davies said in the U.S., Ingeo is derived from corn starch, and in Thailand is made from sugar cane, and “we’re developing a diversified portfolio of carbon feed stocks.”
He said when developing new fibers and materials today, it’s important to consider three things: “Emotional connection, environmental standards and performance attributes, such as moisture management, wicking, insulation and odor resistance.”
Ingeo’s latest venture is in 3-D printing, which includes the introduction of a new series of Ingeo grades designed specifically for the filament used for the 3D printing market, and a full suite of technical support services.
Stacy Flynn, founder of Evrnu, a start-up company that’s developing a technology that recycles cotton garment waste to create premium, renewable textiles, said: “It’s undisputed that the textile and apparel industry is one of the most devastating industries on the planet. Consumers throw away 12 million tons of garment waste every year.”
Flynn, an FIT graduate who went on to receive her masters of business administration in sustainable systems, said she started focusing on one question — “Is there a way to contain this waste and convert it into a new fiber? We discovered that we can engineer a fiber that is higher quality in its regenerated form then it was in its new form.”
Last month, Evrnu created its first prototype fiber after three years of development. The patent-pending system takes cotton garments, purifies them and converts them into a pulp, which is then extruded into a pristine white fiber. It can then be coned or carded and converted into yarn to be made into premium fabrics or knits.
Flynn said Evrnu is targeting a list of early adopters, and sees the product, which she feels can compete with premium cotton and silk, taking two years to get from the lab into bulk manufacturing.
She said, “We think if the facility can be built for less than $5 million, with payback in a three-year period, we can hit economies of scale very fast.”
Meredith Boyd, product development manager at Unifi Inc., said the company’s line of Repreve yarns and fibers, made primarily for plastic bottles, “is a full-value proposition,” meant to compete with virgin polyester. Boyd noted that Repreve has third-party certification of its materials and manufacturing process, all in North Carolina, “which does come at a cost, but cost cannot be the only conversation.”
Boyd said Unifi spends a lot of time explaining the process to the consumer and “why it’s meaningful and preferable.”
Repreve’s new Textile Takeback program uses fabric waste that is processed into first-quality Repreve fibers used in such products as North Face’s Denali jackets. She said Repreve’s motto of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” has resulted in 72 million pounds of recycled materials being turned into fibers. So far, the new Textile Takeback program has retrieved 3 million pounds of materials from the waste stream and tuned it into fibers.
Also important is transparency, which is the main idea behind the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index.
Scott Mackinlay, founder of Loomstate, an organic cotton apparel supplier that is a member of the SAC, explained that Higg is a self-assessment tool that can be used for brands, facilities and product. He said it measures environmental and social impacts, is a starting place for engaging and understanding methods and best practices, and targets a spectrum of platforms that identify opportunities to improve.
Mackinlay said while there’s been much talk of creating a Higg consumer label in the next few years, what is emerging is the potential of creating “a consumer database that is able to show what a company is doing in its supply chain in real time.”