PARIS — Waste not, want not. Faced with limited virgin resources, the doomsday environmental ramifications of textile production and fashion’s ever mounting pile of clothing waste, the growing focus for the textile and clothing industry is on emerging technologies geared to resource recovery and a circular textiles economy.
Take Wolford’s sustainable Aurora collection. At the end of the product lifecycle, Wolford will return items to an industrial composting station where their ingredients will be naturally broken down without releasing harmful environmental substances and returned to the cycle.
Among mills exploring biodegradable textiles, meanwhile, Lanificio Zegna’s Techmerino Wash & Go fabric was conceived to craft suits and outwear that can be machine washed at home.
A crop of recycling innovators operating pilot plants across the globe — from Infinited Fiber Company in Finland to UK-based Worn Again and Evrnu in Seattle — are revolutionizing the industry. Their mission: testing new scalable planet-friendly processes geared to recovering garments and “shape-shifting” or recapturing raw materials by breaking down their constituent fiber types. The aim is to reenter them into the supply chain cost effectively without compromising on quality.
According to a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than 1 percent of material used to produce garments is recycled into new clothing, representing a loss of more than $100 billion-worth of materials each year. Driven by the fast fashion phenomenon, a growing middle-class population across the globe and increased per capita sales in mature economies, clothing production between the years 2000 and 2015 approximately doubled, to 100 billion units. Conversely, the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used decreased by 36 percent across the period, with discarded materials largely lost to landfill and incineration, or washed up as microplastic.
For Mattias Jonsson, chief executive officer of Swedish recycling technology specialist Re:Newcell, a pioneer in the new materials business that counts H&M among investors, the situation is critical. Rising consumption levels are “not sustainable, because you can’t produce much more cotton on this planet. You just can’t. And the volume must then be filled with fossil-fuel synthetics like polyester, polyamides and plastics which is not sustainable as it’s not biodegradable and is difficult to recycle, and so on,” he said. “That’s why all these fashion brands are working on this, as they want to be able to increase volumes quickly.”
Stacy Flynn, chief executive officer of Evrnu, a specialist in regenerative fiber technology that counts Stella McCartney and Target among clients, echoed that brands are “starting to face the reality that if they don’t change, they will be out of business.”
With apparel production projected to double over the next 10 years, people are starting to see the limits to growth, she said. “Brands working on five-year projections, they’re already up against resource scarcity, and that’s shaking people up right now,” added Flynn. “The industry has been dependent essentially on the same equipment since the 19th century, and has used the same mentality since the 20th century. Now we’ve arrived in this 21st century reality and the industry is ill-equipped to handle what is coming.”
For Flynn, there is still hope. The size of the problem, she believes, is directly proportional to the size of the opportunity. “I do see this as being one of the greatest design challenges of our century: how do we take things that already exist in one form and convert them into a completely new form with no loss in value,” she said. “That is incredibly positive and it’s in alignment with the way the designer thinks about creating. Designers don’t create with the intention to do harm.”
Mimicking the performance properties of the natural world figures among other new developments in the sustainable field, from Thermore’s new range of ecological fibers engineered to replicate the insulating properties of down feathers to Alice Pott’s experiments with using sweat crystals as a wellness application.
Here WWD presents a selection of key industry players and textile innovations shaping a more sustainable future for fashion.
Background: Founded in 2014 and based in Seattle, this specialist in regenerative fiber technology transforms old garments into fiber that is spun into yarn, dyed and woven to create new textiles that are fully recyclable.
The R&D innovations company works with all segments of the textile supply chain: brands, retailers, mills, and waste owners, inserting its technologies into existing infrastructures.
The company’s team is made up of textile industry veterans including Christopher Stanev, a textile chemist and engineer, who has worked on the innovations departments at brands including Converse and Target, and Stacy Flynn. The materials specialist who during her career has worked at DuPont and Eddie Bauer, and headed the raw materials division at Target, also worked with a company making clothing out of recycled plastic waste back in 2010. She recalled a life-changing trip to a sub-contractor area in China where she was shocked by the lack of adherence to environmental regulations. “The air quality was so thick, my colleagues and I couldn’t even see each other standing right next to each other. The water was black, no life could live in that water, and much of it was because of the way we make textiles,” she said adding that she began to add up how many “billions of yards” of fabric she had made up to that point in her career. Flynn set out to use her experience to develop solutions “that could not only clean up the current mess we have, but also create tools for designers to use that were regenerative in nature, so that the way we make textiles is fundamentally redesigned to be in alignment with natural systems,” she said.
Innovation: The Evrnu process is a technology that purifies, 100 percent, post-consumer garment waste, going from a solid to a liquid that is then converted into a new fiber. “That new fiber has improved performance capabilities, so we’re creating premium textiles from what is currently perceived as waste,” said Flynn.
Background: Milan-based denim weaving company Candiani, now led by fourth generation family members, marks its 80th anniversary this year. The company is committed to enhancing environmental compatibilities with the goal of becoming residual free by 2020.
Innovation: The INK collection, which stands for indigo, nitrogen and Kitrotex, includes greener fabrics, including stretch options. They combine the N-denim dyeing technique with the patented ingredient Kitotex. While the former cuts the use of chemicals by 30 percent and avoids hydrosulfites and fixation agents, the latter, which is a derived from Chitosan — a naturally occurring polymer obtained from shrimp waste — replaces common sizing agents including polyvinyl alcohol, or PVA, in the dyeing and finishing processes. The technology also avoids polluting water waste with salt and microplastics.
Name: Alice Potts
Background: Specializing in “human body design,” London-based Alice Potts made waves with her recent graduate collection for the Royal College of Arts based on using human sweat to grow crystals.
“Everything I’ve done is in sustainability. Everything I do has to be a waste product, especially with the sweat,” said the designer. “We live in a world where we’re so focused on augmented virtual reality that we forget about how amazing and fascinating the world around us is,” she added. “One of the possibilities for us as a community struggling with sustainability and recycling is that we’re just so disconnected from the real world we live in, we’ve become too involved in technology. For me, it’s about trying to show the beauty of stuff that we maybe take for granted, and how these can evolve. How you can’t just Google everything, it’s really about experimenting and testing.”
Potts, who since graduating this summer has signed non-disclosure agreements with a couple of brands from the fashion and sports fields, and has a couple of exhibitions in the works, has already done a couple of private commissions, including a wedding ring for a bride to be sporting a crystal grown from the sweat of the husband.
Her London studio is filled with petri dishes, test tubes and vats, with a sewing machine to one side. “It’s very science-meets-fashion,” she said.
Innovation: Using a secret technique, the designer extracts human sweat from garments and footwear and grows crystals. Currently awaiting funding to continue her research, she wants to explore how she can make the process “not just a separate art piece from the body.” Harnessing technology and biomaterials, the aim, she explained is to “make a new material that can actually do the process through it,” resulting in crystals organically growing on shoes or handbags as embellishments. “Every day you sweat a pint a day from your feet. If I can produce a material that could filter the sweat through, you could basically get this completely organic sustainable embellishment that would grow all over your shoes,” said Potts. These crystals, with their specific biomarkers indicating health, wellbeing and identity, can also be used as a wellness application.
“We can make individual bespoke fashion out of our everyday secretions,” added Potts. “I want to look into other things we secrete, whether it’s blood or tears, and the fragrance, the smell encapsulated by each crystal. If there’s a way that the colors can change naturally through other bacterias. Or how that would react with the ecosystem….”
Background: Founded in Milan in 1972 by Sergio Siniscalchi, Thermore is a world leader in the development of thermal insulation technologies, as well as in the manufacturing of high-tech innovative fibers and structures designed to help maintain thermal insulation.
Innovation: Breaking new boundaries in the sustainable and cruelty-free approach, Thermore has developed a new range of ecological fibers engineered to mimic the insulating properties of down feathers.
Dubbed Ecodown Fibers, and billed as the only synthetic product in the market to be entirely made from post-consumer plastic bottles, these fibers not only boast outstanding fill power for creating that puffy look, but are also highly resistant thanks to their customized multi-shape structure, which also prevents the insulation from clumping when washed.
Background: Founded in 1998 in Porto, Portugal, Tintex specializes in premium eco-friendly jersey fabrics geared to the contemporary fashion, sports and underwear segments.
Innovation: The company’s new textile range includes sustainable jersey fabrics in vivid colors and smooth textures. Avoiding the use of aggressive treatments, these high-end qualities are obtained using “Naturally Clean” advanced biological technologies and textile chemicals that have the lowest possible impact on the environment.
Name: Penn Textile Solutions
Background: Based in Paderborn, in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region, the company is focused on the production of groundbreaking warp and weft knit textiles.
Innovation: The new “Ecoinnovation” collection includes seven sustainable recycled products, including tulle trims with reinforced edges, a reinforced knit fabric for cycling shorts, stretch satin and a polyester double jersey conceived for laser cutting. Each of them incorporates high-end advanced yarns, including Asai Kasei’s stretch Roica Eco-Smart, Reco Nylon, which is obtained by transforming waste, and Noyfy I Spa’s recycled polyester r-Radyarn.
Background: Founded in 2012, Re:Newcell, which counts H&M as an official partner, was borne out of an innovation developed by scientists at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, one of Europe’s leading technical and engineering universities.
In 2016, the company constructed its first demonstration plant, a large-scale pilot plant with an annual capacity for producing seven thousand tons of cellulosic Re:Newcell pulp, enough to produce 30 million T-shirts. “It is important for us to scale our production and be able to produce volumes,” said Re:Newcell chief executive officer Mattias Jonsson.
Innovation: Focused on the chemical recycling of cellulosic textiles such as cotton and viscose, Re:Newcell is a patented method for treating textile waste to make dissolving pulp, the standard raw material used to make textile fibers such as viscose and lyocell. The company claims to have closed the loop on textile waste: clothes can finally be recycled back into clothes at scale without loss of quality.
Name: Iluna Group
Background: Established in 1969 by Luigi Annovazzi as a company producing preformed cups for bras, in 1986 Iluna Group acquired the Ondoli factory, located in Cuggiono, a small town close to Milan, specialized in the production of stretch fabrics. Iluna Group in the Eighties was the first European company to introduce electronic machines for the production of stretch lace, becoming a global leader in the sector.
Innovation: Iluna Group, which recently launched its Embroidery Division geared to embroidery and guipure lace, introduced a new velvet lace crafted entirely from sustainable materials, including Roica Eco-Smart yarns.
Background: Leading denim Turkish mill Isko opened its doors in 1989, as part of Sanko Tekstil. Boasting a 3.2 million-square-foot manufacturing plant, which houses 1,500 high-tech automated looms, the company currently produces more than 155,000 miles of fabric per year, distributed across 30 countries worldwide.
Innovation: The Isko Blue Skin fabric from the mill’s Arquas collection is geared to the performance apparel market. The ready-for-dye denim fabric is made of 78 percent recycled polyester and 22 percent elastane and is Global Recycle Standard certified. In order to enhance its performance features, the fabric is woven with a special technique delivering extra holding power to the stretch fibers, allowing freedom of movement. The fabric also features moisture management, as well as UV protection qualities.
Name: Lanificio Zegna
Background: Established in 1910 in Trivero, in the heart of Italy’s Biella region, Lanificio Zegna has been pioneering in its development of luxury sartorial fabrics marrying artisanal tradition with groundbreaking innovation.
Innovation: Crafted from biodegradable certified Merino wool treated with special techniques, the sustainable Techmerino Wash & Go fabric was conceived to craft suits and outwear that can be machine washed at home at a temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with their easy maintenance, garments manufactured from the Techmerino Wash & Go fabric are also highly breathable and comfortable to wear.
Name: Lanificio Botto Giuseppe & Figli
Background: One of the oldest textile companies in Italy’s Biella region, Lanificio Botto Giuseppe & Figli was founded in 1876 by Giuseppe Botto. The company, which is focused on the production of fabrics, jerseys and yarns, operates two different factories. One is located in Valle Mosso, a stone’s throw from Biella, and the other, Cascami Seta, in Tarcento, a small town in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in the north-east of Italy.
Innovation: Part of the Naturalis Fibra collection, the new Natural Born Cashmere is a cashmere fabric presented in a natural tone and crafted from traceable and mulesing-free fibers sourced from selected farms across Asia and Oceania. Treated with a fluorine-free finish, the material can be used to craft waterproof and breathable outerwear garments.
Name: Tessitura Colombo Antonio
Background: Located in the Milan region, Tessitura Colombo Antonio is a leading textile company in the production of high-end lace fabrics and ribbons for women’s fashion and corsetry.
Innovation: Using patented premium stretch Roica Eco-Smart yarns by Japanese company Asahi Kasei, Tessitura Colombo Antonio created the innovative “Natural Dye Collection,” the world’s first high-end recycled premium stretch lace range, using natural dyes obtained from plants.
Name: Maglificio Ripa
Background: Founded in 1952 and located in Spino d’Adda in Italy’s Lombardy region, Maglificio Ripa is a leading Italian textile company focused on the production of high-end, advanced fabrics specifically geared to underwear, beachwear and sportswear.
Innovation: Maglificio Ripa’s new “Crystal” collection offers 20 high quality fabrics made from Sensil’s Black Diamond and Diamond yarns. Spanning double-faced textiles for ready-to-wear to lightweight cloths for underwear, these metal-free fabrics boast outstanding shine thanks to the shiny polymer and triangular cross-section of the thread strands developed by Israeli yarn specialist Nilit.
Name: Albiate 1830
Background: Albiate 1830 was founded in 1830 by Giuseppe Caprotti and later acquired by cotton specialist Albini Group in 2000. Focused on lightweight denim fabrics, the company delivers around 1,000 different cloths each season.
Innovation: As stretch denim is gaining momentum, Albiate 1830 has developed its Coast Indaco N.C. collection of 100 percent cotton, stretch denim fabrics, particularly apt for shirt making. Its innovative, natural elasticity is obtained with a treatment in a low-temperature environment, which parallels the fibers and makes them more uniform and linear, without employing synthetic compounds. As a result, the fabric is breathable and resistant, soft and resilient, as it keeps its elasticity even after several washings.
Background: The Austrian skin wear brand, which launched the world’s first non-medical compression tights in the ’70s, and Aura 5, the world’s thinnest elastane stockings, in 1995, has a long history on innovation in legwear and clothing.
New directions for the company include collections focused on circular models, and materials that mimic the properties of human skin in its prime. “You have to imagine, these inventions and developments involve a 60-person development team here in Bregenz,” said Andreas Röhrich, director product development & innovation at Wolford.
Innovation: Due to launch in September, Wolford’s Aurora collection of leggings and pullovers is made from Lenzing Modal, a cellulosic fiber derived from sustainable forestry; Infinito by Lauffenmühle, a specially modified oil-based biodegradable polymer, and a premium stretch yarn from the ROICA Eco-Smart family, the world’s first yarn awarded a gold level Cradle2Cradle Material Health certificate. The line comes with a Hohenstein Environment compatibility certification and the materials have been developed to facilitate the breaking down and return of the ingredients back to the cycle.
The company is also in the process of developing Pure Shine 40, a new product set to launch for fall 2019 as part of the Pure legwear range. The 40-denier material, which offers 70 to 80 percent coverage of the skin, is geared at creating the illusion of perfect skin.
The Wolford team mixed different different types of polyamide, interweaving dull and Trilobal Bright yarns to recreate a skin’s optics: neither shiny nor matte, but somewhere in between. “It creates the illusion of a naked leg, but covering up imperfections, a bit like makeup,” said Röhrich adding that the brand is developing a range of different skin tones to make the range more inclusive.