The textile wears innovation – a trip to the discovery of REACT and NEW COTTON
We’ve all become quite familiar with what LOOPS represents to us. And every episode is an occasion to catch up with the avant-garde research to gain a few insights into what is going on in the world of innovation. Episode #4 of LOOPS features a discussion about one of the largest sectors in the world in which both consumers and producers are equally protagonists – the industry of textiles.
Behind what our mind can easily conceive as just a simple garment, lies a long story to tell. Beyond what we are used to consider as essential for our life, the existing conditions urge us to face the harsh truth that the textile production and consumption cause detrimental consequences for the environment, in light of the extensive use of resources – like water, land and energy – that the industry requires to keep running. The fact that less than 1% of materials is recycled, is quite staggering when plunged into the current situation we are all experiencing. Despite the urge to preserve the earth’s capacity to regenerate resources and tackle climate change, around 73% of textile waste is still destined to be accumulated in landfills or incinerated. The industry is constantly evolving, with an expected growth rate of 4.3% until 2027. Consequently, reducing the environmental and social impact from textile production and consumption becomes more and more crucial, enough to require a systemic change in the economic paradigm. The REACT and NEW COTTON projects try to dig out how circular models can make it happen.
What is REACT?
Our speaker Dr. Daniele Piga, researcher in the CENTROCOT company (Italy), proudly casts light on the identity of the project. REACT rises with the ultimate goal of developing a new method of recycling the acrylic fabric waste that would result in the design of a new textile that would preserve the same high-level of performance as its virgin counterpart. In the pursuit of such goal, the members of REACT intend to remove specific chemical substances that, if released to the environment, can lead to harmful and hazardous consequences. However useful they are for the performance of the final fabric, their presence hampers the success and feasibility of a high-quality recycling process that would keep high standards in terms of product quality and value. The project aims at removing more than 90% of chemicals, with a view of producing a new textile fully made out of recycled fibres. And that’s not all. The last piece of the puzzle is represented by the intention to reuse the recycled acrylic textiles as raw materials for other fibre production cycles, with the aim of designing out up to 30% of waste in the whole outdoor sector and extent the market opportunities for the reuse of the acrylic fibre.
NEW COTTON: A name, a guarantee.
As presented by Kirsi Niinimäki, Associate Professor in Design and Fashion Research Unit in the Aalto University (Finland), NEW COTTON is born to serve a challenging purpose: devising a worthy competitor of the widely used soft cotton fibre. Innovation here consists of designing a new ecosystem in the fashion sector that relies on bio-based textile value chains intended to become more resource-efficient and low emission. Waste, in this case, is collected and treated in a way that would generate a new textile fibre sharing the same properties of cotton. A new cotton, in simpler terms. This cotton-like cellulose-based fibre – Infinna – will be devised with the Infinited Fiber’s technology and will then be used to create different types of fabrics for clothing that will be designed, manufactured and sold by some of the big giants of the fashion industry: just to mention a couple – Adidas and the H&M Group. Clothes made with Infinna will be biodegradable, plastics-free and totally recyclable with waste originating from other textiles.
The challenges of textile circularity
With the two speakers, we jumped into a conversation about the current existing problems that could forestall the successful implementation of circular models in the world of textiles, and the expected changes that are foreseen to happen in the upcoming years.
First of all, post-consumer waste is one of the biggest problems in need of solutions. The projects are working on it, through the identification of existing waste streams and recovery systems that will be coupled with the design of new rental and collection models.
Secondly, it goes without saying that people’s relationship with clothing and, more generally, with textiles, is particularly complex. People wear and purchase clothes for a variety of motives that go beyond their practical use, and embrace concepts and ideas that span other aspects of our social dimension. Changes in technology have fuelled the rise of ‘fast fashion’ which pushes young consumers to prefer multiple cheap choices over more expensive ones. What automotically follows from it is that besides scientific evidence, there is the need to initiate further actions to provide consumers with the right tools to support the sustainable vision. In this regard, our speakers point out that, alongside concerns towards the end-of-life textile fibres, there is the need to foster more conscious discussions about identifying all possible ways to push consumers towards being more critical of their own consumption patterns. Second-hand fashion is gaining momentum, and many brands have adopted it as part of their business strategy. Social media campaigns, educational activities are also occurring. Buying new items, though, is still associated with other important values, emotions and experiences that should be decoupled from it, and re-coupled with second-hand use and sustainable consumption. Providing the skills for consumers to be ready to embrace this change is the lock to apply the key of innovation. It is the missing piece that, with the innovative progress, can unlock the gate to circularity.
The future of circularity:
When will the innovation become a business reality? That’s the question that our speakers reflect on. But their predictions are quite positive. Circular business is expanding, and the research and development are focusing more and more on the design of circular products. Many companies are eager to change their practices but do not know how. Therefore, they are willing to collaborate with the research side. Nowadays, more sustainable options are expensive but when the new technologies will become common, these options will become affordable and behaving sustainable will fall within the reach of everybody.
We are the ones that can make a change and in order to do that, it’s time to wear a different hat… possibly a sustainable one!