German textile chemical company Rudolf Group is pushing the boundaries of R&D by embracing natural sources as the key components for two new Durable Water Repellent (DWR) technologies launched Wednesday.
The technologies build on Rudolf Group’s pioneering spirit and previous “firsts,” including the RUCO-DRY product line of fluorine-free DWR technologies it launched in 2003. Back then, Alberto De Conti, Rudolf Group’s head of fashion division, said fluorine-free was a powerful statement, not to mention prescient about the direction the apparel industry was heading in. Biomimicry and the study of lotus leaves and bird’s feathers were instrumental in developing the very first fluorine-free DWRs.
“As much as Rudolf was an agent of positive change back in 2003 and opened the door to a world of safer and more environmentally friendly products, it was the market that wasn’t ready back then,” he said. “Nobody wanted it because everybody was still stuck with traditional fluorocarbon despite all the danger.”
Momentum for RUCO-DRY picked up a decade later when De Conti said the “desire to do the right thing” began to drive brands’ manufacturing decisions. Rudolf is banking on repeating history by bringing these new propositions to market during a period when brands are beginning to educate themselves about natural components and circularity.
The technologies mark an exciting era for Rudolf and the 85 employees who have spent the past two years developing them. Though the performance of each technology is not extraordinary—both are chemical auxiliaries that create water-resistant fabric—what is outstanding, De Conti pointed out, is that for the first time in history DWR performance is achieved through existing natural elements.
“As a general rule, if we look deeply into nature we tend to understand things better and find answers,” he said.
While parts of the industry are only dipping their toes into biomimicry, De Conti said Rudolf is no longer trying to imitate nature. The inspiration behind this leap from nature-inspired to natural products was to overcome a number of technical obstacles and to try to directly use what Mother Nature provides.
“We’re really going a step forward and are embracing a whole new way of doing chemistry,” he added. “It’s basically a new frontier—a new way of doing R&D.”
The “waste of waste” is key to Rudolf’s breakthrough RUCO-DRY BIO CGR, the first DWR agent based on plant-derived processing wastes. Complementary to the growing number of circular apparel collections, DWR is made of natural waste that accumulates as by-product during the processing of cereal grains in the food industry. The leftover material that would otherwise be disposed of is refined to create the powerful water- and stain-repellent textile finish.
Though the biomass content in RUCO-DRY BIO CGR is more than 90 percent, the technology stands up to the performance and durability of conventional water-repellent textile finishes, the company states.
For its second innovation, Rudolf turned to plant life—specifically, a carefully selected mix of natural plant extracts. With RUCO-DRY BIO NPE, Rudolf has mastered a balanced of mix of plant-based ingredients to achieve water and stain-repellent effects with breathability and a natural handle.
Unlike other 100 percent renewable raw materials, those used in the making of RUCO-DRY BIO NPE are chemically and genetically non-modified and are not used as food, feed or fuel. Furthermore, all of the plant extracts that compose the technology are subject to a strict conservation and sustainability framework.
With both technologies, Rudolf set out to use natural materials that would not take away from human and animal nutrition. “We really wanted to take something that was not taken by anybody else in nature,” De Conti said.
Though the results may differ between cellulosic, synthetic and blends, De Conti noted that one technology is not superior to the other, and performance is not compromised. They are intended to give brands multiple paths to sustainability that also support their brand philosophies.
CGR, however, may be more “current” as the market explores recycling economies and increasingly asks for more cradle-to-cradle solutions, De Conti said. CGR will also be more widely available than NPE due to the fact that there is not an unlimited supply the same way there is with cereal waste. With NPE, he said Rudolf will focus on collaborating with brands and retailers that are “keen to have cutting-edge performance based on 100 percent natural components.”
De Conti said early reaction about the two new technologies is positive. And in an effort to make them a viable part of brands’ solutions portfolio, he said the cost is within the ballpark of what companies are used to.
The innovations will be marketed under the Bio-Logic trademark registered by Rudolf Group and more products based on no-waste, natural chemistry are in the R&D pipeline. “This is the beginning of what I expect to be an extremely exciting journey,” De Conti said.