Textile innovation is getting a new tag team.
Alpine Group, a supplier for brands such as American Eagle Outfitters, The North Face and Under Armour has joined sustainability platform Fashion for Good as an affiliate innovation partner.
The idea, the organizations said, is to take on a collaborative approach to explore and validate the commercialization of bleeding-edge technologies that pare back fashion’s prodigious environmental impact.
Like many things, the partnership was the product of serendipity. Alpine Group, which tests and scales innovations through its Paradise Textiles subsidiary, was already working with several companies that are part of the Fashion for Good “ecosystem,” as head of innovation Lewis E. Shuler put it. When Fashion for Good launched a pilot to develop and scale a black dope dye derived from industrial carbon emissions and wood and algae waste in early 2022, it invited Paradise Textiles to participate.
“The work that they were doing as part of their pilot project, we had already been doing independently, so we had a huge jumpstart on it,” he told Sourcing Journal.
Finding lower-impact alternatives to petrochemical-based colorants has long been an imperative for Alpine Group, said Shuler, noting that more information about the project will be coming out in the summer—and not before that. What he can reveal, however, is that the pilot has “opened a door” for other developments featuring a range of feedstocks and shades.
Its relationship with Fashion for Good will follow a similar trajectory. What differentiates Alpine Group, he said, is that it combines a manufacturer’s practical know-how with a brand’s ingenuity.
“The type of innovative thinking that’s happening at the kitchen in Nike is the same type of innovative thinking and thought process that’s happening inside of Paradise,” Shuler said. “And so we’re able to take things and not only contribute thoughts and technical expertise [but also] the resources.”
To put it another way, Alpine Group can get its hands on a textile innovation and “within days put it into yarn, test it and have data,” said Shuler. “We have a team of scientists that can contribute from that perspective; we have all the equipment, the testing facilities.”
The collaboration goes the other way, too. With Fashion for Good’s reach and ability to unlock funding, Alpine Group can reach beyond the usual off-take agreements.
“That’s really where the change happens,” he said. “If you go and you do all these mini capsule collections, nothing’s going to progress. But being able to work with an ecosystem that’s so wide and fast really helps.”
Innovation, if not broadly adopted, won’t shake up the status quo, Shuler said.
“It’s all going to be about that incremental change,” he said. “But incremental can’t just be a small capsule that we’ll use for marketing and then let it drift away.”
And while it’s usually brands that put the squeeze on suppliers, Alpine Group is willing to push back because it has its own KPIs to consider, particularly in the wake of the science-based Future-Fit Business benchmark it adopted last year.
“They want to do the right thing, but a lot of times it comes down to cost,” Shuler said. “We’re starting to go now to brands and say, you know, we would like you to use more of this fiber or get away from this chemistry. We actually have our own public-facing goals and commitments as well.”
Priyanka Khanna, head of Asia expansion at Fashion for Good, agreed.
“No one player can individually drive a system change,” Khanna told Sourcing Journal. “Brands, suppliers and innovators must work together in a pre-competitive space in order for these new solutions to have maximum impact.”
Getting a disparate group of companies on the same page is complex and “requires calibration,” but the Amsterdam-based organization said it’s fortunate to have a group of partners that are “deeply committed to the practical action required to validate, and ultimately, scale innovations.”
“Alpine Group and Fashion for Good share similar visions for the future of the fashion industry, which is one that is rooted in sustainability and driven by innovation,” Khanna said. “A few months into the partnership, we are already engaged in various projects where Paradise brings technical expertise and valuable resources. We look forward to more such projects and collaborations to scale technologies that will transform the fashion industry.”