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Why There’s No Such Thing as ‘End of Life’ for This Hoodie

Technology R&D startup Evrnu is stepping out of the B2B shadows to launch its first consumer-facing brand and bring a new voice to apparel’s conversation on circularity.

In partnership with Adidas x Stella McCartney, Evrnu debuted on Friday 50 unisex Infinite H oodies made with NuCycl, a garment-to-garment recycling technology that converts old clothes into new ones and a fiber brand the fashion tech firm hopes consumers will come to look for in the market.

Evrnu’s proprietary technology liquefies clothing made from 95 percent or more cotton, breaking the fabric down into pulp that can be converted into premium NuCycl fiber. Though the focus is on recycling cotton for now, CEO Stacy Flynn said Evrnu is working on ways to produce fiber under the NuCycl brand from polyester and other materials.

The goal, Flynn said, is that when shoppers discover product with the “NuCycl name on it, you’ll know that that garment was made from your old clothing, and that it’s been designed to be recycled in the future.”

Fashion’s facing an “urgent need to radically change our consumption and production systems,” especially as the world grapples with escalating environmental threats, Naoko Ishii, CEO and chairperson of the Global Environment Facility said at the launch of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion in March during the UN Environment Assembly.

“A more sustainable fashion industry,” Ishii added, “has a critical role to play.”

For many, “circular” has come to embody the true definition of “sustainable.” The UN’s projection that 3 billion more global citizens will fit the definition of middle class further illuminates an imperative need to rethink how fashion consumes raw materials.

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Already a fan of the progress-by-partnerships approach, Evrnu believes its best opportunity for advancing circularity industry-wide relies on “merging the existing waste supply chain with the existing apparel supply chain through the adoption of our tech,” Flynn said. That means the people that haul away your trash, paper and cardboard, and mélange of bottles and cans are going to “start bringing textiles online,” she added.

Because handling castoff clothing differs from dealing with what we more commonly know as waste, Evrnu is teaching partners how to sort, separate and grade textiles while also licensing out its technology that pulverizes garments into liquid pulp. That slurry is then distributed to fiber producers that typically convert wood pulp into workable fibers like Tencel.

Evrnu’s technology was created as a seamless “plug-and-play” for fiber solvent systems, Flynn noted, “so that people don’t have to change their existing infrastructure.”

NuCycl circular fiber
Evrnu’s NuCycl circular fiber, designed to be recycled over and over. Evrnu

Flynn expects NuCycl’s premium cost will become more accessible over time once the “economies of scale” catch up. And NuCycl’s top-tier price tag compelled Stella McCartney and Adidas to blend the circular fiber with organic U.S.-grown cotton to create the Infinite Hoodie while keeping the price point accessible, she added, describing the jacquard knit garment as “not an easy construction” and an “incredible technical achievement.”

Comparing Evrnu’s fiber production process to making pasta, Flynn explained how the polymerized material gets pushed through an extrusion line, where the shape and number of holes on an attached spinner determine the “end use characteristics of the fiber,” much as how a few little tweaks decide if you’re cranking out fettucine or linguini.

“You can create so many design capabilities when you create fibers using this method,” said Flynn.

Working with the Adidas Futures team over the past few years in a “stealth relationship,” Flynn said, has been “an incredible opportunity for an early stage technology company to really integrate within a larger organization.”

The 100 million tons of fiber currently in circulation—60 percent of which is polyester—will double in 10 years’ time and Evrnu is readying its supply chain now to prepare for this future onslaught. “As our industry grows, we’ve got solutions that allow us to stay on pace with that growth,” explained Flynn.

Though many fashion luminaries focus on the aesthetics of their finished products, Flynn is invigorated by the possibilities presented by molecular-level fibers. “I actually see it as one of the greatest design challenges of our century: how we take things from one form and convert them into another form,” she explained.

But it’ll take some effort to get consumers on board with the ins and outs this new approach to product creation because their eyes “glaze over” once you start bandying about science-y terms like molecular regeneration, Flynn added. “We have so much storytelling to do,” she said, noting that Evrnu has to find a way to convey why NuCycl’s important in a “way that people can relate to.”

Manufacturing clothes from NuCycl could spell the end of excess inventory because “they’re all designed to come back into the system so that we can stop disposing of textiles to the landfill or incinerator,” said Flynn.

Evrnu put much of its 2017 seed funding to work honing the NuCycl technology in the lead up to the production of the dual-gender Infinite Hoodie, which isn’t available for sale but was made to showcase the fiber’s possibilities. “We want to be known for collaborating with innovative people and designers, waste owners, manufacturers to do more with a group than any one of us could ever do on their own,” Flynn concluded.