American consumers dispose of around 10 pounds of apparel each on an annual basis, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But as far as Evrnu is concerned, those heaps of unwanted clothes are anything but waste.
“We create a diversion just prior to those garments entering the [landfill] and we break them down and convert them into new, useful and beautiful products,” explained Stacy Flynn, co-founder of the Seattle-based start-up, speaking last week at Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive event in New York City.
How? By taking used cotton garments and removing all the seams, threads, trims and dyes, then breaking them down to the molecular level to extrude a filament or staple fiber.
“This fiber is finer than silk and stronger than cotton,” she continued. “From here, we can take it, comb it, card it, convert it into premium yarn and knit and weave any type of garment. What’s really cool about this technology is through the extrusion process we have a lot of design capabilities. So we can make fabrics that are soft as your favorite T-shirt or durable like denim or have the performance attributes that we all require in our athletic apparel.”
Wondering what this marvelous fiber is called? It doesn’t have a name yet, but as Evrnu’s other co-founder, Christopher Stanev, said, “Anything you can do with polyester, you can do with this fiber.”
But that is where the similarities end. Sixty percent of all clothing in the world is made from petroleum in the form of polyester, Flynn said, to the detriment of the environment. Evrnu, she claimed, cuts negative impact by 70 percent compared to recycled PET.
And with apparel sales projected to double by 2025, Flynn and her team want to offer brands and retailers the ability to future-proof their raw material supply. To get there, however, they need early adopters—and money.
“We have one company signed and we have space for two more,” she said, adding, “We’ll have our first fabric on behalf of our early adopter next month and we should see a branded garment from them next month as well. The commercial pilot is scheduled to launch in January 2017 and from there we’ll be able to scale.”
Evrnu is also actively fundraising (the start-up closed a seed round in August and is currently converting its convertible notes into equity) and open to both investments and grant dollars.
Once it does hit the commercial market, pricing will depend on the product—a super-fine denier is going to cost more than a coarser fiber—but the company’s goal is to be competitive with organic cotton.
“We’re in the very early stages of development; we just got our first line operational so we haven’t invested in different spinnerets. That’s what we’ll be doing with our early adopters,” Flynn offered. “Denim is where we’re starting. We also see us moving into sweater knits really easily.”
The challenge, however, is getting the C-suite stamp of approval. “The norm is that the supplier bares the full cost,” she said, “So unless senior management at the brand and retail level signs off on it, we’re going nowhere.”
She added, “Right now, we’re starting with 100 percent cotton and phasing in polyester but we’re going to need more R&D dollars to get that completed.”