Skip to main content

Econyl is Recycling Ocean Waste into Covetable Luxury Goods

Where other people see a landfill, Aquafil spies a goldmine of potential resources.

The Italian firm takes abandoned fishing nets and castoff bits of carpet and transforms them into Econyl, a 100 percent “regenerated” nylon that has made appearances in products by some 750 brands, including swimwear by Reformation, eyewear by Tommy Hilfiger, activewear by Prana, jackets from Outerknown and luxe accessories in Gucci‘s Off the Grid capsule.

“Econyl nylon is the exact same as traditional nylon but it can be recycled and recreated infinitely without ever losing quality,” said Giulio Bonazzi, CEO and president of Aquafil. “I’ve pushed Aquafil to move beyond recycling to create a truly circular process. Now, I view waste as an abundant resource.”

Saving virgin resources aside, Econyl has less of an impact on the environment, too. Aquafil says that for every 10,000 tons of Econyl raw material made, 70,000 barrels of crude oil are saved and 57,100 tons of carbon-equivalent emissions are avoided.

“On top of that, Aquafil’s facilities run on 100 percent energy from renewable resources,” Bonazzi said. “We have reduced our greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent from 2016 to 2018 and plan to continue implementing sustainable practices into our production processes.”

Creating Econyl also keeps materials out of the trash heap. Only 5 percent of the 11 billion square feet of carpet sold in the United States each year is recycled, according to the Changing Markets Foundation. Ninety percent goes to the landfill. At the same time, Aquafil is actively removing plastic from the ocean. Turning this waste into high-quality filaments that don’t shed as much, Bonazzi said, helps cut down on marine microplastics.

“The circularity of our material not only promotes regenerable materials, but it regenerates existing materials that most would consider to be waste,” he said. “This year’s carpet can be turned into next year’s couture.”

Related Stories

Indeed, Econyl is making inroads in the luxury industry. Last fall, Burberry debuted a capsule collection of outerwear, including a jacquard hooded parka, an oversized cape, a reversible bomber jacket and a fresh take on its classic Kensington-fit trench, made with Econyl. A few months before, Prada introduced Re-Nylon, a line of bags made with a version of Econyl called “Reconyl.” By the end of 2021, Prada says it will phase out all virgin nylon in favor of Reconyl.

“The market is becoming more intrigued, and the demand for sustainable products is higher than ever,” Bonazzi said. “Brands choose Econyl for both its environmental features and the compelling story behind it.”

What’s the most important issue the fashion industry has yet to address?

“Proactivity. Designers in the fashion industry must continue working together in a proactive manner, considering the end-life of a product before it is ever even sketched onto paper and on its way into the design phases. As consumers continue to stay aware of material ingredients, it’s important that brands choose supply chain transparency. This will not only empower the consumer, but it will also invite designers to tap into a new level of innovation and creativity.

In contradiction to the reactive behaviors of our current time, unified proactive decision-making will promise better outcomes in sustainable fashion. Fashion has always been a sector that other industries look to for “what’s next.” Designers have an incredible opportunity to not only reach, but consciously influence consumers and other industries by choosing to create with the end in mind, choosing a material like Econyl nylon that can help brands close the loop.”

Sourcing Journal’s Sustaining Voices celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action.

See more of our Sustaining Voices honorees and their stories, here.