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Polartec Exec on Circularity’s ‘Triple Bottom Line Standard’

When it comes to “The Science of Sustainable Fabric,”–the title of Polartec’s webinar last week–Eva Karlsson, CEO of Houdini Sportswear, summed it up when she said, “You can’t compromise with performance or comfort or anything else when you try to go circular and sustainable.”

To that end, the Swedish sportswear and outerwear company has developed a “design checklist” that poses questions on sustainability and circularity when creating products. These include “does this product deserve existence; will it last long enough; is it versatile enough; will it age with beauty; is nothing added that isn’t needed; is it fit for sharing, repairing, remaking and reselling, and does it have a next-life solution?”

Karlsson said Houdini’s goals are for 100 percent circular products in 2022 and a circular ecosystem by 2030. The brand also wants to contribute to “exponential change in consumer behavior and customer expectations,” she said.

“We do have the technologies, the fabrics and the solutions to crate beautiful products that last quite long,” Karlsson added. “Collaboration is key with all our supply chain partners.”

Last year, Houdini launched its Project Mono Air with Polartec, an open-source initiative in collaboration with Polartec designed to tackle the issue of microfiber shedding. Mono Air fabric sheds 80 percent fewer microfibers compared to conventional fleece and is made from recycled and recyclable materials.

Steve Layton, president of Polartec, said the company takes a “whole systems approach” to sustainable manufacturing.

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“It’s not just where we make it, but how we make it,” Layton said.

This includes investments in production protocols such as waste capture and water filtration; the use of bio-based and recycled raw materials, and distribution and logistics efficiencies.

Layton noted that Polartec and parent company Milliken’s sustainability goals for 2025 fall into three categories–planet, product and people. The planet goals focus on “reducing our global footprint to increase our global impact,” he said, through a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and solid waste. The company also wants to send zero waste to landfills by then and increase its renewable usage tenfold.

In products, Layton said Polartec’s tenets are “greater durability, smarter chemistry, natural performance and total circularity.” These involve the use of recycled nylon and polyester, high-loft wool, PFC-free durable water-resistant finishes and product development to reduce fiber shedding.

“Durability and longevity of products is one of those areas” that is not often talked about but “is one of the most impactful,” he said. “People are so quick to talk about end of life, which is an important topic, but they forget to talk about how long do these products last. That’s a key element for us at Polartec that when you buy a Polartec product or one made with Polartec fabrics, you can expect a long-lasting and highly durable product.”

In the area of reducing fiber shedding, Layton noted that Polartec is looking at the fibers it uses in the performance fabrics it develops. That means putting more natural fibers into its products.

“All this leads to working toward total circularity,” he said. “When you talk about circularity, it’s a triple bottom line standard–it’s using recycled inputs to make a product that has a very long life, is very durable, and at the end of the life, that product can be recycled back into raw materials for the same use.”

Within this, products have to perform to keep people warm, dry, cold and safe while employing sustainable production and processes, Layton noted.

Jeff Strahan, director of research, compliance and sustainability at Milliken and Company, said when it comes to total environmental footprint, it’s important to use a variety of measurements and methods. In textiles, the comparisons, which he gave through several diagnostic presentations, for example of cotton versus polyester, should take into consideration factors ranging from energy consumption to land use.

“The guiding principle is that the choice of fiber should match the textile product’s application, the properties required and the expected lifespan and end-of-life processes,” Strahan said.