The apparel industry is determined to make a dent in the world’s ocean plastic problem, and the latest retailer to embrace the raw material for a line of product is Uniqlo.
The Japanese fast-fashion purveyor announced a new collaboration with fiber and chemicals company Toray Industries to execute a collection of apparel made from Dry EX, which uses recycled down and polyester fibers reclaimed from PET bottles.
“We are aiming to create new value through clothing and contribute to the sustainability of society,” Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of Uniqlo parent company Fast Retailing, said. “Under this partnership, we will start a new material recycling and recycling initiative, through which we will deliver simple, highly functional, high quality, and sustainable clothing to customers around the world.”
Uniqlo will collect Ultralight Down products that customers no longer want or wear in its stores, and tap into Toray’s newly developed down separation system to repurpose the material for its second life. Conventionally, recycling down had to be done manually in a process that was neither easy nor effective.
“In the case of ultra light down, since the outer material is thin and sewing is complicated, the difficulty of dismantling is high, and it has been difficult to remove the down efficiently by conventional manual work,” Fast Retailing said. “This time, the development of the ultra light down dedicated separation machine has fully automated the down cutting, stirring separation, and recovery, achieving a processing capacity approximately 50 times that of conventional manual work.”
For the recycled PET that will make up the other portion of the incoming collection’s raw material, the newly developed Dry EX technology uses Toray’s new high-value-added PET bottle recycled polyester.
“Filtering technology that removes foreign materials from recycled materials has made it possible to produce special cross-sections and a variety of fibers in the same way as virgin materials,” Fast Retailing said. “In addition, Toray’s unique recycling identification system has realized traceability of PET bottle recycled fiber.”
Uniqlo’s sustainable collection with Toray launched in Japan this year, though the company expects production to continue in a wider rollout for the Fall/Winter 2020 season.
The trend toward companies embracing recycled ocean plastic for their products has been ramping up this year. This week, Waste2Wear debuted what it called the world’s first line of ocean-plastic-derived fabrics that’s fully traceable thanks to blockchain technology, and Adidas has continued to expand its shoes made from plastic collected by ocean advocacy network Parley for the Oceans. In a similar vein, Reformation launched a line of swimwear earlier this year made from abandoned fishing nets.