Fashion for Good is working to boost apparel sustainability and its next batch of startups could promote greener supply chains, minimize resource use and make for a better environment in coming years.
Earlier this year, the global fashion initiative teamed up with Plug and Play, a leading Silicon Valley innovation platform, to start an accelerator program. Dubbed the Plug and Play—Fashion for Good accelerator, the program supports startups working to improve fashion with more eco-friendly products and processes.
Following the graduation of its first group of startups in July, the accelerator announced its second batch of sustainable startups. From recyclable materials to biodegradable textile finishes, here’s how these companies are minimizing the industry’s carbon footprint and fostering a more circular economy.
Colorifix is harnessing the power of nature to reduce man-made textile pollution. Using a synthetic bio-based approach, the company developed an innovative dyeing technology. What makes this dyeing technology more sustainable is that it doesn’t require an extraction process. Colorifix’s dyes are developed, deposited and fixed onto textiles without acids or heavy metals. By incorporating compounds and modified organisms, Colorifix’s dyeing technology colors textiles without a negative environmental impact.
Textile waste remains a major issue for the industry and Circular Systems is stepping up to the plate with a greener process. As a branch of Sustainable Source, a Los Angeles-based fashion sustainability agency, the startup offers comprehensive recycling solutions for synthetic fabrics.
“Circular Systems is actually part of a group of solutions for what we are calling the “Fiber Crisis” in the fashion textile world. The purpose of the parent company is to essentially convert waste resources into high value fibers for textiles,” said S3- Sustainable Source Studios founder Isaac Nichelson. “For circular systems, that is our answer for the synthetic side.”
The startup’s advanced mechanical and chemi-mechanical platforms can even manage coated fabrics, polyester and spandex blends—textiles that are often discarded into landfills and perceived as impossible to recycle.
Processing 100 percent polyester fiber waste is possible with Circular Systems’ advanced mechanical platform. To test this platform, Circular Systems paired up with H&M last year to convert polyester suit lining into other materials, so they may be used again in the fashion industry. Since its successful trial, Circular Systems is also working with other fashion brands to make this textile recycling method possible.
For more complex synthetic materials, including elastane and spandex, the chemi-mechanical platform provides another approach to recycling. With the system, Circular Systems was able to test spandex flints for their recycling potential. Since spandex is still considered too complex for a closed loop system, Circular Systems is further experimenting with this approach and aims to make garments with spandex, including activewear, more recyclable in the future.
Ecofoot is transforming standard textile dyeing with a greener development. The startup developed a technology based on H2COLOR-AUX, an additive that bonds with reactive dyes and boosts their fixation on cellulosic fibers.
Ecofoot CEO Jaime Gomes said the company has a greener method for dyeing fabric. Using a special additive, Ecofoot enables dyes to easily attach to fibers. Due to the additive’s strong properties, Ecofoot minimizes the amount of water used during the dyeing process.
“We make textiles and apparel more sustainable in different areas,” Gomes said. “This means that much less unfixed dye is left to remove, saving several rinses and thus saving water.”
The company offers a variety of eco-friendly nanopigments, including indigo. These pigments are applied in garment dyeing at low temperatures with a neutral pH. Due to the sustainable makeup of these nanopigments, reducing stages and bleach are not required, minimizing the amount of pollution contributed by textile dyeing.
[Read more on apparel sustainability: Will the Apparel Industry Actually Be Able to Improve Water Sustainability?]
Technology and sustainability are coming together for EON.ID’s futuristic solution. The startup is creating the world’s first tagging system for textile recycling, which will use the Internet of Things (IoT) to track clothing life cycles.
Garments would contain an RFID tag, which would provide product identification information, including the garment’s material, color, brand and next-life instructions. With this technology, consumers will be able to efficiently recycle their clothing at the end of their product life cycles. What’s more, each tag also enables consumers to see the path of the garment from sourcing to finished product, so the whole supply chain process is transparent.
Building a more sustainable apparel supply chain is at the core of Nature Coatings’ mission. The startup is developing high-performing and affordable bio-based pigments for textile materials, including cotton and viscose.
“The problem with traditional natural dyes is that they are expensive, use even more water than other dyes and are low performing. These problems prevented the dyes we were using from being scaled up,” said Nature Coatings CEO Jane Palmer. “It became clear to me that in order for a bio solution to be adopted and create real change, the dye or pigment itself had to be high performing, low cost and reduce water use. ”
Unlike conventional pigments, Nature Coatings’ pigments are non-toxic, can be filtered from waste water and reduce resource use at the mill level. The pigments may also be used with coating and finishing mill equipment, reducing water use by 93 percent.
Palmer said Nature Coating reflects the industry’s call for a more sustainable dyeing process.
“The timing is right because brands have sustainability goals they are trying to meet with few options for improving the dye part of the supply chain,” Palmer said. “The dye industry has been focused on cost and performance for the past 100 years, with general disregard to material use or impact, so it’s a ripe industry for disruption.”
NORMN Hangers is bringing a more circular merchandising solution to the table. The startup set out to develop recyclable hangers to reduce the amount of pollution generated from clothing fulfillment centers, stores and warehouses worldwide.
“Billions of plastic hangers used in the apparel supply chain every year end up in landfill. We looked at what recycling collection schemes are more widely available to all brands of all sizes, and developed a new product to plug into those exciting schemes – NORMN Hangers are made from compressed recycled paper and can simply be recycled within all existing paper/card collection schemes, everywhere,” said NORMN Hangers co-founder Pieter Theron. “It’s a truly circular economy solution that is easy to adopt and needs no set-up.”
Unlike conventional hangers, Norman Hangers provide many eco-friendly benefits, including minimizing merchandising waste, reducing carbon-dioxide emissions during transportation and providing opportunities for a second life. In addition to their sustainable makeup, the hangers are durable enough for multiple apparel sizes, display solutions and logistic operations.
SpinDye is minimizing textile dye waste with a cleaner coloring process.
First, SpinDye’s color system delivers an accurate match to the color of the original, non-sustainable material. Using its eco-friendly color system, SpinDye replicates the desired color into an eco-friendly pigment, mixes the pigment and condenses the pigment for the next part of the production process. This special eco-friendly pigment is then mixed and melted with clear polyester. The bond enables the pigment to become part of the polyester, eliminating the need for hazardous dye chemicals.
From this process, SpinDye creates colored thread that can be knitted into fabrics. Compared to conventional pigments, SpinDye’s pigments withstand abrasion, frequent laundering and sunlight.
SpinDye marketing manager Pelle Jansson said SpinDye is a way to make the textile supply chain more eco-friendly, by reducing the use of natural resources and offering the industry a high-quality dyeing alternative.
“Sustainability is a way to premiumize and to drive revenues for everybody in the value-chain,” Jansson said. “However, sustainable products also has to be of at least as good quality as non-sustainable products—otherwise you ask too much from the consumer.”
A Transparent Company
Cracking sustainability issues could start with clothing history and A Transparent Company is providing the industry with a glimpse of garments’ past life cycles.
In partnership with Provenance, a product transparency company, the platform provides industry members with a special blockchain technology, which tracks apparel from sourcing to finished product. With this tool, apparel companies can track clothes throughout the entire supply chain and potentially receive information on any harmful substances used in the process.