Finnish fast-fashion retailer Seppälä is set to sell a capsule collection of clothes made from upcycled cellulose fibers in its stores in Spring ’16. Now, the brains behind the experiment are ramping up efforts to take this technology to full commercialization. To get there, however, they need a helping hand or two.
“We would like to work very closely with two or three major brands and select manufacturers to see if the fiber works perfectly in your value chain and then learn more from the process,” said Petri Alava, chief executive officer of Infinited Fiber, an offshoot of VTT Technical Research of Finland that’s figured out a way to spin old cotton clothing into new fibers.
The production process involves collecting post-consumer textile waste that’s not deemed suitable for reuse but which, by way of a cellulose dissolution technique, can be broken down into a solution that’s then turned into a new fiber to be used for thread. The end result is a knitted fabric made entirely from recycled materials that uses less water than virgin cotton and cuts the carbon footprint.
“We are dissolving the cellulose out of cotton or other cellulose-containing fibers and can produce a new natural man-made fiber out of this cellulose, infinitely. We know that it can be repeated over and over again so that there’s no limit on it,” Alava explained last week as part of Cradle to Cradle’s recycling innovation working group at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in New York.
In addition to brand partners, Infinited is also looking for two million euros (or $2.1 million) in capital to help it take its next steps.
Today, the organization is capable of creating 1,000 kilograms (about 2,204 pounds) of fiber, using existing equipment in a former Finnish viscose manufacturing plant, but it wants to scale that to 60,000 kilograms (roughly 132,000 pounds) next year.
Alava added, “It’s not an industrial scale, I know, but we also believe that nobody will buy a licensed technology based on 1,000 kilograms of production. We need to prove and still learn more to ensure this process is stable for the industry.”
The idea, he said, is that the process can be applied in any existing pulp plant or infrastructure and that by 2017 it would be capable of handling fully mixed textile waste.
“It may sound strange, but we hope we can build up a fashion recycling eco system…It would be nice to work with some people who are developing other ideas to reutilize polyester,” he said, adding, “What we believe is that the more brains, the bigger change there can be.”