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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
New Concept Jacket Designed to Illustrate Viability of Fully Recyclable, Circular Garments

DuPont Biomaterials teamed up with Youngone to design a jacket comprised of recycled and plant-based fabrics that can be mechanically recycled at end of life — providing a glimpse into a circular future for textiles.

The DuPont™ Sorona® brand team is challenging designers to think about the full lifecycle of a garment — with a new showcase jacket, where every layer is a spandex-free stretch solution that can be recycled. Using partially bio-based Sorona fabrics for the inner and outer layers, the insulation and the faux fur trim; the jacket combines the long-lasting performance of Sorona fabrics with circular principles: This jacket is compatible with single-stream polyester recycling, meaning the fabrics can have a second life when it's time to finally retire the garment. Designed by Youngone, it incorporates the recently launched ECOLoft™ FLEX SR insulation comprised of UNIFI's recycled plastic REPREVE® fibers and Sorona polymer fibers, offering warmth and long-lasting stretch.

We spoke with Renee Henze, Global Marketing Director at DuPont Biomaterials, to learn more.

What inspired making this spandex-free, recyclable, stretch jacket?

Renee Henze: Sorona fabrics are known for being made from partially plant-based materials. One area where we receive a few questions from apparel brands and their consumers is related to end-of-life options for their garments.

Consumers are becoming more aware of the lifecycle of garments, particularly as it relates to a true desire to reduce, reuse, recycle through traceability or an increased interest in sustainability. Our experience has been that designers and brands are embracing sustainable practices, producing clothes that are made to last, and establishing recycling programs. New recycling programs — such as Clothes the Loop by The North Face and Reformation’s RefRecycling — are gaining popularity. Additionally, about 80 percent of traditional recycling programs result in routing clothes to thrift stores, shipping them overseas or converting garments into rags, among other reuses. The next question is to ask what happens at the end of the reuse and repurpose lifecycle. That’s just as important.

With this in mind, we created a jacket using Sorona fabrics in each of its layers to demonstrate how it can be reused, physically downcycled into rags or mechanically downcycled into multiple, non-woven products. Chemical recycling for Sorona fabrics is also possible, but this recycling method does not have many collection channels, nor has it gained traction yet.

What do you want designers to understand as they look at this jacket?

RH: Be thoughtful about the full lifecycle of a garment. We believe it is our role to help guide the conversation and educate everyone from designers to the material handlers in the recycling facilities to make them aware there is a stretch fiber option that can be mechanically recycled. This can make a significant impact on textile waste and the environment.

It is exciting to see that and important to know that every layer in this jacket is a spandex-free, stretch solution that can be recycled. If a stretch fabric contains elasterell-p or elastomultiester as a component — for example, Sorona and polyester — to enhance the garment’s stretch performance, it can be mechanically recycled.

Combining the long-lasting performance of Sorona fabrics with the concept of circular economy, this jacket is compatible with single-stream polyester recycling — meaning the fabrics can have a second life if and when the wearer chooses to retire the garment.

We are currently working with multiple value chains because we believe each stakeholder must work collaboratively to create solutions for sustainable, beautiful and livable fashions. We’re proud to debut this soft and luxurious jacket that features partially plant-based Sorona fabrics throughout the garment and has the added benefit of being recycled at the end of its life.

Who designed the jacket and what were the biggest challenges?

RH: Youngone’s design team, based in Seattle, designed the jacket. It was their first time incorporating faux fur into a prototype and as you can imagine, it was just an awesome project. We wanted something chic and fashion-forward to really showcase its performance, while simultaneously highlighting the jacket’s functionality and recyclability. The open quilting on the inside of the jacket is stretchy and soft, while the outside fabric has a sleek, smooth look; which was achieved using ECOLoft FLEX SR insulation. The entire piece from front to back was designed for movement, touch and everyday use.

Selecting the value chain partners for the Sorona fabrics used in the jacket proved easy, as we had access to our highly skilled and innovative mill network. I will admit we did challenge them on the timeline, as concept to completion was only three months.

One challenge for us was the zippers, bungee cords and extra trim pieces — we were unable to find product availability for 100 percent polyester versions. These additional pieces would need to be cut off before the jacket could be prepared for mechanical recycling. However, since showcasing the jacket, we have talked with trim manufacturers about our concept. In the future, we’d like to add these components and ultimately create a solution where the trim pieces could be mechanically recycled, as well.

What is the next step for these jackets?

RH: We have wavered a bit from our original plan to wear it, reuse it and recycle. Now that designers are seeing the concept jacket, no one wants us to deconstruct it! I suppose that’s a good issue to have. We will continue to demonstrate recyclability in our labs with scrap fibers and fabrics as we educate apparel brands, not-for-profits, and potential mechanical recyclers about designing stretch solutions that are long-lasting and have the ability to be recycled, ultimately creating more circular textile solutions in the long term.