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Product, Service & Design Innovation
New Technologies, Recycling Schemes, Materials Edge Fashion Industry Closer to Circularity

The New Textiles Economy continues to bloom as key players in the apparel and textile industries take action to shift towards a more sustainable model.

The New Textiles Economy continues to bloom as key players in the apparel and textile industries take action to shift towards a more sustainable model.

Retailer Target is working to tackle the deeply-ingrained issue of waste in the fashion and textile industries by teaming up with I:Collect (I:CO), a global solutions provider and innovator for collection, reuse and recycling of used clothing and shoes, on a denim exchange pilot program.

Until March 24, stores in the Pacific Northwest will offer customers a 20 percent discount on a new pair of jeans in exchange for old denim clothing. The trade-in program is expected to help keep 50,000 pounds of denim out of landfills, while allowing I:CO to test-drive different incentive strategies to determine the best means for encouraging more sustainable consumer behaviors. Similar programs have already been rolled out by other retailers with considerable success: Levi’s offers a 20 percent-off voucher in exchange for old clothing and shoes and The North Face rewards consumers with a $10 coupon towards a $100 purchase for returning their unwanted clothing.

Once collected, I:CO will sort the garments into two piles: reuse and recycle. “Reuse” items will be resold as second-hand apparel, while “recycle” items, those than can no longer be worn, will become products for new textiles or materials for other industries, such as carpet padding and furniture stuffing. Buttons and hardware will go to the metalworking industry and the dust produced during recycling will be pressed into briquettes for the cardboard industry. Textiles not suitable for any other reuse purpose will fuel energy production.

Meanwhile, outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland has released three new Timberland X Thread men’s footwear styles for spring, made with Thread’s recycled Ground to Good™ fabric. This is the brand’s second collaboration with Thread, a Certified B Corporation that transforms plastic bottles from the streets and canals of Haiti and Honduras into a responsible, sustainable fabric.

The spring ’18 Timberland X Thread men’s footwear collection ranges from $75-$150 and incorporates materials such as durable canvas uppers made of Thread Ground to Good fabric (made with 50 percent post-consumer recycled PET), a 50 percent recycled PET mesh lining and an outsole made of 15 percent recycled rubber.

“At Timberland, we’re constantly seeking innovative ways to create both social and environmental value, and are excited to continue making a difference in Haiti and in all the communities where we live, work and explore,” said Collen Vien, Sustainability Director for Timberland.

“Our collaboration with Thread has proven to be a meaningful way for us to grow our work in Haiti and generate social value for the people behind our products. We’ve embraced the opportunity to share their unique stories with our consumers, because this collection is about so much more than a boot. A Timberland X Thread boot represents real change — it helps create jobs, restore communities and build futures.”

In addition to recycling plastic bottles, the collaboration also helps create important social change in the communities in which Thread operates. Each product made with Thread fabric supports a network of dignified jobs in Haiti and Honduras. Thread fabric is also traced and tracked at every step of its journey, leading to an unprecedented level of transparency into the supply chain itself, as well as the people behind the fabric and their compelling stories, which are shared on Timberland’s website.

Through the program, Haitian entrepreneurs have been able to increase their income, send their children to school, build homes and extend income opportunities to their neighbors. Sevenet, one of the participating entrepreneurs, has employed more than 200 Haitians at his plastic collection sites, ultimately helping end the circle of poverty in his community.

On the chemicals front, The Dow Chemical Company has developed a breakthrough technology that enables unique, brighter colors on natural textiles and improves resource efficiency during the dyeing process.

The patent ECOFAST™ Pure Sustainable Textile Treatment technology allows for the uptake of reactive, direct and acid dyes on natural fibers and fabrics, used in products from apparel to home goods. Acid dyes, which are commonly used to achieve colors such as fluorescents, have, until now, been unavailable for use on cotton. ECOFAST Pure also improves colorfastness, thereby slowing down wear and enhancing product durability.

“Dow has leveraged over a century of material science knowledge to help address the performance and sustainability gaps in the textile industry,” said Esma Talu, market manager for Dow. “By pretreating textiles with ECOFAST Pure, manufacturers can deliver longer lasting, new generation colors on natural textiles while simultaneously reducing water, dye and energy use.”

The new technology builds on Dow’s 2025 Sustainability Goals and commitment to deliver cutting-edge sustainability chemistry innovations. Materials treated with ECOFAST Pure require less rinses and lower water temperatures during dyeing to ultimately decrease water use by more than 50 percent as well as overall energy use. Manufacturers can also decrease dye use by 75 percent through increased dye uptake and reduced cycle time — all without the addition of salts to the dye bath. Natural textiles commonly treated with ECOFAST Pure include tubular knit fabric, yarn, denim, garments and toweling.

Footwear brand Allbirds is taking its commitment to natural and sustainable fibers to the next level with the launch of new collection of kicks made from eucalyptus fiber in lieu of its standard Merino wool.

The wood pulp-based collection consists of the ‘Tree Runner’ jogging shoe and the ‘Tree Skipper’ boat shoe, riffs on the existing wool runner and wool loungers. Both are available in men and women’s sizes and retail for $95.

“The introduction of our revolutionary Tree collection marks a major moment for Allbirds in our quest for a more comfortable and sustainable future,” said Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, co-founders of Allbirds. “This material doesn’t compromise for comfort or the environment and we’re excited to challenge industry norms via material innovation once again.”

The new eucalyptus tree fiber is made from Tencel Lyocell and sourced from South African farms using sustainable agriculture practices. The footwear company had its supply chain audited and certified to ensure maximal environmental performance. According to Allbirds, eucalyptus fiber uses 95 percent less water than traditional materials such as cotton and has allowed the company to cut its carbon footprint in half.

In addition to reducing the environmental impacts, Allbirds enhanced the performance of its kicks using a 3D knitting process to integrate structure and support into the shoe’s upper. The shoes also exhibit moisture-wicking properties and a silky mesh construction that enhances breathability.