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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Flyleather, ACR Advance Circular Textiles; But Is True Circularity a 'Fantasy'?

Putting sustainability at the heart of the fashion industry is no easy feat, but key players across the value chain continue to demonstrate that they’re up to the task.

Building on the success of its Flyknit process, which allows synthetic yarn to be woven into practically seamless shoe uppers, Nike has unveiled its latest sartorial innovation: Flyleather — a sustainable leather material made with 50 percent recycled leather fiber.

“The earth is the athlete’s biggest playground, so one of our greatest opportunities is to create breakthrough products while protecting our planet,” said Hannah Jones, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP of the Innovation Accelerator at Nike. “Nike Flyleather is an important step toward ensuring athletes always have a place to enjoy sport.”

While the product looks and feels just like premium leather, the process used to produce it is completely different than the curing, soaking and tanning process traditionally used to create the material. During a typical leather manufacturing process, up to 30 percent of a cow’s hide is discarded. To reduce this waste, Nike collects the discarded leather scrap from the floors of tanneries and turns them into fibers. The recycled fibers are then combined with synthetic fibers and fabric through a hydro process with a force so strong it fuses everything into one material. The material then undergoes a finishing process and is completed by being put on a roll to

“Nike Flyleather completely mimics athletic, pigmented full-grain leathers in everything from fit to touch,” said Tony Bignell, VP of Footwear Innovation at Nike. “Unlike with traditional leathers, Flyleather can be produced with a consistent grade across a broader range of product.”

Nike worked with E-Leather, which pioneered the process, to develop the new material, which they claim is 40 percent lighter and five times as durable as traditional leather due to its innate structural strength and stability. The process to produce Flyleather also uses 90 percent less water and has an 80 percent lower carbon footprint than traditional leather manufacturing. And because Nike Flyleather is produced on a roll, it improves cutting efficiency and creates less waste than traditional cut-and-sew methods for full-grain leather.

“Similar to what Nike Flyknit did for knit, Nike Flyleather can do for leather,” said John Hoke, Chief Design Officer for Nike. “New technologies and platforms allow us to get closer to working at the molecular level. Flyleather is the latest example of this and is particularly exciting because it allows for increased potential to extend our craft with more precision. This means opportunity for greater strength, support, elasticity and so on, based on the needs of specific sports.”

“By opening up the possibilities to engineer performance leather, we are creating a new conversation across performance categories to include materials that have otherwise been retired from the options list for products such as footwear, apparel and equipment,” said Bignell.

The first product to feature Nike Flyleather is the Nike Flyleather Tennis Classic, an all-white version of the premium court shoe. Nike has also created limited editions of the Air Force 1, Air Max 90, Cortez and Jordan 1s.

Meanwhile, polyamides producer Aquafil has announced its first US carpet recycling facility in Phoenix, AZ. The new Aquafil Carpet Recycling (ACR) #1 enhanced waste regeneration plant will recycle the Nylon 6 waste from carpets back into raw material, further enhancing Aquafil’s ECONYL® Regeneration System — the only technology in the world capable of regenerating Nylon 6 from carpets and other waste, including fishing nets.

Four billion pounds of carpet are discarded in landfills in the US each year. Once operational in 2018, ACR #1 will have the capacity to collect and treat 35 million pounds of carpet per year, making a significant dent in the waste stream.

Carpet recycling has long been a challenge due to the many different materials used and designs that do not allow for easy separation. Through the ECONYL® Regeneration System, Aquafil avoids the use of petroleum, reduces carbon emissions and gives waste an infinite number of lives without sacrificing quality.

ACR #1 is expected to create 50 new jobs and will repurpose waste that is otherwise destined for landfill, getting Aquafil closer to its goal of producing ECONYL® yarn from 100 percent post-consumer waste. “We want to recycle as much carpet as possible by establishing a number of these facilities throughout the US,” said Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of Aquafil. “This activity will be closely connected to our fishing nets recycling efforts, which diverts millions of pounds from our oceans.”

ECONYL® yarn, made from 100 percent regenerated nylon waste, is quickly gaining momentum in the textile and apparel industry. To date, Aquafil has partnered with more than 160 brands including adidas, Volcom, and Stella McCartney.

Coinciding with the kickoff of Milan Fashion Week, Greenpeace released its latest report, ***Fashion at the Crossroads***, which illustrates how the apparel industry can shift away from its current material-intensive business model. For the first time, an open database of nearly 400 entries will help brands design more sustainable scenarios for the fashion industry.

Since 2011, Greenpeace has been calling brands to eliminate the use and release of harmful chemicals in their production processes through its Detox commitments. However, the organization fears that the program’s progress could be put at risk if brands fail to recognize and address the heart of the problem: the overconsumption of textiles.

“A ‘circular economy’ is the latest meme being used across the EU and worldwide, but behind this nice phrase lies the industry’s fantasy that circularity can fix a material-intensive system; selling the promises of 100 percent recyclability, which is unlikely to come true,” said Chiara Campione, Senior Corporate Strategist for Greenpeace Italy.

Fashion at a Crossroads identifies and evaluates initiatives by companies in the clothing and footwear sector that attempt to both slow the flow of materials and close the loop. The diverse initiatives are classified according to three design concepts and two systems and models which facilitate these interventions. Together, they make up a holistic framework that addresses the whole life cycle of clothing and textiles, including the way that such initiatives interact with each other, instead of tackling individual parts of the system in isolation.

“Our aim is to provide a critical response to the premature and incomplete ‘circular economy’ promoted by large global brands. The Pulse report, recently presented at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, envisions a so-called ‘circular’ future for the sector that would rely even more on environmentally harmful polyester and still seeks growth in material output without questioning the overproduction, overconsumption and the subsequent decrease in the quality and longevity of our clothes,” Campione added.


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