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Waste Not
Dr. Martens, IKEA Push Circular Fashion Further Into the Mainstream

IKEA has created a collection made from recycled coworker uniforms; while Dr. Martens’ Genix Nappa collection features recycled-leather remakes of three of the iconic shoe brand’s signature styles.

IKEA’s VÄXELBRUK collection made from recycled employee uniforms

Image credit: IKEA

While rolling out a new coworker uniform design over the past few years, IKEA also collected hundreds of pallets of older uniforms — along with some overstock of pre-ordered uniforms that were left unused due to the transition to the new design. IKEA took the stockpile of fabric — and what it had learned from extensive research with H&M about eliminating chemical contamination in textile recycling — and embarked on a textile-recycling project, marking the company’s latest step in its journey towards a fully circular business model.

The result is VÄXELBRUK — a collection of throws, cushion covers, curtains and bags made using 300 tonnes of recycled uniforms collected in European markets from 2020 to 2022 — which is finally set to launch soon in stores across Europe.

As Business and Innovation Deployment Leader Luca Clerici explains in a post, the process of unmaking the garments inspired the particular range of items for the collection — as the resulting fabrics soon revealed themselves to be suitable for various uses, from curtains to office chair fabric.

And while some VÄXELBRUK products reflect IKEA’s trademark yellow and blue colors, the goal was not to scream ‘IKEA’ colors.

“We got a lot of good ideas from the supplier in the development process and ended up introducing other fabric colors from industrial textile surplus to create a different fabric," Clerici says. "It helped make the yellow less yellow and the blue less blue."

The making of colored fabrics, especially multi-colored ones, usually requires dyeing — a process that can add quite a cost to both resources and the price of the final product in stores. A key takeaway from the making of VÄXELBRUK was being able to adjust colors without having to go through a dyeing process by combining the colors of the recycled fibers to create the desired color effect.

But Clerici says one of the most challenging — and valuable — lessons learned from the making of VÄXELBRUK didn’t have to do with product development or design.

“It was the first time we managed and repurposed our own potential waste within IKEA at this scale; so we had to learn to navigate quite a complex landscape in terms of requirements, legislation and logistics. How to move the material, working with the right carriers with special licenses to receive and manage them. We studied all of these things very closely."

These kinds of complexities are the reason many of these explorative projects have a limited extent and release, and why this first-time project took place in European markets alone. And it’s the kind of groundwork that makes way for relatively swift add-ons thereafter, as proven by the VÄXELBRUK bag — the only product in the collection to not be made fully from recycled post- and pre-consumer recycled materials.

When one of the new uniform top fabrics turned out to be a little too transparent, the team was able to repurpose the stretchy t-shirt material as well — adding low-melt fibers made with virgin polyester, which acts a sort of glue between the fibers — to create the woven feel of the VÄXELBRUK bags.

Clerici recounts the excitement of the marathon sprint and team effort behind the collection — and how it set an example for recycling and repurposing materials within IKEA.

“There were so many cross-disciplinary learnings, not only about textiles. We’re sharing these across IKEA for people to use in everything from the supply chain to product development and design. Many good things have happened because of this project."

Dr. Martens’ Genix Nappa collection made from reclaimed leather

Dr. Martens' 1461 3-Eye Shoe in reclaimed leather | Image credit: Dr. Martens

Meanwhile, Dr. Martens has launched its Genix Nappa collection — made from reclaimed leather from Gen Phoenix, the first company to sustainably recycle leather at scale. The company aims to tackle waste by rescuing leather offcuts that would otherwise be destined for landfill and uses them to create a soft yet durable new material.

To create the Genix Nappa material, Dr. Martens worked with Gen Phoenix to leverage the company's groundbreaking technology — which breaks waste leather down to the fiber level and then uses the power of recycled water to rebuild it into a premium and durable recycled material.

"We are excited to join forces with Dr. Martens on the first sustainable remake of its most iconic boot styles,” says Gen Phoenix CEO John Kennedy. “This partnership is proof that heritage brands can implement circular models that benefit the planet without changing the integrity of the product, bringing high-quality shoes responsibly to market for everyone to enjoy."

Durability is a hallmark of all Dr. Martens' products, which have been Made Strong since 1960; and Gen Phoenix's 15-year legacy of producing durable, high-performing recycled material innovations for the aviation, rail and bus industries has positioned the company to now have an impact in fashion and footwear.

Reclaimed leather. Remade to last.

Genix Nappa offers the quality, durability, comfort and strength of conventional leather with a lower carbon impact. The leather offcuts are taken from tanneries and put through Gen Phoenix's proprietary process to separate the leather fibers before re-entangling them, producing a roll of re-engineered, reclaimed leather which is then used to manufacture the footwear. The Genix Nappa material contains over 50 percent waste leather.

Top to bottom, the Gen Phoenix's process is environmentally responsible — it's powered by 100 percent renewable electricity and the brand recycles 95 percent of water in production — and enables circular material production with the scale necessary to make a true impact. For both brands, sustainability through longevity is a key focus and Gen Phoenix is thrilled to support Dr. Martens as it takes the next step in its journey to create durable, lower-impact footwear that will help support a more sustainable future.

The new collection will feature remakes of Dr. Martens' signature 1460 Lace-Up Boot, 1461 3-Eye Shoe and 2976 Chelsea Boot.

"The sustainability challenges of today are complex, and circular business models are one of them,” says Dr. Martens Global Head of Sustainability Tuze Mekik Arguedas Schwank. “At DM's, we have been taking steps forward in our journey towards circularity; and Genix Nappa is a great example of one of them. It demonstrates that waste is a valuable resource and shows how we can think differently about our products into the future. We can't wait to hear what our wearers think!"

Dr. Martens' partnership with Gen Phoenix demonstrates the two UK-brands' shared commitment to sustainability, and follows the iconic shoe brand’s strategic investment in the British startup in 2023. Through a revolutionary circular process that earned the brand recognition as one of Fast Company's 2024 Most Innovative Companies, Gen Phoenix rescues leather offcuts destined for landfill and regenerates them into a premium recycled leather material; the company has diverted thousands of tons of material from landfill since 2007.

This also marks Gen Phoenix's second partnership with a heritage fashion brand to develop more sustainable offerings while still maintaining the same quality and luxury customers have grown to love: Last April, Gen Phoenix integrated its material innovation into Coach circular sub-brand Coachtopia's circular line of handbags and leather goods.