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New Cotton Project launched to prove circular fashion possible

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

25 Nov 2020

Fashion

The European Union is funding a new project to harness fashion industry collaborations and technology to create circular fashion. Under the ‘New Cotton Project,’ a consortium of brands, manufacturers, suppliers, innovators and research institutes will be tasked with proving that circular, sustainable fashion “is not only an ambition, but can be achieved today”.

The twelve participating fashion companies and brands include Adidas and the H&M Group, alongside Finnish biotechnology group Infinited Fiber Company, Aalto University, Fashion for Good, Frankenhuis, Inovafil, Kipas Textiles, REvolve Waste, Rise, Tekstina, and Xamk.

The project, which has received 6.7 million euros in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, aims to not only demonstrate an entirely circular model for commercial garment production. This would be a world-first in the fashion industry and it hopes that it will also inspire and act as a steppingstone for “even bigger circular initiatives” in the industry going forward.

To demonstrate circularity in textiles, over a three-year period textile waste will be collected, sorted and regenerated into Finnish biotechnology group Infinited Fiber Company’s unique, cellulose-based textile fibres. The fibres will be used to create different types of fabrics for clothing that will be designed, manufactured and sold by global brand Adidas and companies in the H&M Group, explained the project in a statement.

The initiative will also include at the end-of-use, apparel take-back programmes that will collect the clothing to determine the next phase in their lifecycle. Clothing that can no longer be worn will be returned for regeneration into new fibres, “further contributing to a circular economy in which textiles never go to waste, but are reused, recycled or regenerated into new garments instead”.

Adidas and H&M Group join EU-funded circular, sustainable fashion project

There is “high potential for circularity within the textile industry,” explains the EU, but also notes that there is “urgent need” for the development of technologies to produce and design sustainable and circular bio-based materials. Making sustainable products commonplace, reducing waste and leading global efforts on circularity are outlined in the European Commission’s EU Circular Economy Action Plan as necessary for Europe’s efforts to drive sustainable growth.

It is hoped by funding ‘New Cotton Project’ alongside a consortium of partners from Finland, Portugal, Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, Slovenia and Turkey, it will help directly addresses what the EU calls “critical issues” while pioneering the implementation of a circular operating model for the textile industry.

The ‘New Cotton Project’ is in direct response to the fact that most of the textile industry’s environmental problems relate to the raw materials used by the industry: cotton, fossil-based fibres such as polyester, and viscose as the most common man-made cellulosic fibre, are all associated with serious environmental concerns.

It is hoped that this research initiative will offer a “valuable solution for textile waste and an alternative to the industry’s reliance on virgin materials like cotton” as the project recaptures the valuable raw materials in discarded clothing and regenerates them back into high-quality, cellulose-based fibres that can be spun into new yarn, woven into new fabric, and designed into new clothes – again and again.

As this is the first project of its kind, the consortium also notes that this is an opportunity to identify and find solutions for potential bottlenecks to scaling up circular textile production and for calculating the environmental impacts over the lifecycle of textiles.

Infinited Fiber Company to lead a fashion consortium to demonstrate circular fashion possible

Infinited Fiber Company, whose patented technology can regenerate cellulose-rich textile waste into unique fibres that look and feel like cotton, is leading the consortium of 12 companies and organisations that span the entire supply chain. Manufacturers Inovafil, Tekstina and Kipas will use the regenerated fibres to produce yarns, woven fabrics and denim respectively, while Adidas and companies in the H&M Group will design, manufacture and sell clothing made from the fabrics.

In addition, sportswear brand Adidas will also be collecting customer feedback and insights and, developing its textile take-back programme to reintegrate returned apparel back into the loop.

Other members of the consortium including Frankenhuis will sort and pre-process the textile waste used in the project, while the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (Xamk) will develop a technical solution for the continuous processing of textile waste fibres for pre-treatment and REvolve Waste will collect and manage data on textile waste to estimate feedstock availability in Europe and define the grade of the used textile waste.

Rise, the research institute of Sweden, will conduct the sustainability and techno-economic analyses for the project together with Infinited Fiber Company, as well as managing the eco-labelling for the project and subsequent fabrics and garments. While Finland’s Aalto University will analyse the created ecosystem and circular business models more broadly to help define the most feasible business model for the project.

Sustainable fashion innovation platform Fashion for Good will facilitate stakeholder cooperation and conduct training, leading all project communication, branding and dissemination with support from Aalto University and Infinited Fiber Company.

“We are very excited and proud to lead this project, which is breaking new ground when it comes to making circularity in the textile industry a reality,” said Infinited Fiber Company’s co-founder and chief executive, Petri Alava. “The enthusiasm and commitment with which the entire consortium has come together to work towards a cleaner, more sustainable future for fashion is truly inspiring.”

Image: courtesy of New Cotton Project - Infinited Fiber - shredded textile to regenerated cellulose carbamate fibre