Sunday, March 3, 2024

Spiber Expands Textile Recycling With New Partners Kering, Eileen Fisher, and Johnstons of Elgin


Japanese biotechnology start-up Spiber is expanding its influence in the materials innovation sector in a new collaboration with Kering’s Material Innovation Lab, dye and chemical manufacturer DyStar, as well as Eileen Fisher Inc. and Johnstons of Elgin.

Spiber’s new initiative focuses on transforming unused apparel, textiles, and agricultural waste into new materials. Its newest collaborators join earlier participants including Goldwin and sportswear brand Pangaia.

The new collaboration was announced at the Biofabricate next-generation materials conference in Paris. Each brand involved will provide sample materials to Spiber. These samples, made of specific fiber mixes, will be used to assess how different chemical and color treatments react and break down in Spiber’s molecular fermentation process. The goal is to determine if these materials can be regenerated into new, sustainable products. The project will also explore the potential of textile blends, such as poly-cotton, in circular economy applications.

“We are working with the brands to actually test some of the materials they’re using to see if the dyes they use cause any problems for our circulation process, to test to see if certain blends of fibers have viable solutions for circularity,” Kenji Higashi, Spiber’s executive vice president of sustainability, told WWD.

spiber sweat
Goldwyn has used Spiber’s Brewed Protein in its recent collection | Courtesy

Spiber and its partners aim to identify which material blends and chemical treatments are suitable for circularity. The findings won’t just benefit the participating brands; Spiber plans to compile a comprehensive database from the research. This resource is expected to launch before the end of 2024. “Hopefully, they can start designing products that only use chemicals that are compatible with this process and only use fibers that are compatible with this process,” Higashi said.

Spiber has previously made strides in sustainable materials, notably with its Brewed Protein fiber, derived from corn- and sugar-based food-grade feedstock. Pangaia used the material in a limited-edition hoodie launched in 2022.

Also in 2022, Spiber opened a facility capable of large-scale production, such as repurposing agricultural and textile waste into new materials. Currently, natural, bio-based materials like cotton and wool are compatible with Spiber’s process, but the company says the challenge lies in handling chemicals, dyes, and synthetic blends. “There’s a lot of challenges for scaling up,” said Higashi, which includes sourcing sufficient waste materials for conversion at a scale that meets production demands.

“In order to actually create a circular ecosystem for the industry, we need every slice of this [textile] pie to have a solution for circularity,” Higashi said. “If any of these slices don’t have viable solutions, we need to ban or tax or find ways to move away from those ones.”

Inka Apter, director of material sustainability and integrity at Eileen Fisher Inc., expressed enthusiasm for the project: “We need all the tools in our toolbox in order to jointly move our industry forward towards circular economy for textiles. The biosphere circulation project looks at the fundamental principles of circularity at the level of building blocks of our materials, including dyes and finishes. It is a new yet essential approach to circularity.”

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