Changing Surfaces: A Swiss Company replaces petrochemicals in textiles and clothing finishings with green chemistry innovation
What do your rain jacket, kitchen linens, sports bra, or favourite football jersey all have in common? A textile coating or finishing that you can probably feel with your hands but is invisible to the naked eye. In fact, chemical finishes are commonly added to fabrics during the final stage in order to achieve the performance attributes you love most, such as wicking sweat, softness, or water repellency.
Finishing processes are often left under the radar, which is why most people think only in terms of the textile materials themselves when it comes to the word “sustainability”. However, the chemicals used in these processes might actually be leaving a significant carbon footprint on the environment per metre of fabric.
That’s where Beyond Surface Technologies comes in. After working for decades at big chemical companies, a group of textile industry veterans wanted to approach textile chemistry innovation with the environment at the core. In 2008, they founded Beyond Surface Technologies, or Beyond, a Swiss company with the mission to advance green chemistry solutions for textiles.
Conventional textile finishes — commonly used in high-performance sportswear — are often derived from non-renewable fossil fuels such as crude oil and animal fat, and can leach hazardous toxins that pollute our waterways. Instead, Beyond works with renewable materials such as industrial plant seed and/or microalgae oils to create biobased formulations, all under their product line miDori™ (or Japanese for “green”).
According to Beyond Founder Matthias Foessel, their current miDori™ technologies provide softness and/or wicking/fast dry performance to many different fibres/fabrics/garments – without the tradeoff in performance or price tag. Their formulation is also biodegradable, which means their products will have a low impact on any subsequent recycling/upcycling process.
This helps reduce the textile industry’s carbon footprint significantly – one of the key challenges that the textile industry faces.
miDori™ products also live up to their sustainability reputation — all products are GOTS, USDA biobased, and GreenScreen certified. In particular, miDori™ bioSoft, a finish that gives a smooth hand to textiles, was the first textile chemical to reach GreenScreen Silver status and has also achieved C2C Platinum level certification.
With new material start-ups popping up every week, fashion and sportswear brands can sometimes feel overwhelmed or wary about adopting new methods to create sustainable change. But the urgent response from the industry is necessary: the IPCC 2018 report states that there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C – anything beyond half a degree will worsen the risk of drought, floods, and heatwaves.
Realising the barriers to adoption, Beyond decided to design their products to be “plug-and-play” right from the beginning. “Our miDori™ technologies have been specifically developed for use in the textile industry. Machinery and processes conditions are just like the ones currently been used for the predominant crude oil-based chemicals. The term ‘plug-and-play’ fits very well for our products and we actually do use it ourselves when talking to the industry.”
And the industry is responding. Beyond includes household names such as Patagonia, Adidas, Levi’s, Aritzia, Coyuchi, and Puma in their brand portfolio, and is backed by Patagonia’s corporate venture capital fund Tin Shed Ventures.
“For us, performance comes first,” says Foessel. “We want our customers to buy our products because they perform and then surprise them with the fact that its performance is actually based on green chemistry. This is the only way, in our belief, that the adoption of green chemistry will further advance and eventually succeed over the current primarily crude oil-based chemicals. Price for green chemistry has been coming down steadily over the last years and will continue to do so. This allows us to offer products which as stated before perform alike and will only add marginally – if at all – to the cost of a single garment.”
The next challenge in green chemistry that the company wants to address? Sustainable water repellency for fabrics. Beyond is currently putting significant efforts into developing a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) technology alternative that is biocarbon based and PFC-free.
“It is a much sought after missing piece in the puzzle of offering more green chemistry to the textile finishing industry,” Foessel says.
By integrating sustainable innovation directly into the DNA of the business, Beyond Surface Technologies has developed a business model that can help ignite industry change.