Changing Surfaces: A Swiss Company replaces petrochemicals in textiles and clothing finishings with green chemistry innovation

27th September 2019     News Fabrics Future Fabrics Expo The Sustainable Angle Sourcing

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. 

Beyond Surface Technologies’s latest innovation is a microalgae-based wicking finish for synthetic textiles, the first in the industry.

 

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.  

Patagonia Women’s Active Mesh Bra with Beyond Surface Technologies’ miDori™ bioSoft for added wicking and softness

 

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.”

Organic bedding pioneer Coyuchi is the first in North America to use miDori™ bioSoft green technology for processing its sheets.

 

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.

Discover more sustainable and innovative mills like Beyond Surface Technologies at our upcoming 9th Future Fabrics ExpoGet your tickets here or sign up to our newsletter below for updates. 

When Carol Chyau discovered yak down during her travels to Yunan, China in 2006, she knew that the best way to help catalyze the growth of social enterprise in China was to start one of her own. Chyau founded Shokay, a textile company which crosses disciplines and geographies to bring premium yak down products to market and social change to the communities behind them.

Yak fibres are sustainable alternatives to cashmere and wool — they are 30% warmer than wool, 1.6 times more breathable than cashmere and have a fine, smooth texture. As a comparison, an individual yak fibre is 18-20 microns with a length of 30-40mm, and cashmere is between 14-30 microns and 20.5-90mm long.  

Taking inspiration from the qualities of the yak fibre, Shokay has developed an extensive range of fabrics, yarns and hand-knitting yarns in 100% pure yak down for luxury outerwear, as well as in unique yak blends composing of wool, organic cotton, in-transition cotton, hemp, Tencel™, and recycled PET.

Animal fibres often get a bad reputation for having high environmental impacts due to land use, water consumption, animals feed and chemicals required for production (EAC “Fixing Fashion”, 2019). More importantly, animal farming for textiles brings up several issues surrounding their welfare, ethical treatment and effects on biodiversity. 

However, with sustainable practices, government policies, and international support on-the-ground training for local herders in place, animal fibres can be a sustainable choice as they have high-performance technical properties and very low end-of-life impacts on the planet (compared to other natural fibres such as conventional cotton, or synthetic fibres such as virgin polyester).

Shokay’s social enterprise model leaves a positive social impact which empowers young Tibetans and the livelihoods of Tibetan herders. The yak fibres used in Shokay’s products are sourced directly from Tibetan herders, enabling them to earn a living while preserving their traditional herding and community lifestyle.

The boom of the animal fibre industries has led to overgrazing and grassland desertification in many areas across China and Mongolia. As yak fibre enters the fashion industry, sustainable herding practices must come hand-in-hand with economic growth.

Currently, yaks are farmed on a small scale, and as the demand and awareness for yak fibres grow, Shokay’s efforts in building sustainable practices for yaks and the herding communities now will allow the yak market to scale in a healthy manner.

Yaks are low-carbon emission animals. They are currently raised by Tibetan herders with a semi-nomadic lifestyle, which prevents overgrazing of land; their tongues are short, therefore they do not pull grass from the root when feeding which is beneficial for grassland conservation; the hand-combed method used during harvesting is not harmful or invasive for the animals; the relationship between yak and herder is personal and animals are treated as an extension of family and livelihood.

One per cent of Shokay’s sales revenue goes towards their Community Development Fund, empowering the communities in their supply chain. Over 800 herders in Western China have benefitted from Shokay’s healthcare programs. A projected 500 tonnes of yak will be sourced in the next 3 years, with the opportunity to positively impact one million Tibetans. In addition, Shokay plans to facilitate and invest in workshops for animal husbandry and land conservation in order to develop the knowledge and skills of the community and future generations.

Carol Chyau’s social enterprise has drawn attention for its vision — in 2006 her business idea won first place at the Harvard Business Plan Competition.  She was selected as an Echoing Green Fellow in 2008 and a finalist for Cartier’s Women Initiative. Chyau was also named one of Forbes’ Top 30 Entrepreneurs under 30 and one of Top 5 Social Entrepreneurs at the Chivas Venture Competition.

Shokay believes that yak can really play a part in the future landscape of materials. Since yak is not yet commercialised, the company has spent several years developing a traceable supply chain for their yarns and fabrics, even creating the first yak grading system.  By working closely with their supply chain and industry association partners, Shokay aims to set the standards for yak collection, segmentation and processing to facilitate sustainable scaling and prevent negative practices that might disrupt a sustainable yak fibre supply chain in China.

The company believes that the fashion industry needs to address our pressing environmental and social challenges by integrating change at every level of the supply chain: from sourcing sustainable raw materials, to working with certified mills, and audited garment factories, to marketing campaigns with other leading sustainable fashion brands that educate end consumers regarding the urgency and importance of knowing where your products come.

As for what’s next, Shokay has been busy collaborating and adopting holistic approaches to the way they source fibres and develop products.

Last year, Shokay signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ICIMOD. Based in Nepal, ICIMOD is an intergovernmental organization that works to develop a sustainably-sound mountain ecosystem in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region that can help improve the living standards of mountain populations and sustain vital ecosystem services for the 1.3 billion people living downstream. Shokay is exploring opportunities to build best practices for the livelihoods of yaks and the herding communities, coupled with land preservation in the mountainous areas. Shokay became a member of Textile Exchange and exhibited at the Future Fabrics Expo by The Sustainable Angle.

The company also launched Shokay Lab, a community of brands, designers, and manufacturers that share resources and jointly develop products that are thoughtfully made. The creative social enterprise also has plans to launch an accelerator program to empower material innovation.

Seems like a strong contender for the future of fabrics.

Shokay will be presenting a joint masterclass with The Sustainable Angle on 9 May 2019, from 9:30-12: 30 pm in our London Showroom, W10. Registration details TBC. 

 

Watch Shokay’s interview from our Future Fabrics Expo: 

Discover more about Shokay

You’d be hard-pressed to find a closet without a single piece of clothing made from denim. According to FashionUnited Business Intelligence, 1.25 billion jeans are sold annually worldwide, with women owning 7 pairs of jeans on average and men owning 6 pairs. As one of the most purchased fabrics on the planet, denim has a huge impact on our resources. It takes 20,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton for a single pair of jeans. Factor in the hazardous health effects caused by indigo dyeing and denim finishing, and you have a basic wardrobe staple that affects both people and planet at a very large scale.

One of the mills investing in innovative technology to help lower the environmental impact of denim manufacture is Advance Denim, a core exhibitor at our recent Future Fabrics Expo in January 2019. Founded in 1987 in China, Advance Denim is a key player in the industry with an annual output of up to 40 million yards of fabric. With sustainable initiatives such as aniline-free dyeing with Archroma’s Denisol® Pure Indigo 30 liq, Zero Cotton fabric made with TENCEL™ fibres, and Greenlet™ ecore yarn, the company’s commitment to constantly improve their production processes and techniques dispels several myths around sustainable manufacture in China.   

For our latest Masterclass, we asked Enrico Forin from Advance Denim to be our guest speaker and discuss the realities of producing more sustainable denim in China, as well as the changes the industry has seen within the past few years. We caught up with Forin after the workshop to learn a little more about the company and their ethos.

The Sustainable Angle: What are the main products Advance Denim creates, and what key aspects make them more sustainable than conventionally-produced denim?

Enrico Forin: Since 1987, Advance Denim has been producing a wide range of indigo products, from traditional denim, intricate jacquards, smooth flexible coatings to real indigo knits. Currently, Advance Denim is focusing considerable efforts to produce a wide array of fabrics in the most sustainable way possible, by applying creative and technical expertise to solve manufacturing challenges affecting our natural resources, such as water, energy and waste. We are planning on reaching our sustainability goals by using eco contents to build the fabrics as well as cleaning up the entire manufacturing process.

TSA: How can fashion have a positive impact on nature and communities? 

EF: More and more fashion brands now are sensitive to the ecological impacts of the fabric, accessories and trims that make up their collections. These brands are now making a conscious effort to source recycled materials wherever possible. This is already a considerable step forward and will have a positive impact since less natural resources will be consumed. This reduced consumption of raw materials will consequently benefit communities, especially in locations on the planet where raw materials are scarce.

TSA: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to becoming a more sustainable and less harmful industry? 

EF: I don’t see any major obstacles that could block the improvement of sustainability in our industry. Since there are sustainable chemicals, equipment and technologies that are currently available in the market, it is up to each company to invest in a sustainable future. We believe that it is just a matter of ethics and social responsibility.

TSA: What are the goals and plans moving forward for Advance Denim?

EF: Advance Denim has a detailed and aggressive sustainability initiative. We are planning to have green fibres account for 90% of our products in the next 5 years. We will also be investing in new technologies throughout the entire production line that will further reduce water and energy consumption. Though Advance Denim will be making a considerable investment in new sustainable technologies, we are attempting to limit the effect that these investments have on the cost of the final product, and in some cases, the effect may be cost-neutral.

For more information about Advance Denim, visit http://www.advancedenim.com/

For updates on our events, initiatives, and suppliers, follow us on Instagram and Twitter . 

 

Only two days away!
The Sustainable Angle’s 8th Future Fabrics Expo
24th – 25th January 2019
9 am – 6 pm

It’s finally here! This week, our Future Fabrics Expo will be unveiling the largest dedicated showcase of commercially-available fabrics and materials with a lower environmental footprint. Join our expo to discover innovative and sustainable solutions for fashion, as we highlight the whole journey from fibre to garment. 

The 8th Future Fabrics Expo will be displaying thousands of fabrics and materials at a new venue of 22,000 sq ft:

Victoria House Basement
Bloomsbury Square, entrance Southampton Row
London, WC1B 4DA
Nearest tube station: Holborn station, Central line.

 

Register for your ticket today, and keep scrolling below to get a preview of all our Future Fabrics Expo highlights!

REGISTER TODAY

 

For the first time, the 8th Future Fabrics Expo will be featuring two curated areas dedicated to fashion brands who are integrating sustainability at the core of their businesses:

Supported by Lenzing Group:
Mara Hoffman / Chen Wen / Armedangels / Giray Sepin / Rajesh Pratap Singh / Soster Studio

Curated by Arizona Muse x RCM Studio:
Bethany Williams / Tiziano Guardini / Patrick McDowell / Swedish Stockings / Mother of Pearl / Maggie Marilyn / Kitx / Aiayu

8th Future Fabrics Expo seminar series in partnership with G-Star RAW:

Our popular seminar programme will run alongside the expo throughout both days, featuring speakers from some of the most influential organisations in sustainable textiles and fashion. Speakers and panel discussions will be introduced by Clare Press, presenter of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast and Australian VOGUE’s Sustainability Editor-at-Large, Arizona Muse, model and sustainability campaigner, and Bel Jacobs, ethical fashion journalist and former fashion editor for Metro.

 

VIEW THE FULL SEMINAR PROGRAMME HERE

 Follow us on Twitter and Instagram for live updates of our seminar series.

 

The thousands of materials on show at the #FutureFabricsExpo represent true alternatives to conventional fabrics. Discover materials such as:

• Biodegradable Tencel™
• Recycled wool
• Low-impact leather 
• Eco responsible viscose 
• Organic cotton
• Sustainable denims 
• Vegan leather
• Recycled pre/post-consumer textiles
• Low impact linen, hemp and silks
….and more!

 

From biodegradable sequins and “leather” skins made from grapes, to software and apps offering sustainable solutions in the fashion industry — these are the few examples of the next-generation innovations featured in the Innovation Hub that have great potential to reshape the fashion industry:
 
Explore the Innovation Hub:
• Materials made from agricultural food waste
• Mycelium mushroom textiles
• FSC-certified flexible wood veneers for accessories
• Engineered spider silk
• Fibres from banana trees
• Brazilian plant leaf for vegan fashion
• Biodegradable dye pigments produced from bacteria 
• Recycled leather from gloves…and more
 
 
The Future Fabrics Expo will be surrounded by dedicated presentation spaces of our sponsors, core-exhibitors and manufacturers: 
 
SPONSORS
CORE EXHIBITORS
 
MANUFACTURERS
 
 
 

We’re very excited about our collaboration with Holition for the 8th Future Fabrics Expo to showcase the materials of tomorrow. We will be unveiling an exciting projection mapping that sheds light on the innovation in textiles. From mushrooms to algae, the materials of tomorrow will reinvent the clothing of today.#MaterialiseTheFuture

Holition is an award-winning creative innovation studio, creating bespoke experiences for pioneering brands. Discover more about them here.

REGISTER NOW!

 

24th – 25th January 2018, London

The Sustainable Angle holds the 7th Future Fabrics Expo, a curated showcase of 5000+ sustainable innovative fashion materials with a lower environmental footprint, on 24-25th January 2018. Since 2011, our aim is to support sustainable sourcing, enabling fashion brands to begin diversifying their fabrics and materials basket right now in order to reduce their environmental footprint.

 

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