Gotta Break It Down to Build It Up
I started getting interested in materials reuse through creating fabrics made of recycled PET from water bottles. This technology had been around for 20 years before I began working with it; I remember being in class in 1994 at FIT and watching a VHS video from an AV television cart about the recycling process used to make fleece. In fact, many years later, I met a gentleman in the southeast US who had been on the original team in the 1970s developing this technology as a cost reduction exercise because crude had skyrocketed. No one considered using waste as a resource in this way, they had to get creative. They had to adapt.
The people who work in the global textile and apparel industry are some of the most creative humans on the planet. I know this because I’ve had to stand in places all over the world to get goods made and shipped and there is never a season when all items flawlessly make themselves. Getting such variety, such details, the nuances all right and shippable; that’s an art and a science.
When I saw the world while traveling for work I was singularly focused on my job. The way I identified with the places I’ve been is to have dinner with the people I was visiting. I care about people, I want to know how they grew up, how they live, what they care about, if they’re suffering and why.
We build relationships to better understand the world's challenges.
When I decided to stop actively working in the textile and apparel industry it was at a time when I should have been at the top of my career. The trip I took to China in 2010 changed my life, I decided to begin my MBA in Sustainable Systems at Pinchot University because I wanted to bridge the gap between the language of textiles and apparel and the language of sustainability. I knew the system of making textiles and apparel, now I wanted to the study the industry's challenges and find the best point to intervene.
Here’s what my research uncovered; the first ingredient in any garment is fiber. 60% of all clothing in the world is made from petroleum, 30% of all clothing in the world is made from cotton. Both sources of manufacturing require tremendous resources impacting global air, water and soil supplies.
From here were put all of this value in to the yarn; we knit, weave, dye, print, finish, cut, sew, wash, press, package and ship each garment in its own individual poly bag. This happens for almost every single unit of clothing made and distributed across the globe.
We sell over 1 TRILLION US DOLLARS worth of clothing worldwide per year. That number is projected to double by 2025. Oh, and by the way, currently consumers dispose of 80% of their unwanted textiles and clothing directly to the landfill.
This is our starting point at Evrnu, it’s critical we find solutions that keep clothing from landfills or incinerators. Clothing is not designed to be burned or buried and we need to find a better, more sustainable method for consumers and companies to discard their waste. Education to consumers and apparel professionals is vital, this is the direct link to earnings, margin and cash flow for the entire system. If they are educated on HOW to make a change, the entire system will change.
Evrnu can be that solution. Our technology breaks down cotton garment waste to the molecular level and converts it in to a pulp. That pulp is then pumped and filtered to a fiber extruder. It pushes through what looks like a shower head; the number of holes and shape of the hole determine the end use characteristics of the fiber. That means we can make almost anything we want just by changing the shower head.
Sound simple? It’s not.
There are other technologies that are working on garment regeneration for both cotton and polyester; Worn Again (UK), Re:Newcell (Sweden), VTT (Finland), Ioniqa (The Netherlands), Ambercycle (US)
These are the companies you should be tracking.
When I talk to brands and retailers I explain that the initial approach to this challenge was based around one fundamental question: if they could change just one thing in their entire supply chain to make their business fundamentally more responsible, what would it be? The answer for designers: implement recycled or regenerated fiber for use in new product creation. The answer for consumers: donate everything; buy garments made from recycled or regenerated materials and make it the new normal.
Doing this means you will be able to drastically reduce impact to air, water and soil. Globally.
You will change the perception of waste.
This was a big week for us at Evrnu; this journey started as the typical start up story where I worked on my company for 3 years and competed in business case competitions as our sole fundraising strategy. Turns out, that strategy didn’t work so well.
But I always knew it had to happen, I have never wavered on our businesses validity since the very beginning. In fact, I try to up my game at every turn in terms of understanding leadership and ethics. I constantly ask myself, “who are the most ethical and effective leaders?” The answer I always arrive at is that they’re hard to find and I want to see more. Business is easy if you know your business. It’s the potential to do something that makes peoples’ lives better as a result of our business that inspires me.
This month completes our 17th month since we received our initial investment and we just issued our first joint press release with Levi’s Strauss & Co announcing our collaboration on a denim project and our proof of concept garment. Just this week we also won the Grand Prize for the Fabric of Change award announced during Copenhagen Fashion Week!
Christo and I have proven we can do a lot with a little. Every day we talk about who’s doing what, it’s exciting, and we are enveloped by the feeling that we’re building something important. That begins with the team and I won’t go in to specifics about the team but I will say that making peoples lives better through their work is my main priority. It’s the one thing the economists would love to get an algorithm for and that’s the power of human intention. How can a group of people, so aligned on a vision, change our current reality for the better?
Human intention is the most powerful force on Earth and it is completely invisible; everything we do makes a difference, no one makes you spend your money, we decide what we uphold in the world through our purchasing.
This is why we need to change fashion. NOW.