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Ready to wear (again)

A British innovation aims to reduce the amount of clothing dumped in landfill and help make fashion more sustainable and profitable. Dr Andrew Hewitt, grants and technical project manager at the Nonwovens Innovation and Research Institute explains how

In 2009 a consortium of British companies started the Suscorp project, supported by the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board, to find a way to decrease the 16 million items of branded corporate clothing disposed of each year in the UK. For branding and security reasons, organisations typically do not wish their old corporate clothing to be reused outside their organisation. New logos or colours or designs can be introduced, resulting in unused garments which become waste clothing. At best, these garments are then shredded into low-grade, low-value fibre with limited end uses. At worst, they are incinerated or landfilled.

The Suscorp project researched methods of removing the branding from corporate clothing, so that the garment could be resold and re-worn, or rebranded at reduced cost. The result is a patent-protected process capable of selectively separating seams in textiles without damaging the surrounding fabric, which is now being launched commercially as wear2.

The wear2 process incorporates a yarn that behaves in the same way as conventional yarn under day-to-day conditions, but breaks apart at the end of a garment’s life, after exposure to a low-cost, purpose-designed microwave treatment. This treatment leaves no trace on the textile, and employs the same basic technology as a kitchen microwave, while only using a fraction of the energy. Use of the wear2 yarn to sew on a shirt pocket with an embroidered logo allows the pocket to be readily removed. Wear2 can also enable zips, buttons, fastenings, linings, labels to be easily removed prior to garment recycling, or to literally fall apart when desired. Metal zips and other fastenings are claimed not to pose a problem, due to the low energy levels of the microwave treatment. Such rapid, low cost disassembly of used clothing could potentially produce raw material sources of almost pure fibre.

The Leeds-based Nonwovens Innovation & Research Institute (NIRI) suggests that the lack of viable, cost-effective disassembly technologies and absence of design protocols for the handling of clothing at the end of its life have been barriers to a profitable, sustainable clothing operation. It believes the wear technology meets this challenge. By adopting the wear2 process, NIRI believes that there is a potential for over 60% of the one million tonnes of UK clothing sent to landfill each year to be re-processed into new products.

NIRI and its partners, Chester-based C-Tech Innovation, are exploring how wear2 could be used to facilitate new business models, such as the leasing of corporate clothing. NIRI has received considerable interest from several major clothing manufacturers worldwide, who have identified the benefits of a closed loop process within their industry and the new business opportunities this could bring.

For more information visit www.wear-2.com

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