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Fibers unsorted: for a sustainable textile industry

By developing textile samples designed and manufactured from a yarn derived from a sustainable process of recycling mixed used textiles, the Envisions design collective, in collaboration with an international consortium of companies and institutions*, is paving the way for a sustainable textile industry, for multiple applications (architecture, automotive, furniture, fashion, etc.).

Today, recycled yarns are only produced from sorted waste (shredded wool, PET bottles or plastic waste from the oceans). Yet, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the equivalent volume of a garbage truckload of textiles is buried or burned every second. The resource pool is therefore enormous. But it is heterogeneous, to say the least: a large part of textile waste is made up of a mixture of fibers (T-shirts made of cotton and elastane or polyester, for example), highly variable in quality, colored, etc., impossible to sort. Hence their destruction or recycling, in small volumes, as insulation material.

Ronald Smits
Ronald Smits

Initiated in 2013 by an international consortium*, led by the German engineering firm Imat-Uve, the research project Fibers Unsorted has enabled the development of a mechanical technique for deconstructing used textiles, without chemical treatment processes, in order to produce mixed fibers, long enough to be spun, and then a yarn capable of meeting the most demanding industrial standards, particularly in the automotive sector.During the process, only 15% of the fibers are evacuated (too short or unsuitable for mechanical treatment, especially carbon).

Ronald Smits

It is around the creation of textiles from this mixed yarn and the projection of applications for this fabric that the Envisions design collective was consulted. From the raw grey thread, the designers have developed a series of textile proposals with varied patterns and weaves, working on the notions of tactility and texture, also playing with other colors, adding, within the limit of 20%, colored recycled polyester thread. An installation during the Dutch Design Week in 2021 completed the proposal to better project the textile industry into a sustainable future. An approach that demonstrates once again that the collaborative mode between design, science, organizations and industry remains a powerful lever for change. How nice!

Maëlle Campagnoli

*The consortium, partly funded by the European Union, is composed of Imat-Uve, C2C ExpoLab, FB Basic, Texperium, Trüzschler and Brain of Materials.