From yarn to fabric, and back to yarn: recycling and repurposing materials.
For companies with vision, strategic moves often require a leap of faith. In 2012, Designtex began using yarn produced from recycled fabric waste it had accumulated.
“At the time, we were not sure if we would be successful in making a first-quality yarn,” says Deidre Hoguet, director of sustainability and material exploration for the New York, N.Y.-based company. But it was possible, and that yarn was used in the first product the company made in a closed-loop process called Loop to Loop, launched collaboratively in 2013 by Designtex; Unifi of Greensboro, N.C.; Victor Group of Quebec, Canada; and Steelcase of Grand Rapids, Mich.
Last December, Designtex launched a second fabric called Hyphen, and Steelcase’s Surface Materials team launched two upholstery fabrics called Redeem and Retrieve. At the NeoCon show in Chicago this past June, Designtex showcased four new styles in the Loop to Loop system.
“As technology advances, more possibilities open up for reutilizing materials,” Hoguet notes. “The culture and demand for more sustainable solutions pressure industries to produce new technologies and more sustainable systems of production. And the pressure of rising costs means that recycling and reutilization of materials is becoming a profitable path, in addition to being the ‘right thing to do.’”
“We believe there’s a cultural trend toward more sustainable products as people begin to understand the effect we can have on our environment,” says Jay Hertwig, vice president of global brand sales, marketing and product development for Unifi. Based on the current and projected increase in demand for environmentally responsible products, Unifi broke ground in July on a $10 million addition to its Repreve Recycling Center that opened in 2011 in Yadkinville, N.C.
“We have always had the environment as part of our product development,” says Martin Bourque, strategic product director for Victor Group. “Fifteen years ago, we were working on sustainable products with the potential of being recyclable, but the technology was not there to close the loop. In 2009, the demand for green products slowed down because of price pressure. So we kept our effort, but offered ‘standard’ products at the same time. People are going back toward green products. The work we did 10 to 15 years ago makes it easier for us now.”
At Designtex, the market for sustainable products has increased across the board. “Overall, the conversation is much richer, as there is a better understanding that sustainability is not any one factor, but a system of interlocking impacts and factors,” Hoguet says. “For example, there is now a broader understanding of terms like ‘lifecycle impacts’ that was not widely understood a decade ago. But there still is a lot of education needed.”