Top 10 sustainability innovators in fashion
by Amelia Zimmerman | Jun 16, 2022
As the fashion industry continues to make headlines for its environmental impact and carbon emissions, innovative teams around the world are quietly rewriting the headlines of the future.
These disruptive companies are turning traditional fashion industry ideas and technologies upside down: introducing new materials, new processes, and a new way of thinking about the fashion supply chain.
In this article, we’re taking a look at our top ten environment and sustainability innovators in fashion.
#1: Infinna™, by Infinited Fiber
Infinna™ is a circular textile fiber designed by Infinited Fiber. It uses discarded textiles and fabrics, which would typically end up in landfill or burned, to create a new kind of fiber.
This first-of-its-kind invention cuts down on the fashion industry’s reliance on raw material mining and solves two problems: it makes use of the enormous quantities of waste generated by the fashion industry, while at the same time creating something new — a constant pursuit for the fashion industry.
Infinna™’s fiber is soft, natural, and doubly eco-friendly, and is already in use by well-known apparel brands, including Ganni, Adidas, H&M, Zara, Calvin Klein, Patagonia, and Tommy Hilfiger. Infinite Fiber was a 2021 Global Cleantech 100 Company, and in May of 2022, Inditex signed a three-year commitment to purchase the company for more than €100 million.
#2: PrimaLoft® P.U.R.E.™, by PrimaLoft®
Some 70% of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the fashion industry come from activities like processing and preparing raw materials, and manufacturing garments. PrimaLoft® P.U.R.E.™ is a unique manufacturing technique designed by PrimaLoft®, creator of sustainable, high-quality insulation and fabrics. P.U.R.E stands for Processed Using Reduced Emissions, which is an apt name: this novel technique cuts the carbon emissions produced in manufacturing by up to 48%.
PrimaLoft® first produced their PrimaLoft® Gold Insulation product using the P.U.R.E.™ process, and cut down on 348,111 lbs of carbon by removing the need for traditional high-heat oven used to thermally bond fibers for insulation, relying instead on air to cure and stabilize insulation.
P.U.R.E.™ is just one of PrimaLoft’s many initiatives to build sustainable products; they also use post-consumer recycled material (PCR) to produce insulation and fabrics, and produce PrimaLoft® Bio™ fibers, a fast-degrading fiber alternative that breaks down into natural components when discarded. PrimaLoft’s products have made it into the catalogs of such brands as Helly Hansen, Nike, Patagonia, and Lululemon.
Spinnova advertises itself as the climate-positive textile fiber. This all-new, all-sustainable fiber is made from wood or landfill waste, and manages to save more emissions than it produces.
The idea for Spinnova was sparked in 2009, when Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder Juha Salmela noticed the similarities between the proteins in spiderwebs and nanocellulose, and hypothesized that wood fiber might be spun into textile fibers in much the same way as spiders do.
The determined Finnish company is on a mission to build a more sustainable textile industry, and they’re already leading the way. You’ll find Spinnova’s fibers woven into garments by Adidas, The North Face, H&M Group, Marimekko, and more. The game-changing company has won its fair share of awards, including the 2019, 2020 and 2022 ISPO Awards, and the Andam Fashion Innovation Award.
Only 1% of textiles in the fashion industry are recycled effectively, and Resortecs is on a mission to change that. The pioneering Belgian startup is dedicated to achieving full circularity in the textile and fashion industries by making textile recycling easy for fashion brands, recyclers, and supply chain partners.
Resortecs’ unique technology automates garment disassembly, allowing for high-quality textile recycling at industrial scale. This process reduces traditional disassembly emissions by half, and cuts textile waste by up to 80%. Automation makes Resortecs’ disassembly process 5x faster than traditional ones, and allows for the recycling of up to 90% of a garment’s original fabric.
Resortecs has won a host of awards for its industry disruption, including 2018 Global Change Award and the 2020 European Social Innovation Competition.
#5: Piñatex, by Ananas Anam
Pineapple prints are popular among a certain demographic, but few people know that pineapple leaf fiber can substitute traditionally used raw materials in fiber textiles and fabrics.
Enter Piñatex®, a new fiber designed by Ananas Anam. Piñatex® is made from fibers contained in the waste leaves of pineapples. Whether they’re being made into textiles or not, these waste leaves are harvested as by-products of pineapple harvests, so Piñatex®’s main ingredient doesn’t require any additional processes or environmental resources to produce.
Using pineapple leaf fibers in this way allows developing farming communities in the Philippines to build additional income streams through a scalable commercial industry, without doing further damage to the environment.
A flexible fiber that can be used in apparel, accessories, and upholstery, Piñatex® has found its way into the supply chain of more than a thousand brands across the world, including Hugo Boss, H&M, and the Hilton Hotel Bankside.
#6: ECONYL®, by Aquafil
Nylon is a crucial ingredient in fashion supply chains, forming the basis of many garments and accessories, from socks and jackets to sportswear and swimwear. But the production of nylon releases approximately 60 million tons of GHG emissions annually into the atmosphere. When nylon-containing products are discarded, they become harmful pollution in some of the world’s most precious ecosystems.
“When I see a landfill, I see a goldmine,” says Giulio Bonazzi, president and CEO of Aquafil. Aquafil recovers nylon waste, such as abandoned fishing nets (the biggest ocean plastic polluter), and converts it into new yarn with the same characteristics as nylon. ECONYL® is considered regenerated nylon, and here’s the best part: it’s infinitely recyclable.
The Aquafil group is no small operation: its 2800 employees work from 19 plants in eight countries around the world, and it has been leading the industry in sustainability and circularity for over 50 years.
#7: Mylo™, by Bolt Threads
“For billions of years, mycelium has grown beneath our feet and served as ecological connective tissue to all life on earth. A sprawling, infinitely renewable, interlaced web, it threads through soil, breaks down organic matter, and provides nutrients to plants and trees.”
That’s how Bolt Threads introduces mycelium, the vegetative part of fungus, and the basis for its new, eco-friendly, no-animals-required leather product, Mylo™. The team at Bolt Threads have discovered a way to farm mycelium vertically, using 100% renewable energy. Mylo™ has the softness and flexibility of genuine animal leather, without the harmful greenhouse gas emissions and toxic runoffs caused by raising livestock for hide production. Let’s put it the way they do: “Mylo is everything you love about leather, without everything you don’t.”
Bolt Threads are no strangers to the sustainable fashion scene, having launched their Microsilk™ fiber in 2017 and their b-silk™ protein in 2018. They’ve partnered with brands such as Adidas, Stella McCartney, and Mercedes — and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
#8: TENCEL™ fibers
For thirty years, TENCEL™ have been producing transformed textiles from sustainably sourced raw material wood, using environmentally responsible processes. These cellulose fibers are sustainable, comfortable, and already disrupting fashion supply chains around the world.
TENCEL™’s certified biobased fibers are made from renewable raw material wood, which itself is created by photosynthesis. Even post-production, the fibers are compostable and biodegradable, allowing them to return to where they came from at the end of a product’s life.
Today, TENCEL™ branded fibers have made their way into the products of brands such as H&M, Ted Baker, Victoria’s Secret, Levi’s, and Patagonia.
#9: Orange Fiber
Orange Fiber isn’t shy about what they do: they make sustainable materials for fashion brands — and they make them from the byproducts of citrus juice.
Orange Fiber was the first brand on the market to collect citrus juice byproducts for fabric-making. Since 2014, the company has utilized their patented process in the major citrus-juice-producing hubs of the world.
Orange Fiber has made headlines through exclusive partnerships with brands such as H&M Conscious and Salvatore Ferragamo. In a forward-thinking collaboration, Orange Fiber partnered with the Lenzing Group to create the TENCEL™ Limited Edition x Orange Fiber, which is made from a blend of orange and wood pulp.
The company has taken home numerous awards, including the 2020 MF Supply Chain Award, the UNECE Ideas for Change Award, and the H&M Foundation Global Change Award.
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Raw materials and manufacturing dominate much of the conversation about sustainability in fashion supply chains, but we can’t ignore the impact of other activities in the supply chain — like distribution, delivery, and a particularly visible one: packaging.
Every year, 100 billion parcels are delivered around the world — and by 2026, we’ll hit 200 billion. The problem these deliveries create is an enormous amount of single-use packaging that is immediately discarded on arrival.
Returnity believes reusable packaging is the solution to the crisis. They create reusable shipping and delivery packaging systems for brands looking to minimize the environmental impact of the very last step in their supply chains. Returnity’s packaging solutions are durable reusable bags and boxes, customized for each individual brand. They also build the logistics systems to support their packaging solutions.
The company already produces half a million shipments per month, and has partnered with leading brands such as Walmart, New Balance, Rent the Runway, and Estee Lauder.
Ready for a greener supply chain?
The innovators listed here are our top ten among many that are making waves in fashion sustainability. The number and quality of innovators in our industry is exciting, and it’s great news for fashion brands looking to take stock of their environmental impact — and maybe even rewrite the traditional fast fashion business model.
With so many options out there for fashion brands to reduce carbon emissions, cut down on waste products, and improve their environmental impact at each stage of the value chain, all it takes is the initiative to get started.
Are you a sustainable fashion brand? Do you work with sustainable fibers and materials, and are you looking for a solution to help you accurately quantify and display the environmental performance of your products? If that sounds like you, talk to Green Story.
Our mission is to empower 1 billion consumers to know their impact and make choices that are better for the planet and the generations to come. We’ll help you quantify and visualize your environmental impact, and offset your emissions through verified carbon credits. We’ll also make sure your customers are along for the journey by telling your sustainability story in ways your consumers can easily grasp, integrating your story into every aspect of your communications, and achieving market-wide buy-in for your sustainability mission.
About Amelia Zimmerman
Amelia Zimmerman is an ESG and sustainability writer. She lives in Toronto with her puppy and her partner, and she is passionate about using storytelling techniques to help people understand and act on climate change.