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  • Writer's pictureWorld Half Full

London startup invents eco clothes of the future


London-based clothing startup Vollebak has invented a hoodie that is fully biodegradable and compostable. Made from pulped eucalyptus and beech wood — which the company says is sourced from sustainably managed forests — the hoodie is dyed with normally-discarded pomegranate peel, giving it a mossy hue. It’s also stitched with recycled cotton thread. More than 99 percent of the water and solvent used to turn the pulp into fibre is recycled and reused.

Vollebak, which Steve Tidball established in 2015 with his twin brother Nick, calculates the hoodie will completely breakdown within twelve weeks if buried in soil, eight weeks in a home compost heap, or even faster in an industrial composting facility. “So when the hoodie has reached the end of its life — whether that’s in three years’ time or thirty — it can be put out with the compost or buried in the garden,” says Tidball.

But that’s not all. Vollebak also has a wood pulp and algae T-shirt, which breaks down in the soil in three months; a coat made from graphene that acts as a radiator; a virus-killing Full Metal Jacket weaved from 11km of copper; a Carbon Fibre T-Shirt engineered with 120 metres of carbon fibre normally found in jet engines and supercars; a Ceramic T-Shirt embedded with the same ceramic technology as the International Space Station; a pair of 100-Year Pants built to withstand fire, nature, water, and the rest of this century; and even a Deep Sleep Cocoon for the first missions to Mars. That’s a catalogue like no other.

Since its launch five years ago, the company has won innovation awards from TIME, WIRED and Fast Company. However, at this stage the long lead-in times for production make these items a little impractical for most of us — for now, at least — although you can order them. Vollebak admits quantum leaps in technology are required for much of its gear, and every piece takes between one and five years to make. The company boldly claims: “In every industry there’s someone building the future, whether it’s technology, architecture, food, cars or space rockets. In clothing it’s us. We use science and technology to create clothing that no one else can or will — clothes from the future.”

Which is perhaps why they’ve been compared to Tesla, at least in its early days. It will be some time before there’s a mass market. But perhaps that’s not the point: if pants last a century, they will be passed down through the generations!

ABOVE The hoodie

LISTEN to Vollebak’s Om Malik outlining the company’s “entire blueprint for the next 100 years” in this podcast.

| And quirky Vollebak is: Who would site their first stockist this remotely? Meet Carol and Ross, who run the Tjukayirla Roadhouse in the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia. Their nearest neighbours are 264kms away.

H&M takes in old jumpers for recycling

Shoppers at H&M in Stockholm will be able to watch their old jumpers being knitted into new jumpers or sweaters or scarfs on the spot, as the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer looks for new ways to encourage customers to recycle used garments.

The textile industry is one of the most polluting, something fashion giants are under increasing pressure to deal with as regulations tighten and as shoppers become more aware of the environmental footprint of clothes production.

Finding commercially and ecologically viable ways to recycle garments into new fabrics with no loss of quality is key to reducing the need for new fibre. Several research projects are testing new methods, albeit still at small scale.

“What we want to recycle is sitting in customers’ wardrobes,” Erik Bang at philanthropic arm H&M Foundation told Reuters.

The budget retailer, which aims to be carbon-positive by 2040, will showcase the garment-to-garment recycling machine — developed by the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) in cooperation with the foundation — in a store in Stockholm.

Old garments will be pulled apart, spun into yarn and knitted into something new; H&M also plans to expand the choice of new products. Pascal Brun, H&M’s head of sustainability, says, “The purpose is to inspire our customers to keep their garments as long as possible but also to make them understand their old garments have a value in recycling.”

Customers can already hand in used clothes in most H&M stores for recycling, although some have paused the service as lockdown measures have crippled the trade in secondhand clothing relied upon by the industry to avoid castoffs going straight to landfill.

In another project, part-funded by the H&M Foundation, HKRITA has developed a method to separate cotton and polyester in blended garments and an industrial-scale facility is under construction.

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