Infinited Fiber Company's purpose is to be a driving force in revolutionising the fashion industry-both by new man-made, natural fibres and by building an ecosystem of other radical recycling innovators for a maximum impact. Petri Alava, CEO of Infinited Fiber, talks to Paulami Chatterjee about how the company is making a social, environmental and economic impact on the textiles value chain and driving sustainable fashion.
Please tell us how Infinited Fiber was born at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
VTT has been researching our CCA (cellulose carbamate) technology since the mid-1990s, by first using wood pulp as a raw material and testing the technology for applications like packaging films and sausage skins without particular market interest.
The breakthrough they made some five years ago was when they learnt how to manufacture high quality textile fibres (new and better cotton) and using waste materials like post-consumer textile waste and cardboard waste. With this innovation, they met strong interest particularly from the fashion industry which was facing a serious sustainability challenge and at the same time had also recognised that cotton availability would not meet the expected growth in fashion sales. VTT, as a research centre, did not have the competence and experience to bring the innovation to the markets and make business out of it. They started looking around to find an experienced business leader who would like the challenge and build a company around the technology together with Professor Ali Harlin, who is the key innovator behind it.
I am an experienced, growth and profit-driven CEO with proven strong results in building successful global businesses in both B2B and B2C environments and have multiple CEO and board chairman positions, besides an MSc in industrial engineering. I was looking around the new interesting business opportunity and heard about VTT's project. I started preparing a business plan based on the technology and discussed with several global brand owners. I was amazed at the strong interest that the fashion industry had on closed-loop technologies, and I became convinced that the interest was very genuine as they were also willing to sign purchase orders for the fibre deliveries for an excellent price. And having the opportunity to work together with the exceptionally talented professor Ali Harlin convinced me that we will be able to solve the technical challenges.
How does Infinited Fiber reuse textile waste to produce its trademark new fibre?
We have created a miracle, a technology that allows textile waste to be used again and again, preserving 100 per cent quality. And actually, we are speaking about regenerated fibres (and sometimes reborn) as there is nothing left from the waste but cellulose. The fibre is brand new.
The process consists of a mechanical shredding sequence where contaminants like buttons and zippers are removed and textiles are shredded to short yarn length. The shredded material is then taken to a patented chemical cleaning and fibre separation process to remove polyester, elastane and other non-cellulosic materials. After this, we have pure cotton/cellulose left. Pure cotton/ cellulose is activated with urea and heat, and dissolved to liquid by NaOH (sodium hydroxide). The liquid cellulose is wet spun then to new fibres in a spinning bath. The fibre is brand new and there is nothing left from the original waste. The fibre is new and better cotton; soft, high quality, comfortable, has excellent dye uptake and by nature antibacterial.
How does the Infinited Fiber technology bring social, environmental and economical impact to the textiles value chain?
The environmental impact is super-low and our technology is CO2 neutral. For example, our fibre takes less than 50 litres of water per 1 kg of fibre when it takes 20,000 litres of fresh water to grow the same amount of cotton. Looking globally, every minute there is one truck load of textile waste landfilled; we enable using this to produce new textile waste instead of wasting valuable resources to landfills. And we believe that it would be better for humankind to use the valuable farmlands to grow food for people rather than growing cotton. Last but not the least, our technology enables localising the fibre production and creating new industrial jobs for people living in undeveloped countries.
How much of the textile industry comprises brands or companies that employ sustainable manufacturing practices?
I realise that there are strong frontrunners like Adidas, H&M, Ikea, etc, who take sustainability very seriously and not only speak but take the action to employ new practices and materials. I believe these companies will win as consumers love honesty and particularly the younger generation requires sustainable solutions. But then there is still too much of greenwashing around, and consumers are confused.
Do you think ethical clothing will ever dominate the fashion industry in the future?
I believe personally that sustainability is the new normal or new black. The key issue for sure is the consumer perception. We are targeting solutions where the consumer does not need to compromise in quality nor in comfort, thereby making it easy for consumers to enjoy sustainable, fashionable and high-quality garments. We are evidencing great enthusiasm from global leading brands to bring our solution to the markets as soon as possible, and that will likely happen in early 2020.
Consumers are becoming more and more conscious about their choices and particularly when we look at the younger generation, they take it granted that solutions must be sustainable. But sustainable/ethical solutions need to be easy for consumers not needing to compromise either in quality or in comfort. If the quality is perceived to be poor, that cuts the story short.
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