Stacy Flynn & Paul Dillinger
CEO (Evrnu) & Vice-president of product innovation (Levi Strauss) Evrnu & Levi Strauss & Co
This jeans, if I am not mistaken, makes use only of cotton waste. But with the world so much into manmade fibres as well as blended yarn, what do you see the scope for this product? I ask that since markets seem to be less about cotton products with every passing year.
PD: Our business is mainly about cotton, which makes up the majority of our products; so we’re focused on innovation in this area.
SF: We are working on the technology to do chemical separation for blended fibres on a molecular level. Right now we have the technology to deploy the breakdown of cotton, but are still working on the technology to scale blended fibre separation. With that said, a significant portion of waste that exists currently is in the form of 100 per cent cotton. In addition to 100 per cent post-consumer cotton, we can also break down pre-consumer garment waste, cut waste and shoddy/short staple cotton as well. We have tremendous amounts of feedstock from various cotton waste sources across the globe. Our technology has been designed with the goal of breaking down the most difficult fibres and blends, so we can make sure everything else can be broken down as well.
Note: While our goal with Levi’s is to eventually produce a 100 per cent recycled cotton jeans, the prototypes we recently introduced did contain a portion of virgin cotton, in conjunction with a majority of Evrnu fibre.
This a resource-intensive and investment-intensive process. How expensive is the new product likely to be? To be cost-effective, this has to work at a mass level, right?
PD: We're still in the very early stages of utilising this technology; so we really aren't able to make any predictions about the cost of a product like this at a larger scale. That said, we always look at whether or not an innovation like this is scalable and can be offered to consumers at a price point they are comfortable with.
SF: This is only true using conventional logic. We cannot comment on specifics, other than to say we do not believe that what you have stated to necessarily be true.
This certainly does not work without mass awareness. It's not just about the product; it is as much about consumers not dumping their used clothing in landfills. So, what is your communication / PR strategy going to be?
PD: Like I mentioned, we are still in the early stages of this technology and are not yet at the point of developing a broader marketing plan.
SF: We cannot comment on our PR/Communication strategy at this time.
There is also a paradox here, something that textile-apparel companies are grappling with. Recycle-reuse is fine. No one seems to work so much on reduce (w.r.t the problem of fast fashion). Your comments, please.
PD: At Levi Strauss & Co, we focus on making durable products that look good and that last. We encourage our consumers to care for their clothing more responsibly and to celebrate their own personal style, rather than following fast fashion trends. As a company, we still drive for profitable growth; but it is responsible, not negligent growth. By encouraging better garment care practices and long-term ownership, along sustainable technologies like Evrnu, we hope to resolve some of the tension that obviously exists between growth and sustainability.
SF: We are able to take waste, break it down and turn it into new fibre that is meaningful and of high enough quality to be used innew product. This means we canwork within the existing model of fast fashion, which is actually "style obsolescence with consumption as the key driver" (whereby theconsumer's ability to buy keeps the model intact), take waste that is a by product of that model, break it down and extrude it into new fibre for use in new garments for sale. This process enables us to take a destructive business model and turn it into a very powerful catalyst for positive environmental and human change. With that said, we are approaching our model from a business perspective and our technology is very much grounded in reality, how the world works currently, and accounts for existing business models such as fast fashion. Eventually, we can train and show that there is value in a new way of thinking about sustainability, but our model is not dependent on a substantial shift in current business practices.
People have been talking about reduce-recycle-reuse for a long time now, in fact since the Rio Summit of 1992. Broadly speaking, why has it taken the world about 25 years to come up with solutions? Is technology slow in catching up with environmental degradation?
PD: Often, the design and manufacturing process only considers its role in the lifecycle of an object through the first few months of ownership by the consumer. The question of "what do we do with this now?" is generally only asked at the moment that we as consumers are ready to dispose of a garment. Design for disassembly or re-use is rarely part of the design process, and is not broadly taught at design schools. Although designers are fundamentally "problem solvers", we often wait until the problem becomes urgent before we address it. Sustainable design requires us to anticipate problems-often still years away-and then solve for an unknown future. When those solutions increase cost or complexity through the product creation process, they can very often be the first feature to be lost in the inevitable costing process. I think that is a large part of the problem we are facing, as well as limitations in technology. But I think if companies focus and prioritise sustainable design like we are piloting at Levi Strauss & Co, the possibilities have more promise. But we also need to enlighten the consumer so they are able to discern the products made by responsible companies. If both companies and consumers alike integrate sustainability into their lives more, both will win.
SF: I absolutely believe technology is slow in catching up with environmental degradation-no one is going to make a change unless they are forced to do so. CEOs of major brands and retailers around the world are now realising that their businesses' demands are projected to double between now and 2025 and we don't have the natural resources available to keep up with that growth in demand. They are actively asking their teams for their best solutions on how to solve these problems. Evrnu is one of those solutions. We are starting to see CEOs put mandates out to their teams surrounding the issue of sustainability and that is how we know that we are on the cusp of real change.
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