Interview with Alberto De Conti

Alberto De Conti
Alberto De Conti
Marketing & Fashion division
Rudolf Group
Rudolf Group

Raw material sources for our products an industrial secret
Geretsried, Bavaria-based Rudolf GmbH was founded by Reinhold Rudolf in Northern Bohemia in 1922. It specialises in innovative and high-quality chemical products, predominantly textile auxiliaries, products for textile care as well as construction chemicals. With around 1,300 employees in 45 countries, Rudolf offers products that comply with the Oeko-Tex Standard and GOTS, is committed to ZDHC and is a Bluesign system partner. In addition, as a member of the chemical industry, it lives the philosophy of the voluntary Responsible Care initiative, which stands for responsible action in environment, safety and health. Alberto De Conti who heads the company's marketing & fashion division spoke to FIbre2Fashion about its durable water-repellent finishes and future plans.

We are in the midst of a pandemic. How is Rudolf Group trying to adjust to the new normal? What are the major takeaways from last year?

The pandemic is still raging around the world, but 2021 clearly finds us better prepared. Both a relationship of a different and more 'distant' nature with customers and a promotional methodology more based on emerging technologies are now firmly established and accepted. The lesson is two-fold and contradictory. If, in fact, it is now clear that we were all abusing in terms of travel and flights, it is equally clear that there is no technological means that can replace interpersonal relationships. We are social animals.

Where do you stand in the world market today as a manufacturer of durable water-repellent (DWR) finishes for textiles and apparel? At what rate is the DWR market for textiles growing worldwide?

We believe we are market leaders in fluorine-free DWRs. Rudolf is a shining example of responsible technologies for textile and perhaps not everybody knows that we were the first company to pioneer fluorine-free chemistry in 2003. That was a powerful statement: novel chemistry, new knowledge and a clear commitment to a better world. And as much as Rudolf was an agent of positive change back in 2003 and opened the door further to a world of safer and more environment-friendly products, it was the market that wasn't ready. For a decade fluorine-free DWR was just not in demand. Perseverance and the desire to do the right thing were the drivers and demand then steadily increased. Nowadays, this market grows at an yearly double digit percentage and Rudolf is the guiding light for the industry at large when it comes to the latest and greatest conscious DWRs, well beyond textile mills, including brands, retailers and consumers as well.

Which are your major markets today? Which markets hold potential for future?

In apparel, the major markets are of course performance outdoor and performance sportswear. However, we start seeing fashion and casual apparel embracing our Bionic-Finish ECO brand for fluorine-free DWR.

You have come a long way from making the first fluorine-free DWR for textiles to now bio-based DWRs. What was the inspiration behind this leap?

After years spent studying and replicating natural models, the vision and obsession of our research and development (R&D) was to overcome a number of technical obstacles and try and directly use what Mother Nature gives us. As a general rule, in fact, if we look deeply into nature we tend to understand things better.

What was the duration of the study which studied biomimicry in developing the bio-based DWRs? What was the team size involved?

A couple of years; it was a truly significant team effort that, somehow, touched all the different R&D departments where 85 scientists work. 

Since these products are made of natural plant extracts, how much of raw material quantity goes into the production and what is the final output like at your plants?

It is actually two new products that are marketed under the umbrella wing of a new brand: Bio-Logic. One of the two products (Ruco-Dry BIO NPE) is made out of natural plant extracts. The other one (Ruco-Dry BIO CGR) is, even more surprisingly, made out of byproduct waste of the food industry. Cent per cent of the purchased natural raw material goes into our formulations without any waste.

How do you plan to scale up the production of bio-based DWRs in future?

We will follow what the markets ask for. For one of the two products- Ruco-Dry BIO NPE -we anticipate possible limitations due to the regulated agriculture schemes we need and want to respect. On the other hand, Ruco-Dry BIO CGR has no particular limitations in terms of supply and because fashion and apparel brands are increasingly working towards a circular business model, the fact that this product in fact upcycles natural wastes is a perfect match.

How do the performance and durability of bio-based DWRs compare with conventional water-repellent textile finishes? What can be their future applications?

We expect the performance of this new generation of products to be comparable, in terms of durability, with the traditional fluorine-free DWRs. The initial water repellency and repellence towards water-based stains like coffee, tea, orange juice, etc. on synthetics, cellulosics and blends is excellent and so is the home laundering resistance. It is also interesting to note that the initial performance of these natural components is easily restored through tumble drying or ironing of finished articles after home laundering.

You have been in the textile chemistry industry for the last 90 years now. How has been the journey so far? What are your future plans?

Although the company has always been about intelligent chemistry, over the years there has been an increasing environmental consciousness, one that requires maniacal attention to product safety and to the environmental impact of manufacturing operations. Nowadays, modern, chemical R&D is a journey of discovery and a decisive agent of positive change that helps in transforming the textile industry throughout the value chain. The combination of modern, chemical R&D and environmental consciousness is known within our group as aspirational chemistry, a beacon for the industry that describes our efforts and our responsibility. Our commitment to aspirational chemistry is reflected in the brand architecture that houses Rudolf's leading ingredient brands as well as new, emerging hero brands like Bio-Logic, which capture a new logic in the integration of biologic and/or recycled sources.

From where are you sourcing the raw material for these two products? How readily will it be available?

The raw materials are, in both cases, readily available. The sources themselves remain an industrial secret. Frustrating, I know, especially because the marketing story suffers. However, there are two years of R&D behind this initiative and this information is not being released.

The byproduct waste of the industry may not necessarily be biodegradable. How do you look at this considering that circularity has to be from soil seed?

The byproduct being used is actually a fraction of the cereal. Therefore, it is completely biodegradable (cent per cent biocarbon), a renewable, upcycled source relative to food processing and a neutral ingredient relative to the circularity of the textile, i.e. it does not interfere. (RB)
Published on: 13/01/2021

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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