Did you know that the $4 trillion dollar fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world? The fashion supply chain has a devastating impact on both the people who make our clothes and our planet’s natural resources. The fast fashion industry overproduces cheap, trendy fashion, making it one of the most extractive industries: the more consumers buy, the more they throw away, creating a vicious cycle of waste. Enter Stacy Flynn, Founder and CEO of EVRNU, a textile innovations company that makes new fabric out of discarded clothing. EVRNU helps to create a solution to the fast fashion waste. Instead of letting these clothes go to the landfill, EVRNU has created an engineered fabric that can be reused to make new clothing, creating circularity. So how does it work? Read on to find out why brands like Stella McCartney, Adidas and Levi’s are adopting EVRNU in reduce their impact:
First, can you share about your background, and how it led you to creating EVRNU?
I’ve been a textile and apparel specialist since the mid-90s and in 2010 I travelled to China while working for a startup in Seattle making clothing out of recycled plastic waste. On this trip I was sent into the subcontracted areas to find small-run production, and I was shocked by the environmental conditions. I decided that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my career to working in a way that allowed our industry to grow but grow in a way where we’re significantly reducing our impact to natural resources and ultimately, people. That decision led me back to graduate school where I got an MBA in sustainable systems and began studying the problem. What I discovered was that fiber is the first ingredient in any garment, and that 90% of all clothing in the world is made from either polyester or cotton, which are incredibly high impact. We put all of this value into our clothing, and every year we throw away about 50 million tons of clothing waste per year. We knew that if there was a way to convert that waste into new fiber that was the linchpin of impact reduction. That is how we got started and what all of our technologies are designed to do.
Most people don’t realize that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, which is why your solutions are so important. For those who might be new to the sustainable fashion conversation, what three things can you share with them to help them understand the gravity of the issue?
Well, this is a hard question because most of the conversations I have had are with people who are in the industry and know very well how significant the issues are that affect our global business. The size of the business is directly proportional to the size of the problem. This is a $4 trillion global industry and right now, it is a business challenge to figure out ways to grow, while also cutting our impact to natural resources. I would say for people who are new to sustainable fashion, there are a several important things: 1. Brands and retailers are terrified of consumers asking questions like. “How is this product made?” If you want to know how the product was made, you can ask your brand or retailer, and they will have to address it. 2. The other thing that you probably don’t realize is there is value for all of the clothing that you think nobody will ever want. In the United States alone 80% of all textiles are thrown directly into the garbage can, because people think there’s no value in them. This is causing a massive problem. There are technologies like Evrnu that are designed to break this waste down and turn it into new fibers. 3. The final thing I’ll say here is our purchasing power and where we spend our money means everything, if we’re not buying, there is no industry. The choices we make are really critical. Millennials and emerging generations are requiring their product to be sustainable, but when purchasing a garment, the number one criteria, I feel, is to buy things that you’re going to actually wear. A lot of things that are purchased by consumers they don’t even wear, or they wear once, and it falls apart. I would say if you’re going to buy clothing, make sure you’re investing in pieces that you know you will get a lot of use out of and buy used if you can.
You have an incredible solution to the fashion waste problem: your NuCycl fibers. Can you tell us how it’s made, and the circular process in how it gets re-used?
NuCycl is a brand that represents all fibers that can be garment recycled. The first technology is a cotton technology. We take 95% cotton or above, so it’s primarily cotton. We essentially clean it, purify it, and convert it into a pulp. Then that pulp can be sold to fiber producers that currently make fiber from wood pulp. Since the cotton molecule is so long, every time we break down the cotton, we lose about 10% of the cellulosic chain. This allows us to break the garments made from our fibers down more than one time. It’s a revolutionary opportunity to take product that is in one form, break it down using the same process, and convert it into something completely new and different.
You’re currently collaborating with Stella McCartney, Levi’s and Adidas. Can you share how you have provided solutions to these companies? Can any fashion company implement NuCycl fibers in their supply chain, or do they have to fit into a particular type of company profile? (ie. Company size, geography, et.) Essentially, what are the things a company must consider to assess whether they are ready to implement NuCycl fibers into their supply chain?
Right now, we have about 100 brands and retailers that are trying to get into R&D services. We’re finally at the point now where we have taken our initial four early adopters and piloted our approach with each one of their businesses — Levi’s, addidas, Stella McCartney, and Target. We’re now in the process of bringing all four brands to retail and starting to determine who the next wave of innovators will be. I would say the number one thing we look for when taking on an innovation partner is the appetite to do something that hasn’t been done before. We are not talking about a buy + sell proposition where we make things and sell them. We’ve invented a technology and we’re adapting that to a specific business. An appetite for doing something new and the patience for doing something that hasn’t been done before is absolutely required. Not every brand has the patience to go through early-stage innovation and we know when we see a company that can do this kind of work. Company size and geography doesn’t matter to us and we would like all brands, retailers, and textile mills to fit into the NuCycl process. Our hope is to work with the fiber producers and have the technology available on the open market at some point.
What are other ways companies collaborate with EVRNU?
We work with brands and retailers to build concept garments. We are in the process of transferring that concept to their global supply chain partners for bulk production. We work with global waste owners, global pulping mills, and global fiber producers to essentially take what we’ve built in R&D and transfer it to global scaling partners. We collaborate with both the demand and supply side. We are currently working on consumer facing campaigns for NuCycl to get out there and begin educating consumers on what it means to NuCycl their clothing, and what we can now do with their old clothes.
What excites/inspires you about being a part of SVC?
I am most excited about who will be in the room, it is a really interesting group coming together for a common purpose. I’m thrilled to be included. Thank you!