Worn Again Technologies CEO Cyndi Rhoades brings us up to speed on the technology her firm is utilising to help combat textile waste around the globe.
The topic of textile waste and the problems facing the future of resources in fashion is a vital conversation – especially with global apparel consumption set to rise to 102million tons by 2030, equivalent to more than 500 billion additional T-shirts.
Worn Again Technologies exists to enable and propel the shift to a circular resource world, wasting no time – or textiles – in getting there.
We have developed a pioneering polymer recycling technology able to recapture end-of-use plastic and textiles to produce new raw materials for the global textiles industry.
Established in 2005, the business was built on my ambition to find a macro scale solution for eradicating textiles waste.
Today, our polymer recycling process is able to separate, decontaminate and extract raw materials from end-of-use polyester and cotton textiles to go back into supply chains for fibre spinning and textile production, as part of a continual process.
The unique chemical process can also do the same for PET bottles to textiles.
In its early days, the business focused on upcycling, turning disused textiles – from items such as old prison blankets, scrap leather, decommissioned hot air balloons and Virgin Atlantic seat covers – into new and desirable footwear, handbags, jackets and accessories.
After a few years experimenting in upcycling, it became clear that if we wanted to solve the problem of textile waste, we needed to be doing more.
To be a catalyst for a circular textiles industry, where new textiles can be made from regenerating raw materials from existing textiles, Worn Again Technologies needed to develop a process that could recycle the very building blocks of textiles at a molecular level. That’s when we met physical chemist Dr Adam Walker, a scientist based in Cambridge with particular expertise in polymers and a novel approach to recycling them.
After combining our vision with his brain and expertise, we set about a long-term development plan and curated a team of world class scientists to create an innovative solution to the way we deal with end-of-use plastics and textiles.
However, we knew that in order to scale the technology and have a truly (environmentally friendly) global impact, the outputs from the process needed to be able to deal with the problem of blended textiles, like polyester and cotton, a huge barrier for recycling today.
Equally, the process needed to deliver dual outputs of PET and cellulose (from cotton) at virgin equivalent quality that would also be cost competitive compared to the virgin resources.
This means being able to offer a solution for the mass market, with no price premium and no brand premium for the outputs.
Worn Again Technologies is now in its eighth year of development, focusing on the optimisation of the process and scaling it to market. In May 2019, we announced Worn Again Technologies’ Pioneer Members’ Programme – a new collective of pioneering brands, including Founding Pioneer Members H&M and Kering, leading the charge to a circular resource world.
We are thrilled to have welcomed to our Pioneer Members’ programme new forward-thinking brands from the apparel and textile industry, including Japanese sportswear brand ASICS Europe, German outdoor textiles specialist Sympatex, German linen supplier Dibella, and US clothing brand Dhana.
These brands will have guaranteed access to a percentage share of initial Worn Again PET and Worn Again cellulose outputs to use in their supply chains. Additionally, this group will be offered pre-market access to developments as they are completed and an opportunity to trial outputs during optimisation.
As we continue our rapid developments, we call for forward-thinking brands to join now and be among the next to reap the rewards of this industry-advancing innovation. No one company can achieve a circularity alone.
It will require a holistic approach, from the way we make textiles to what we as individuals do with clothing and textiles once we no longer want them. In the not so distant future, textiles to landfill and incineration will be a thing of the past.