We aRe SpinDye dyes synthetic fibres when the raw material is melted, eliminating the need to water dye finished fabrics. The approach saves water, chemicals and energy, and paves the way for a sustainability revolution of the textile industry.
In the humongous and globally rather dirty textile industry, We aRe SpinDye plays the same part as the small child in the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The child that points out the obvious, without keeping up the pretense of everyone else.
In the tale, the revelation was that the emperor had no clothes. In reality, the world is producing an ever growing amount – 53 million tonnes, annually – but the collective denial is that they too often are colored in a totally backward fashion.
”The common way of dyeing is to first make the fabric, then dip it into a bath of hot water loaded with chemicals to apply the dye to it. We add dry pigment to the polyester before it is extruded as a fiber”, says Pelle Jansson, Marketing Manager at We aRe SpinDye. He adds, with emphasis:
”This is how synthetic fibers are meant to be colored. Without a doubt. It is a disgrace that the clothing industry has not accomplished this before – but now it is possible.”
A quick fix that never was corrected
In spite of the fact that 63 percent of the clothing produced today are made from synthetic fibers – mainly polyester – they are still being dyed with coloring methods once developed for cotton. Applying those methods to plastic is a practice both inefficient and wasteful – and one that would seem completely foreign to any other plastic producing industry. Pelle Jansson considers the well-known Lego building blocks as a case in point:
”A blue building block is obviously blue all the way through. The entire plastic industry handles the material that way, making use of its amazing properties. But somehow, the textile industry has failed to latch on. For historical reasons, the same processes and machines are used for plastics as for natural material fabrics; when polyester was first introduced in the 1950s, it did not occur to the industry that plastic offered other opportunities.”
The result is staggering: polluted waters, hazardous working environments riddled with unsafe chemicals, and a gargantuan waste of resources. The global textile industry uses copious quantities of water, and a fifth of the global water pollution can be linked to dyeing. In the long and winding process from raw material to garment, dyeing is far and away the most resource-demanding step.
”This industry manufactures enormous amounts of fabric in countries with dire water issues, like China. According to some estimates, two billion people in the world will lack access to clean water by 2025”, Pelle Jansson explains:
”Both China and India are intervening against this, shutting down factories that aren’t adhering to strict regulations. Those countries salute this technology.”
Water dyeing is eliminated from the process
By adding dry pigment to the clear plastic pellets before they are melted, the exact color becomes integrated into the material from the beginning, without the use of water or toxins. The dyeing baths are eliminated from the process, and the environmental advantage is immense: 75 percent less water consumtion, 90 percent less chemicals, 30 percent less energy. The company then spins yarn from the fiber, and the yarn is woven or knitted into fabrics.
”Everything we make can be recycled. We choose the raw material according to the customers’ specification, but we are currently working exclusively with recycled polyester. The process works with any melt spun synthetic fiber”, Pelle Jansson says.
Manufacturing is licensed to production facilities around the world, close to the customers. The customers have to accept a different sequence than they are used to in the design and purchasing process; the choice of color has to be the first decision, then how much fabric of each will be required. On the other hand, it makes for a more efficient use of materials, reducing waste. The colored yarn also offers brand new possibilities to make different details and materials in the exact same color.
Liberating precision provides 1950 standard colors
”Since the environment is controlled and the ingredients are added from a precise recipe, the same nuance can be reproduced over and over, batch after batch. That is basically impossible with conventional coloring methods. The precision improves significantly”, Pelle Jansson says.
We aRe SpinDye’s technology seeks its origin to a process well known in the car and carpet industries. But there, it was used for very large production volumes, high density yarns and very limited color ranges of no more than 40 colors.
”That’s not good enough for clothing. In order to bring the technology into the apparel industry, we needed a much broader palette – today we can offer 1950 standard nuances. We also had to be able to handle smaller quantities, and to spin the yarn thinner to make soft and comfortable materials”, explains Pelle Jansson. He says that they have reached 50 denier, so far.
Since the fibers are colored all the way through, the materials are uniquely resistant to color fading.
”We have performed tests with artificial lighting equivalent to one year of high-altitude exposure to the sun. Piece-dyed fabrics look like a different color altogether. Our colors and fabrics are outstanding: there is no visible difference. That means that the garments last and remain in use longer.”
Digitalizing the textile industry
”Our entire product chain is 100 percent transparent and traceable. We buy recycled polyester, certified according to the Global Recycle Standard, and synthetically produced pigments that are free from restricted substances. From then and until delivery, we can trace exactly what happens, when, and where, thanks to a transaction based certificate”, Pelle Jansson says.
In principle, this would make it possible for customers to trace the precise origin of their garment in the future, using for example RFID technology. For brands, it opens the possibility to track their containers in transport, maintaining control throughout the value chain.
Taking the step from outdoor to fashion
WRSD first introduced their technology in the Nordic sport and outdoor market, where the founders had widespread experience. Fjällräven’s backpack Re:Kånken became the first application.
”We had a natural entry point. The project was a success and a big thing both internationally and in the outdoor market”, Pelle Jansson says.
With five percent of the fashion industry’s total volume of sales, sport and outdoor is an important niche. Nevertheless, with such a game-changing technology on their hands, the company wants to achieve even bigger things. WRSD is now eyeing up the general European fashion industry, signing Odd Molly as a first fashion customer. Certainly not the last, though.
”We are working with Quiksilver and Roxy, too. We have Peak Performance and Bergans of Norway, as well as a smaller Finnish brand called Makia. And about a month ago, we officially became a Filippa K frontrunner; we are now included in their cutting-edge collection where they try out future materials. It is really great, and kind of a feather in our cap”, says Pelle Jansson, and concludes:
”All of the brands we are working with today have a high profile. That is a strategic choice; we want to work with premium brands, because we offer a premium product. It is so much more sustainable in so many different aspects.”
The article was published in October 2018.