Concrete green solutions
Infinited Fiber Company CEO Petri Alava tells Hannah Abdulla brands are deviating from vague green claims and are seeking concrete solutions to circularity.
arlier this year both PVH Europe and Inditex committed to purchasing Infinna, a textile fibre that can be created from 100% textile waste.
The company’s technology can turn cellulose-based waste streams, like cotton-rich textiles, used cardboard or rice or wheat straw, into Infinna fibre with the natural, soft look and feel of cotton.
Alava resigned from a CEO post ahead of founding Infinited Fiber Company in 2016 together with research professor Ali Harlin. At that point, the technology had been developed to a stage where opportunities to commercialise the technology were emerging. Fast forward to today and its popularity is now soaring among major global brands looking to achieve ambitious circularity targets.
In mid-May, Inditex inked a EUR100m three-year supply deal for Infinna fibre. The announcement came less than a week after PVH Europe announced it would partner with Infinited Fiber Company to elevate the sustainability of products offered in the bloc under PVH’s Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands. Material science innovator Pangaia has also collaborated with Infinited Fiber Company, introducing the world’s first shirts made from 100% Infinna fibre.
Alava says brands are waking up to the fact that Infinna fibre offers a “relevant solution” to their sustainability challenges: “It gives us the confidence we are on the right path,” he says.
A worthy competitor
Alava says a point of attraction drawing an increased uptake of Infinna is the recognition that it acts like a “virgin fibre”.
“Unfortunately, the reputation of recycled fibres is not great,” he asserts. “They are recognised as not being on par with consumer expectations of virgin fibres. In order to make Infinna relevant for the market, we have had to have that in place. Infinna is very different. We break down the textile waste to a molecular level and regenerate a new fibre. What is coming out of the process is really on the level of a virgin fibre. You have the look and feel, and it is soft and easy to work with.”
But he adds a shift in mentality, which has moved brands from thinking from a cost perspective to a value perspective, has also played a part in the increasing popularity of the fibre.
Infinna is “more pricey” than traditional fibres. If you’re looking at it from a t-shirt level, Alava says there’s around a 5% difference between the two, but he says the price “reflects the innovation, research and development.”
Infinna fibre is also built in a way that while the apparel can be used long term, at the end of its life it can also be recycled with other textile waste.
A concrete sustainability solution
Earlier this year the EU Commission adopted a due diligence law proposal which means clothing brands selling and operating within the bloc will be held to account for the impact of their operations on the environment and people working within their supply chains.
Alava believes this will force brands to consider the social and environmental impact of the fibres and fabrics used to produce garments.
He says brands are already seeing the “healthy business reasons” for using Infinna and recycled fibres and as such “the basic demand is coming from the companies.”
Table 1 Frequency of keyword mentions in fashion apparel companies’ public filings
|Keywords||2020 vs. 2017|
|Renewable Energy Sources||242.90%|
|Data source: GlobalData (2021)|
Growth pains and plans
Alava says commitments from brands to increase their use of Infinna fibre in their garment production has allowed the company to start scaling the technology at a faster pace and increase its output.
It has plans to open a flagship factory in Finland in 2024, an investment it has estimated at EUR220m (US$264.2m).
“We have and always are running against existing large demand. In the beginning, we recognised the size of the industry and so inevitably the volume demand is high. We’ve been working on how we can meet that and take the technology from lab level to scale so that brands can get volumes they are able to test with their own manufacturers. That’s now done, and they are happy with the solution, which means we can boost the production of the fibres on a commercial scale.”
Alava tells Just Style the factory should start production in 2025 and will be producing its regenerated textile fibres for the global market, taking the industry a step closer to having access to a premium, circular alternative to cotton.
The firm currently operates pilot facilities in the cities of Espoo and Valkeakoski, Finland, with a combined nominal capacity of 150 metric tonnes per annum. But Alava says the pilot plants are more aligned to R&D as opposed to commercial-scale production which is a challenge as the group looks to move to commercial-scale production.
The planned flagship factory will have an annual capacity of 30,000 metric tonnes per annum and will use textile waste as feedstock. Alava says the output is equivalent to producing 100m t-shirts made exclusively of Infinna fibres.
Infinited Fiber Co is at a stage it is experiencing rapid growth with each day presenting a new learning curve. Confidence in the technology will help the company grow at scale and help the industry close the loop faster, Alava says.
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Main image credit: CEO Petri Alava, Infinited Fiber Company Management