Our relentless need for new clothes leaves a lot of old clothes behind, creating a huge mountain of fabric waste. Americans throw out 13.1 million tons of textiles each year, of which 11 million tons ends up in landfills.
Seattle startup Evrnu offers an alternative: recycling that takes old clothing and creates completely new yarn for new clothing. Its process uses solvent to turn cottons and other fabrics into pulp which it then extrudes through a fine filter, a bit like how water is pushed out through a shower head.
Several big brands, like H&M and Eileen Fisher, now take back clothing in their stores. But Evrnu co-founder Stacy Flynn says they don't necessarily have second uses for it. "It's piling up and they don't really know what to do with it. We have places for clothing to go, like rags, insulation, rugs, and those kinds of things. But regeneration has not been commercialized yet."
"Right now there's a limited number of things you can do with that clothing on return. This technology offers a way for [brands] to keep these resources in their supply chain."
Flynn started the company in 2011 with Christopher Stanev, a textile chemist and engineer. A 16-year veteran of the clothes industry, Flynn had become concerned by the impact of so much fabric being produced and then thrown away. On a particular trip to China, she was shocked by the level of fabric-related pollution, and became convinced of the need for "a way of breaking down waste and getting it back into the front-end of the system."
Since 2011, Flynn says there's been a shift in how the industry thinks about recycling. H&M for example offers clothes made from recycled materials, and designers are experimenting with modular clothing (so we use clothes for longer). But she says breaking down and cleaning the waste to make new yarn offers wider possibilities.
The cloth Evrnu has made so far has the texture of silk and is stronger than cotton, Flynn claims. It costs the same as organic cotton, so will probably used in premium products to begin with.
Evrnu is planning a factory and hopes to be in production by the end of next year. It has one pilot brand partner that it won't name. "One of the things we're looking at is 'Can we can create local fiber production where waste is accumulating?' That's what we're going to be piloting in January."