The Lycra Co. is teaming up with a Swiss textile company that discovered a way to create a cellulose-based fiber that can replace less sustainable synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon.
The yarn, dubbed AeoniQ, is made out of cellulose biopolymer, which can be sourced from a range of natural materials like algae, bacteria or coffee grounds, according to Carlo Centonze, chief executive officer of HeiQ Materials AG. Those resources don’t require fossil fuels and use just a fraction of water.
“It’s a double win: you can substitute polyester and nylon and have a climate-positive effect,” Centonze said in an interview.
The new material can be recycled repeatedly — an issue in the current clothing market, where less than 1% of clothes are recycled and the rest take up space in landfills. The main challenge for HeiQ will be reaching the size and scale needed to truly compete with synthetic rivals, which make up more than 60% of the global annual textile output of more than 100 million metric tons.
HeiQ is starting out small. In March, HeiQ said it will have an annual 100-ton capacity and it plans to license its technology to several factories around the world. Later it aims to build a $300 million site that can make 30,000 tons a year, with full capacity expected in 2024.
“We’ll still be a very, very small fish in the ocean,” Centonze said, adding the company will be looking for as many partners as possible.
The textile industry is one of the world’s most polluting sectors, contributing to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The production of one single T-shirt requires 2,700 liters (713 gallons) of water, which represents enough drinking water for one person for more than two years, according to a report by the European Parliament. Other issues linked to textiles include microfibers that are released through washing synthetics.
Lycra’s agreement gives it exclusivity for AeoniQ yarn that can be used in stretchable fabrics. HeiQ makes additives that are added to fabrics that repel water or fight odors and microbes. Clients include Burberry and Patagonia