Finland Takes The Lead In Circular Fashion


Finland envisions becoming Europe’s leading circular economy, with a focus on reusing and saving resources. In 2016, it became the first government in the world to create a national roadmap designed to help reach its goal. And this has led to investments by various textile start-ups to achieve this goal.

For instance, Finnish start-up Infinited Fiber has invested heavily in a technology which can transform textiles that would otherwise be burned or sent to landfills, into a new clothing fibre. Called Infinna, the fibre is already being used by global brands including Patagonia, H&M and Inditex. “It’s a premium quality textile fibre, which looks and feels natural – like cotton,” says Petri Alava, founder of Infinited Fiber. “And it is solving a major waste problem.”

Around the world, an estimated 92 million tonnes of textile waste is created each year, according to non-profit Global Fashion Agenda, and this figure is set to rise to more than 134 million tonnes by 2030, if clothing production continues along its current track.

To the untrained eye, samples of Infinited Fiber’s recycled fibre resemble lambswool; soft, fluffy and cream coloured. Alava explains that the product is produced through a complex, multi-step process which starts with shredding old textiles and removing synthetic materials and dyes, and ends with a new fibre, regenerated from extracted cellulose.

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This finished fibre can then simply “hop into the traditional production processes”, replacing cotton and synthetic fibres, to produce everything from shirts and dresses to denim jeans.

Much of the science involved in making the fibre has been around since the 1980s, says Alava, but rapid technological advancements in the last few years have finally made large-scale production a more realistic possibility.

The company has already attracted so much interest in its technology that it recently announced it was investing 400 million euro to build its first commercial scale factory at a disused paper mill in Lapland. The goal is to produce 30,000 tonnes of fibre a year once it’s operating at full capacity in 2025. That is equivalent to the fibre needed for approximately 100 million t-shirts.

Several other Finnish start-ups are looking at ways to produce new textile fibres on a big scale, while also cutting down on harmful emissions and chemicals. These include Spinnova which, from its textiles factory in Jyväskylä, central Finland, transforms cellulose from raw wood pulp into ready-to-spin fibres.

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It has partnered up with Suzano, one of the world’s leading pulp producers, headquartered in Brazil. And the company says its spinning technologies can even be used to create new fibres from a range of other materials that can be turned into pulp, from wheat straw to leather offcuts.

“Of course, the volumes are tiny at the moment, but our plan together with Suzano is that in the next 10 years we are going to upscale up to one million tonnes in annual volume,” says Janne Poranen, one of Spinnova’s co-founders.

He is less specific about how exactly that is going to happen, though, refusing to give any financial projections and admitting that the company has yet to decide which continent its first large-scale production plants outside Finland are likely to be built on.

Still, Spinnova’s yarn is attracting plenty of global attention and has so far been used by brands including upmarket Finnish clothing label Marimekko, and outdoor wear firms North Face, Bergans and Adidas, which recently used it in a limited edition midlayer hoodie designed for hikers.

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Elsewhere in Europe, there are a range of other companies developing technologies to create more circular yarns, including Swedish startup Renewcell and Bright fiber Textiles, which plans to open its first factory in the Netherlands in 2023.

Resistance from traditional textile manufacturing industries is crumbling as they see their fortunes dwindling due to extremely volatile prices of cotton and man-made fibres. In India, some textile clusters have begun blending cotton with recycled yarns, banana and hemp yarns, seaweed yarns, t reduce dependence on the expensive cotton fibre. Alava is optimistic that these sustainable yarns will become mainstream over the next decade.


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