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Eco-Innovation: ECONYL® Yarn

by Riley Studio |

In an age where consumers are becoming increasingly aware and conscious of protecting the environment by making sensible purchasing decisions, the fashion industry is constantly being looked to for innovative products, transparent supply chains and improvements on the waste crisis.

Clothing has never been so attainable and so disposable. The ‘fast-fashion’ phenomenon has provided a constant cycle of new products at very appealing prices, which, although ideal for price-savvy consumers, has doubled the rate of production and therefore the affect the industry is having on the environment. At Riley Studio, we use a seasonless approach by creating durable and versatile products, which are made from waste materials and natural fabrics, therefore reducing the need to continuously update them. The MBR Crop Tops and Leggings for example, are made from ECONYL® yarn, which is infinitely recyclable.

If we consider that “every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned” and that, of material produced, “less than one percent…is recycled into new clothing” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017) we get an indication of the devastating level of waste that the fashion industry contributes to. However, it is not all doom and gloom as brands and companies, such as ourselves, are constantly experimenting with new fabrics and processes that meet the demands of more sustainable options.

After extensive research, we chose to use a relatively new material to the market (2011) called ECONYL® yarn, a form of regenerated nylon that has rapidly gained popularity and exposure, especially within the swimwear and athleisure categories, due to its smooth and stretchy finish and its infinite possibilities, making it perfect for our MBR Crop Tops and Leggings.

ECONYL® yarn was harnessed and developed by Aquafil, a leading player in the production of Polyamide 6, as well as a global leader in the research of new production models for sustainable development. The brand has pioneered a closed loop regeneration process through reclaiming waste products and converting them into reusable nylon that has the exact same properties as brand new nylon, with the additional benefit of being able to be recycled, recreated and remoulded over and over again. Not only is it a solution on waste but the process reduces the global warming impact of nylon by up to 80% compared with the material from oil, according to Aquafil.

The process starts with rescuing post-consumer waste such as abandoned fishing nets and carpet flooring, and pre-consumer waste, like fabric scraps, yarn discards and industrial plastic from landfills and oceans all over the world. Due to the immensity of the task at hand, the waste is collected through different initiatives and partnerships; the ECONYL Reclaiming Program, Healthy Seas, who use volunteer divers to recover ‘ghost nets’, and Net-Works, a social initiative that empowers coastal communities to collect and sell discarded fishing nets. With approximately 640,000 tonnes of fishing equipment lost or abandoned in our oceans every year, according to World Animal Protection, there is a gold mine of opportunity for ECONYL® yarn.

Once collected, the waste is sent to Slovenia to be sorted and cleaned in order to recover all of the usable nylon before being shredded and transported to the regeneration plant in the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, where the magic really begins. The nylon goes through a depolymerization process, which uses chemicals to strip it back to a state of raw material called ECONYL caprolactam, resulting in a 100% virgin nylon, therefore producing a high ratio of nylon output compared to waste input. The caprolactam is then polymerized into Nylon 6 polymers and is distributed to production facilities to be processed into carpet and textile yarns.

The ECONYL® yarn can then begin its journey as a bikini, pair of socks, a carpet or as the MBR Crop Top (V1 & 2) and Leggings, before being regenerated an infinite number of times, without any loss in quality. Each pair of MBR leggings uses 0.25kg of fishing nets and, unlike fishing nets and carpets, the regenerated nylon is incredibly soft and gentle on the skin, making it perfect for comfortable, everyday wear.