The New Cotton Project is a world first with twelve pioneering players coming together to demonstrate an entirely circular model for commercial garment production.
This week we meet Johanna Virtanen from Infinited Fiber Company and talk to her about her involvement in the project.
Please give an overview of your company and job role.
Infinited Fiber Company is a fashion and textile technology start-up aimed at bringing joy and hope back into people’s closets by making textile circularity an everyday reality. The industry’s reliance on resource intense and polluting raw materials has been recognized as a major problem. At the same time, there is a need to find a valuable use for the more than 92 million tons of textile waste that are created every year and the bulk of which end up at landfills or incinerators at great environmental and financial cost.
Infinited Fiber’s technology offers a solution for these problems. It uses textile waste as raw material, cleans it up and breaks it down at the polymer level using responsible chemistry, and gives it new life as unique, premium textile fibers that look and feel soft and natural, very much like cotton. We call this reborn – or regenerated – circular textile fiber Infinna™.
Chemistry, engineering, research and development are at the heart of what Infinited does, and our team includes lots of scientists and engineers. I myself have a background in the financial world. I am Infinited’s finance and business development manager. I am also the lead contact for the EU New Cotton Project.
What is your participation in the New Cotton Project?
Infinited Fiber Company is the entity that put together the New Cotton Project and is leading it. As mentioned, I’m the key coordinator for the whole project, so my role is to make sure everyone is on track and the project is progressing as planned.
When we at Infinited Fiber learned of this funding opportunity from the EU, we thought it would be a great way to gather together stakeholders from the entire value chain to work towards common goals and to really put circularity to the test. So we started calling around to see who wanted to be involved, and were happy to be met with great enthusiasm.
It is really exciting to have stakeholders who are traditionally quite far removed from each other working side by side in this project to develop a blueprint for circularity in textiles: to see how the linear model that prevails might bend into a circular one, what the bottlenecks might be, and how we can solve those. The involvement of the academic research institutes adds a really important layer of analysis and oversight to this whole project, and I am hopeful that the whole industry can gain from the learnings that are gathered over the three years of this project.
What challenges and pitfalls do you think will arise in the New Cotton Project?
As with any international, multi-stakeholder project, I think there will be challenges related to making sure everyone is on the same page, to making sure there is efficient communication between everyone throughout the project. I think we all have a lot to learn in terms of working with this whole ecosystem of players. And because this is the first time this is being done – we are testing how a circular blueprint for commercial garment production might work – there are of course likely to be all kinds of unexpected hiccups. But overall I am confident that this will be a success – we will all learn a lot and be able to share our learnings for the benefit of the fashion and textile industry as it adopts increasingly environmentally sound practices.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities in collaboration?
Circularity and creating circular economies is all about collaboration. When all stakeholders gain a better understanding of the challenges at each stage of the production process I think it’s also easier for everyone to see what each stakeholder individually and the industry as a whole can gain from doing things better and more collaboratively. For example, when designers understand how their design decisions impact recyclability at the end of the garment’s life cycle, they are more likely to opt for choices that enable rather than hinder recyclability. So, I really see this project as one that is filled with great opportunities for new kinds of collaborations across the entire value chain.
Where do you see the future of circularity in the fashion and textiles industry?
I think circularity is the future of the fashion and textiles industry, and this future is already becoming real. Our planetary boundaries make this a necessity. And the financial incentives are becoming evident. We can no longer afford to let waste to go to waste. It’s estimated that some USD 500 billion in value is lost every year from the underutilization of clothing and the lack of recycling, and it doesn’t make sense to let this keep happening. The major global brands have made commitments to using recycled materials, which is really great. And they are showing great interest in technologies like ours, which now enable the high-quality regeneration of textile fibers and the preservation of virgin resources. So I am really hopeful and confident that circularity will take off big-time in the very near future.