From Forest to Fashion – Textile Technology Makes Trees into Tees

Knowing how to reuse and recycle is not enough in order to save the mothership Earth. Climate change is a severe threat, and we need to stop over-consuming natural resources and learn to use them more efficiently by designing materials for products that can have second or even third life. Industries need to come closer together to find solutions that benefit humanity as a whole, and sometimes the solutions can come from industries or companies that can surprise us. Let’s look at an example in the fashion industry. Many current ways to produce textile fibers come with huge cost for the environment – and frankly are hazardous to us too. Some ways fast fashion is bad for our health – like the use of chemicals in clothing – can be self-evident, and we all feel bad about filling up the landfills. But for example did you know that you might be eating fast fashion … in your sushi? When your polyester sweater is piling and small microfibers are shed they wash down from your laundry water back to waterways and can end up in oceans. Planktons eat the plastic fibers from our waste, and fish eat planktons and we eat fish. This is not the circle of life I want! Thankfully there are many companies seeking for more sustainable alternatives, and finding materials that are made from renewable resources, that also can be reused and recycled. And when we talk about this kind of solutions, one company can rarely do it all from the sourcing to manufacturing to giving a new life to the product after it isn’t needed anymore. This is why the solutions need to be part of the bigger picture: part of circular economy. And even when it comes to fashion, there is a big surprise: many companies creating solutions for the fashion industry are not even in the fashion industry! And solutions arise in places with genuinely renewable materials – places like Finland. Forests cover 80% of Finland’s total area, and the forests are used in a genuinely sustainable manner: the forests grow faster than they are harvested.

Fashion from Forest

One of the companies working to find new materials for products is Finnish Metsä Group (fun fact: “metsä” means forest) – a forest industry group whose core business consists of tissue and cooking papers, paperboard, pulp, wood products, and wood supply and forest services. Metsä Group is owned by more than 100,000 Finnish forest owners, and they take good care of the valuable raw material. Metsä Group established an innovation company Metsä Spring, and plans to build a demo plant in Finland for the production of textile fibers.
“Our welfare society is a great achievement, and it has been driven by the fossil economy. However, this culture of disposability has come to its end. The bioeconomy offers a solution to these global issues. It enables us to replace fossil materials with sustainable alternatives and stop climate change – if we act smartly. We make use of this sustainably grown wood raw material in increasingly valuable ways, and we manufacture products with genuinely lower impact on the environment, that are replacing fossil raw materials,” says Niklas von Weymarn, CEO of Metsä Spring, Metsä Group’s new innovation company.
Wood is suitable for nearly anything that can be made from fossil raw materials. Pulp-based textile fibers can be a real solution for more sustainable textiles. They have the potential to offer an alternative to cotton with a lower impact on the environment, as the production of cotton can no longer be increased because of environmental issues. Wood-based textile fibers are already being used to replace cotton as a raw material for yarn, and they offer great potential for resolving shortages of raw materials in the textile industry. Pulp can be used to produce strong textile fibers for clothes and technical textiles. Metsä Spring is developing a direct-dissolution method for the production of textile fibre. The method makes use of entirely new types of pulp-dissolving compounds. It has lower impact on the environment than the current production options. Now… fashion designers needed. Who will be the fashion designers who will be taking the world by storm by bringing fashion straight out of forest? ​

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