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Taking strides towards circularity at ISPO Munich Online 2021

Anne Prahl

This year’s ISPO sports and outdoor fair took place in digital format, combining an Expo Area and extensive conference programme, where sustainability was high on the agenda.

11th February 2021

Anne Prahl
 |  Online

Sports/​Outdoor

This year’s international sports and outdoor fair took place in a digital format, combining an Expo Area and extensive conference programme, where the topic of sustainability was high on the agenda. From pledges to eliminate plastic waste and moving towards nature-based textile alternatives, to closing the loop on performance products, the industry is ready to embrace the circular economy model through innovation and collaboration.

Plastic pledges

As sustainability is developing into an essential consideration for sports and outdoor brands, their suppliers and consumers, the desire to reduce plastic waste and associated environmental impact is driving material, product and technology innovation. As a result, there has been a significant shift towards recycled synthetics, and this is evident in the number of autumn/ winter 2021 sports and outdoor products made with recycled polyester and nylon.

Rab Arc Eco Jacket. © ISPO.

Adidas were one of the first brands to launch a manifesto to end plastic waste and the company already achieved the use of 50% recycled polyester in 2020, while the ultimate goal is to completely phase out the use of virgin plastics and polyesters by 2024. ISPO Award winning products made with recycled polyester include the adidas TERREX MYSHELTER PRIMALOFT Hooded Jacket and MYSHELTER COLD.DRY PARKA, while other award worthy products include Bergans’ Stranda V2 Anorak and Rab’s Arc Eco Jacket, which utilises the new 3-layer Pertex Shield Revolve mono-polymer fabric made from recycled plastic bottles.

Icebreaker’s The Vortex Swim limited-edition tee. © Icebreaker.

In contrast, New Zealand brand Icebreaker have pledged to be ‘plastic-free by 2023’ and are promoting the movement towards a more natural way of living, as outlined by Senior Sustainability Manager Julian Lings in his workshop during the event. Today, 87% of the brand’s fibre use is already natural but long-term goals include eliminating all artificial fibres and replacing them with 100% natural fibre alternatives. Lings reiterated the importance of innovation partnerships to support the success of ‘the roadmap to natural’ and the brand has a strong portfolio of natural fabric innovations already. This includes ISPO Award Winner the ZoneKnit Long Sleeve Zip Hoodie, which is made from 100% Merino and achieves performance attributes such as ventilation and mobility, through a body mapped knitting technology.

Closing the loop

While recycling post-consumer plastic waste into textiles for sports and outdoor clothing is a positive step in reducing environmental impact, the industry is starting to push innovation around circular textiles, products and processes. The shift towards closing the loop is likely to be further accelerated and supported by clear guidelines and potential legislation for the textile industry as part of the European Union Circular Economy Action Plan and the European Green Deal, as well as the European Textile Recycling Hubs (ReHubs) initiative, which aims to create five textile processing centres across Europe.

Mammut Close The Loop T-shirt. © Mammut.

Mountaineering brand Mammut won the ISPO Award for their ‘Close the Loop’ t-shirt, which is made from 100% ECONYL recycled nylon. Following a CO2 footprint assessment, the brand realised that the manufacture of climbing ropes, one of their best selling products, accounted for the highest percentage of their CO2 footprint. This knowledge sparked the idea for giving discarded climbing ropes a new life and as a result, the brand now collects discarded ropes at 50 collection points in climbing gyms to be recycled into fabrics for t-shirts. At end-of-life, the t-shirts can be recycled again and again, while the use of recycled nylon compared to virgin raw materials also reduces CO2 emissions by 67%.

Helly Hansen mono-material label. © Helly Hansen.

Helly Hansen’s Mono Material line was first launched as part of the Winter 2020 collection but the brand has extended its offering for Winter 2021. Each product is made from 100% polyester following a mono-material approach, which is a pre-requisite for textile-to-textile recycling.

Finisterre BioSmock. © ISPO.

British outdoor brand Finisterre chose to follow the biological cycle of the circular economy to develop its BioSmock. This insulated jacket was another ISPO Award winner and utilises PrimaLoft BIO and HD Wool Active Insulation to create a practical insulation layer, which is protected by a windproof and water-repellent PFC-free outer shell that is described as biodegradable on land and in the sea.

Ternua Miquelon Jacket. © ISPO.

Another ISPO Award winner, Ternua’s Miquelon jacket, combines a shell made with Ventile organic cotton and organic cotton lining to create a weatherproof, windproof and breathable product, while offering a low environmental footprint and biodegradability at end-of-life. The jury described this jacket as ‘natural performance at its best’.

Sendyi (Jiangsu) Textile Co., Ltd. © ISPO.

The natural performance theme was also evident in the ISPO Textrends forecast, which presents new developments for Fall/ Winter 22/23. Biosynthetic, biodegradable and compostable fabrics, insulations and trims are on the rise and are increasingly used in pure compositions or natural blends to enable biodegradability or recyclability at end-of-life. Sendyi (Jiangsu) Textile Co.’s woven, bio-based and biodegradable fabric was selected as Best Product in the ‘Accelerated Eco’ theme and utilises bio-polyamide 6.6 yarn jointly developed by Fulgar and EVOnik.

Circular collaborations

As discussed in the ‘Teaming up for circularity’ panel talk, which brought together moderator Kim Scholze with panellists Katrin Ley (Fashion for Good), Helena Braun (EU Commission) and James Tarrier (adidas), circular economy innovation requires increased collaboration between stakeholders along the product life-cycle and experts from the supply chain.

‘Teaming up for circularity’ panel talk. © Messe München GmbH.

There are many examples of collaborations in the sports and outdoor sector already, including brands working together with competitors, fabric mills and ingredient suppliers, as well as research and academic institutions. There is also an increase in the formation of cross-disciplinary consortia, which focus on the exploration of specific innovation opportunities, such as the elimination of microfibre shedding, development of renewable and low impact fabrics and recycling technologies.

Fabric made with Infinited Fiber’s textile-to-textile fibre regeneration technology. © Infinited Fiber.

The €6.7 million EU-funded ‘New Cotton Project’ is a consortium made up of a diverse range of members of the supply chain, funders and policy makers to explore opportunities to reduce the industry’s reliance on virgin materials like cotton, while creating a circular fashion system. Textile waste will be collected, sorted and regenerated into Finnish biotechnology company Infinited Fiber’s unique cellulose-based fibres that look and feel like cotton, which will be used to manufacture different types of fabrics for global brands including adidas and the H&M Group.

Houdini’s Project Mono Air. © Houdini Sportswear.

During the panel talk ‘How connected garments are helping to enable a circular economy?’ Swedish outdoor brand Houdini introduced the brand’s circular eco system Houdini Universe, which will be partially enabled through Eon’s connected product platform and YKK’s TouchLink technology.

The Mono Air Houdi, launched successfully at ISPO 2020, was the first release as part of Houdini’s Project Mono Air, an open-source initiative to help the wider textile industry become more circular. The garment was designed following circular principles around fabrics and components and the brand have openly published what they call the ‘Mono Air recipe’ to enable other brands to tap into existing knowledge. Looking into the future, Eon’s Circular ID Protocol can carry essential product and material data, which is critical for the identification and management of products and services in the circular economy. This may include information on production methods, consumer care, resale, collections and sorting, as well as how and where to recycle products at end-of-life. In addition, YKK’s TouchLink zip can serve as a tool for effective communication directly with the end-consumer, thanks to embedded Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.

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