With clothing production leading the world as one of the highest-polluting industries, a new fiber contradicts the earth-damaging qualities of traditional materials. Ioncell technology, developed at Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, uses a range of materials, including wood, recycled newspaper, cardboard and old cotton to make fabric. This is good news for an environment scarred by cotton production and the development of synthetic fibers. The new and improved material can also be recycled at the end of its life cycle, significantly reducing clothing waste.
In a country already acutely aware of sustainable practices in forest management, the trees sourced from Finland offer a much lower carbon footprint than traditional clothing. Ioncell materials also protect the water supply by using ionic liquid in place of harsh chemicals.
While the designers focus on sustainable sourcing and manufacturing, the clothing also avoids contributing to a massive post-consumer waste problem. That’s because the fibers are biodegradable. Additionally, the fibers do not contain any harmful microfibers now associated with massive ocean pollution and damage to sea life.
Sourced from birch trees, the wood is responsibly harvested as part of a forest management program that grows more trees than they harvest. Once cut into smaller logs, the wood is sent through a machine that turns it into large chips. At this phase, the chips are sent to the cooker and then turned into sheets of pulp. The pulp is then mixed with the ionic liquid that results in a cellulose material. Fibers are then spun into yarn and turned into fabric.
Designers and researchers involved in the project report that the resulting material is soft and drapes naturally, making it a good choice for formalwear, coats, scarves, gloves and other products. It also accepts dye well.
The process for making Ioncell fibers is still in the research and development phase and they currently only produce it on a small scale, but they are hoping to unveil a preliminary product line as early as 2020.
+ Aalto University
Images via Aalto University