Wolford’s Cradle To Cradle Gold certifications have sparked new discussions in the sustainable fashion scene. Read now why it’s simply not enough to use recycled fishnet or natural fibres to be truly environmentally savvy.
At BEAUTYCALYPSE, there is one thing we love and value the most: science. And when science serves the purpose of style and sustainability, we’re sold. If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll remember my article series in which I nerd out about textile certificates. So now that Wolford made history by obtaining two Cradle 2 Cradle Gold level certificates and that the opportunity presented itself to discuss this endeavour with the company’s Product Development Director Andreas Röhrich — we could not resist.
And I promise, the interview is not too technical at all.
However, I bet you’ll be able to discuss sustainable textiles like a pro after reading it! 😉
“Next Level Sustainability”
Interview with Andreas Röhrich, Director Product Development, Wolford AG
Nath Fedorova: Andreas, in an older interview you have trenchantly stated that clothes made from recycled plastic still end on landfills at the end of their lifespan. That’s accurate. And, despite some criticism, the Cradle 2 Cradle system does offer an alternative.
Why did Wolford opt for C2C in the end?
Andreas Röhring: We sat together as a team and looked for ways to bring sustainability to the next level for Wolford. Cradle 2 Cradle certainly looked the most difficult — but also the most promising for our future and for the future of the entire textile industry.
The natural resources on our planet are not endless and yet we behave as if we had a planet B somewhere. To me, circular economy is the best solution for resource conservation.
NF: Can you give our readers a glimpse of just how complex the production of a C2C certified Wolford garment is?
AR: We had to recreate our entire supply chain from scratch, starting with the design to the material and up to the machine oil, everything had to be changed. It was a huge challenge for everyone involved. We had to test new dye formulations to achieve the same quality and colour fastness as with our usual dyes.
This innovation took longer than four years to accomplish, until we’ve been finally able to launch our first products designed for the biological cycle in September 2018.
It was essential to develop timeless, classic pieces that would appeal to most of our customers and offer the same quality and durability Wolford is known for.
NF: C2C has five layers of certification, Basic to Platinum. Wolford holds two Gold certifications. Why not Platinum? 😉
AR: C2C have these five categories: Material Health, Social Fairness, Material Reutilisation, Renewable Energy, and Water Stewardship. We are certified Cradle 2 Cradle Gold, but have Platinum standard for Material Health. — Platinum here means that all materials are 100% uncritical and safe, both for the humans and for the environment. We strive to be the best, but we have to work with the state-of-the-art technical possibilities. For now, we achieved the best result possible. The “Water Stewardship” category demands for the water at the end of the cycle to have drinking water quality. Our water quality is very good, but not drinking water nonetheless.
No company has ever achieved Platinum level yet.
But as soon as the technical standards improve, this [Platinum level] is of course our next goal.
NF: But how does a customer dispose of an older, non C2C Wolford piece?
AR: Ideally never.
First of all, a garment should be worn and enjoyed for as long as possible. It should be taken care of so it doesn’t end in the trash bin. So go for quality rather than quantity, get it mended before throwing it.
Second, I would always give a garment away or donate it* before I throw it. Even broken items can be donated, usually they will be reworked into cleaning rags or industrial padding.
But sure, all of those do reach their limit at a certain point in time, and this is exactly where Cradle 2 Cradle hooks up to solve the problem and to answer the question: what happens in the very end? — Recycling, albeit way better than linear economy, is only a form of delaying the disposal.
* Editor’s note: attention!
Don’t donate to random companies who potentially
will sell those clothes to the developing countries,
thus destroying local textile industries.
NF: Let’s fast forward a decade… What to do with my old C2C shirt some day?
AR: A Cradle 2 Cradle garment can be returned to a Wolford boutique in the end.
Depending on the cycle — and in the case of C2C we’re talking about a biological cycle — the garment will be brought to an industrial composting station, where it’s going to be composted together with bio waste and the so generated energy will go to a biogas plant. We can use this biogas then for our production. The leftovers will be humified and used as fertiliser.
NF: Going back to the present — right now, the C2C collection spans black basic styles. When can we anticipate to see the first C2C bra, stay ups? Garments in colours other than black?
AR: At the present moment we opted for black because it’s generally regarded as the most toxic dye due to its pigment density. Starting Autumn 2019 we’ll add other colours, starting with white, because we were able to source a Cradle 2 Cradle certified bleaching agent. The premise for any other colour is to source Cradle 2 Cradle certified raw materials that also comply with our quality requirements.
Legwear styles are in the pipeline as we speak, also available starting Autumn.
All those products are designed for a technical cycle. What it means is that once returned to us, they will be collected by a partner company and depolymerised. Depolymerisation is a process of breaking polyamide into single polymers that can be spun into new polyamide fibre in the end — without losing any of its quality which inevitably happens with recycling.
For the technical cycle we work with Aquafil’s Econyl® fibre and the Roica™ stretch fabric by Asahi Kasei. Econyl® is the fibre known for being made of recycled fishing nets and other nylon trash, and it’s perfect for the technical cycle. Aquafil also are our depolymerisation partner.
NF: The C2C collection is more expensive — as far as Wolford collections go. Will the price level change if you go entirely C2C one day?
AR: The Cradle 2 Cradle products don’t need to be more expensive. Of course, there’s an enormous effort in developing them, it has to pay off at some point. But generally speaking Cradle 2 Cradle products can be less expensive because there are no waste disposal costs and because the raw material purchase costs are lower. At some point, the new acquisition will disappear completely, and the system can become self-financed. We see this happen in other industries, scrap iron, scrap metals have a certain value, and the goal is to attribute a raw material value to used textiles as well for we can use them to create products with no loss of quality.
NF: Someone could argue that C2C is only needed for man-made fibres and their cotton denim and linen shirt are fully degradable. Wolford offers products made of 100% wool, so were you considering doing more natural fibre at some point?
AR: Our current products are made of man-made fibres, means: chemically modified fibres, and these are degradable.
By contrast, not all organic cotton or linen shirts are. The raw material is natural, but processing can result in adding toxic substances, such as bleach, dyes, or sodium hydroxide specifically with cotton. This poses the danger of those residues getting into the environment.
Cotton production is not environmentally friendly because of the high water consumption. So in the future we will favour Tencel® Modal, a cellulose fibre from sustainable forestry, made in Austria by Lenzing AG.
The Cradle 2 Cradle process ensures that all substances and materials are bio degradable, not just the raw materials themselves. As I mentioned earlier, we even had to change the machine oil.
NF: Talking about the environment and the social aspect as well — the production site in Austria is situated in a water protection area, and you’ve been following environmental regulations ever since (and paying European standard wages, of course). How do you ensure that all suppliers comply?
AR: That’s true, we’re following really strict environmental regulations.
We’re also a blue sign® partner. It’s a textile certificate that controls the whole supply chain to make sure it’s free from dangerous substances. Generally speaking, we’ve imposed restrictions upon ourselves that are pretty strict when it comes to choosing our suppliers. We’re in touch with most of them on a regular basis, we know their working processes and their production sites, which we have visited ourselves. A holistic process when it comes to sustainability and fairness is important to us.