While the global fashion industry claims to feed on innovation, what, if anything, has changed over the past few years? According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, experimentation and innovation in the fashion industry over the past 25 years have failed to lessen the industry’s impact on the planet. In fact, the production of shirts and shoes alone has doubled in 25 years, and there has been such a sharp rise in overproduction that 75% of all goods end up in landfill.
So, when we talk about innovative materials in 2022, has anything changed?
From Finland’s perspective, things are looking promising. According to Janne Poranen, founder and CEO of Spinnova, a Jyväskylä-based company renowned for its fibre innovations, there’s a transformative change taking place in the textile business. Finnish companies used to be the ones that made the effort to sell their products to international buyers, but now major fashion brands are lining up on their doorstep to sign contracts.
If we had to name one reason for this change, it would be innovative fibres. They hold great promise and may have a wider impact on the Finnish economy.
Creative Finland is proud to introduce five prominent startups in the textile industry that all have at least one thing in common: upstream innovations.
Spinnova – groundbreaking innovations
Founded in 2014 as a spin-off of a VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland research project, Spinnova is the creator of groundbreaking fibre innovations and the first next-gen textile company to be listed on the stock exchange.
Spinnova’s products are already available in stores, making it more recognisable to consumers. Spinnova’s collaboration with major brands such as Marimekko, The North Face, H&M Group and Adidas sends a strong message: Finnish fibre innovations appeal to the big fashion industry players. The Adidas Terrex HS1 hoodie was launched in February 2021, followed by a classic shirt available from Arket, an H&M Group company.
To make its award-winning innovative Spinnova fibre material, the company primarily uses FSC-certified wood pulp. Other raw materials include textile waste containing cellulose, or agricultural residues such as wheat or barley straw.
Spinnova’s process is all about making new textiles without harmful chemicals, regardless of the fibre raw material.
Sustainability means actions, but it also has to be backed up with numbers: The amount of water used in the Spinnova fibre production process is about one-hundredth of the amount used to make one cotton T-shirt. Another significant number is 115 million, which is the amount of euros Spinnova raised in its initial public offering in 2021. This level of investor interest is a clear indication of the transformative potential investors have identified in the textile industry.
What sets Spinnova apart from other companies is that its fibre innovation does not rely on just one or even two raw materials. In addition to those listed above, Spinnova is also able to make new fibre from leather waste. The potential of this alternative material has already been put to the test in production.
In collaboration with KT Trading, a subsidiary of the footwear manufacturer Ecco, Spinnova started a joint venture called Respin to produce leather fibre. Pilot-scale production was launched in Jyväskylä in December 2021. Spinnova has another joint venture, Woodspin, with the Brazilian forestry giant Suzano. Besides its innovation prowess, Spinova has another strategic strength: a strong collaboration network that enables joint business development across the globe.
Metsä Spring introduces a sustainable forest-based fibre
The significant potential of the textile industry has also convinced major players outside the sector, as evidenced by the numerous research projects and heavy investment in textile fibres by Metsä Group, a Finnish forest industry giant. The involvement of other industries is precisely what is needed to drive a more extensive systemic change. The fact that Finnish forestry companies seem convinced that this transformation involves significant economic opportunities is a very positive sign.
The fibre manufactured by Metsä Spring, the innovation arm of Metsä Group established in 2018, is called Kuura – the Finnish word for frost. Currently going through a development stage, this innovative fibre is made from Finnish wood. Unlike many other companies that seem unconcerned about the origin of the pulp they use, Metsä Spring makes a point of only using sustainably sourced, fully traceable wood from Finnish forests to produce its Kuura fibre.
A joint venture of Metsä Group and the Japanese Itochu Corporation, Metsä Spring features a strong international business dimension.
The Asian market in general and the Japanese market in particular provide an interesting platform for testing consumer acceptance of new fibre products. Development-stage Kuura products have been available in Japan since late 2021.
Metsä Group’s involvement in fibre innovations is a great thing for a number of reasons; not least because it offers collaboration opportunities and a springboard for academic startups. By establishing Metsä Spring in 2018, Metsä Group made it clear that it wanted to tap into the wealth of opportunities offered by Finnish forests, and that this development work also included various service business concepts.
Instead of competing against each other, Finnish companies have chosen to work together, which is a wise decision that makes them better equipped to succeed in the global marketplace. Metsä Spring collaborates with several companies, including Infinited Fiber.
Infinited Fiber wants to make circularity our everyday reality
Circular economy is a great buzzword that’s easy to use as a hashtag on social media, but its true meaning is rather elusive for most of us. Infinited Fiber is determined to unveil the myths of the circular economy, and to grow its circularity-driven business.
True to its name, Infinited Fiber wants to make fibres with an infinite life. The company makes its ‘Infinna’ fibre from textile waste using its proprietary cellulose carbamation method. Or, in layman’s terms, turns old garments into fibre, which is used as a raw material for new garments. This example illustrates what the circular economy term ‘closed loop’ means in practice. Other raw materials used to produce the Infinna fibre include recycled paperboard and paper, or agricultural residue.
Much like Spinnova, Infinited Fiber was the brainchild of VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Similarly, it has significant business opportunities worldwide. Rooted in research that began in the 1990s, this company now attracts global interest.
Infinited Fiber has signed several contracts to collaborate with major fashion industry players such as Zalando and Inditex, a company that owns several fashion brands such as Zara.
Zalando, along with H&M Group, Adidas and Bestseller, is a co-investor in Infinited Fiber. The German online store announced that this investment is linked to Zalando’s sustainability goal of extending the life cycle of more than 50 million fashion items by 2023. This refers to sustainability goals that will translate into tangible results in the near term – within a few years’ time.
In spring 2022, the company announced its latest investment: Inditex will help Infinited Fiber to scale up its recycling technology with an investment of EUR 100 million.
While the involvement of big investors sends a strong message, creating an emotional impact may be even more important. Infinna is described as a new, sustainable material that feels like cotton. According to Petri Alava, Chief Executive Officer and a co-founder of Infinited Fiber, the company aims to create ‘an emotional connection between Infinna and every person in the world’ by 2040. (According to UN forecasts, the global population in 2040 will be 9,195,847,382.)
Ioncell turns pioneering research into sustainable materials
Extremely creative, award-winning young designers from Aalto University have put Finland on the map when it comes to high fashion. At the same time, Finland’s strongest growth companies rely on the power of Finnish engineering skills, as they have done for years.
A joint project between Aalto University and the University of Helsinki combined these two strengths with amazing results. Aalto University students Emma Saarnio and Helmi Liikanen designed a gown for the Finnish President’s spouse Jenni Haukio for the Independence Day reception in 2018. The gown was made from fabric manufactured using Ioncell-F technology.
On the surface, Ioncell’s process is similar to the ones referred to above: new fibre is created from old textiles, cellulose or even newspapers. But what sets Ioncell apart from the others is the ionic liquid – also reusable – used in the process. What’s more, the Ioncell fabric is biodegradable, which makes it even more sustainable.
An investment from a giant: Bio2™Textile
An announcement made by the energy giant Fortum about the launch of its Bio2™Textile fibre raised eyebrows. Why was an energy company investing in textile fibre?
According to Fortum's corporate communications, investing in the circular economy is perfectly in line with the company’s sustainability roadmap. Bio2™Textile fibre is made from straw or, more precisely, cellulose fractionated from straw. Further down the production process, the separated material is spun to make textile fibre.
Bio2™Textile made its global debut in early 2021 in the Reset collection by Rolf Ekroth, one of Finland’s foremost fashion designers. His collection was also included in the official programme of the Pitti Uomo fair as a special digital showcase. Held in Florence, Italy, Pitti Uomo is one of the world’s leading men’s fashion events.
The Growth Deal is a new model for continuous dialogue and cooperation between the public sector and the business community. It addresses the needs created by a rapidly changing operating environment and takes advantage of growth opportunities.
The creative economy roadmap aims to ensure that creative industries can contribute more strongly to Finland’s sustainable economic growth. Creative industries currently account for less than 4% of Finland’s GDP, and the objective is to bring it closer to the EU average of 7%.