Sustainable fibers for apparel and footwear

New fibers from waste and renewable materials drive product innovation

Used fishing nets, discarded clothing and sugar, in the form of beets, are creating sustainable fibers for apparel and footwear.

Materials used to create these new sustainable fibers include:

  • Renewable resources such as beets instead of petroleum based feedstocks
  • Ocean plastic waste from bottles and fishing nets that are polluting beaches and killing wildlife
  • Post consumer cotton waste that is being diverted from landfills.

The results are great products that perform in a way that consumers want and expect. Below are three examples of new sustainable fibers.


Lenzing have developed a new sustainable fiber called Refibra that is made from cotton scraps and wood. Using cotton scraps destined for landfills, they have reassessed waste as an opportunity and made it into a valuable resource. According to Lenzing, over 50 million tons of clothing makes its way into landfills every year.

Refibra is made in the “Tencel” process.  Cotton and wood is converted into a pulp using a solvent called amine oxide and then extruded into a fiber.

In addition to using post consumer cotton waste, Refibra also provides radical transparency in the supply chain. The fiber is identified in the finished textile product, which guarantees better transparency throughout the whole textile supply chain.

Bionic Yarn

Bionic yarn is the brainchild of Tyson Toussant and Tim Coombs, co-founders of start-up company Bionic Yarn. They have developed three different textile yarns that all contain some percentage of recycled ocean plastic. Three unique yarns, with different performance benefits, allows for a broad range of fabrics including denim, functional outdoor performance fabrics and light weight fashion items.

H&M are using Bionic yarn in their Conscious Exclusive Collection.  G-Star has developed an apparel line called “Raw for the Oceans line,” designed by Pharell Williams, which includes jeans, jackets and other fashion items.

One of the yarns is called HLX and it consists of three layers: a core that provides strength and stretch, a middle layer of recycled material and a top coating of any fiber such as wool or cotton that gives the yarn its desired feel.

Another yarn is called FLX, and it is made completely from recycled plastic, whereas the third yarn, DPX is an intimate blend of natural fiber and recycled plastic.


Natural spider silk is light, elastic and incredibly strong, three attributes that brands strive for in performance and functional apparel.

AMSilk from Germany has developed a new sustainable fiber called Biosteel, made from renewable resources such as beets and sugar cane.

The fiber is being used by Adidas in a new bioengineered sneaker that is completely sustainable, and potentially as strong as steel.

Biosteel is made in a fermentation process where sugar is fermented in the presence of bacteria to form a synthetic silk, which is then spun into a yarn. Although not as strong as natural spider silk, the Biosteel is stronger by weight than other synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon.

Imagine a shoe that is biodegradable and made entirely from natural resources. Now imagine if the sugar feedstock was from agricultural waste such as cornhusks.

Impacts to your business

Questions to consider:

  • Do you look for new high performance sustainable materials?
  • How does sustainability link into your product design process?

For help with any issue associated with chemicals, contact Amanda Cattermole at (415) 412 8406 or We can help you develop powerful solutions to protect your company and brand reputation and result in safer products manufactured in cleaner supply chains.

Tips and Insights contains information to help you make informed chemical management decisions. Each post highlights a particular topic and includes questions you may want to consider for your business.

Posted on: Mar 04, 2017 in Innovation

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