Last year, textile innovations company Evrnu made headlines with its recycled waste fiber. It was even named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2022.
The fiber, known as NuCycl Lyocell is made from discarded clothing, and according to Forbes, it outperforms 90% of existing textiles. That’s why Zara, Inditex Group’s global fashion brand tapped Evrnu to supply what it calls its “breakthrough” recycled waste material for a new capsule collection.
According to Seattle-based Evrnu, discarded textiles are an untapped natural resource, as the fashion industry has yet to scalably capitalize on the 92 million tons of waste it creates each year. With their NuCycl technologies, the company hopes to forge a pathway for brands to reduce their use of virgin materials and ultimately their environmental impact caused by raw material production and waste.
NuCycl is a chemical and engineering platform that transforms 100% cotton textile waste into a first-of-its-kind material, NuCycl Lyocell, which the company says is designed to replace and outperform materials including cotton, man-made cellulosic fibers, nylon, and polyester while maintaining recyclability.
The Zara x Evrnu collaboration features two sets of oversized collared shirts and a pair of wide-leg trousers. The shits are long button-downs, one a creamy white and the other, a deep olive. Both shirts and the matching olive high-waisted trousers use the NuCycl pulp as a replacement for eucalyptus or other wood-based pulp found in conventional semi-synthetic lyocell material.
The fully recyclable NuCycl fiber launched last April, but Evrnu’s sustainability mission dates back to when the company started in 2014. Since, they have used a total of $26.8 million in funding to divert tens of millions of textiles from landfills and incineration plants, effectively reducing the methane and carbon emissions that come from landfills and the toxins and pollutants emitted by waste burning.
Their last funding round took place in November 2021, in which the startup raised $15 million, led by FullCycle, Hansae, BESTSELLER, PDS Ventures, and PDS Multinational.
Evrnu’s collaboration with Zara is a part of Inditex's Sustainability Innovation Hub, an open-innovation platform designed to bring start-ups together to promote and scale initiatives developing new materials, technologies, and processes that limit the environmental footprint of the fashion industry, helping advance it toward more sustainable production.
The anti-waste collaboration comes as Zara and other large-scale fashion brands like Shein, Forever21, Fashion Nova, Missguided, and H&M are increasingly under fire due to what’s known as “fast fashion.” Fast fashion refers to generally inexpensive clothing, produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest catwalk trends. The low cost is usually paid by the high price of waste, environmental degradation through water and energy overuse, and exploitative labor practices.
Zara itself produces 450 million garments with 20,000 new styles a year. The company began in Spain in 1975, but when it launched in the American fashion capital, New York City in the ‘90s, its mission was to deliver a new garment from design to production to clothing racks in just 15 days. While this model was popular and remains very in vogue today, brands like Zara earn a generally low score with eco-conscious consumers.
The footprint of Zara, while gigantic, pails in comparison to ventures like the Chinese company Shein which, despite only being around since 2008, has managed to produce 6,000 new styles… a day, stomping a mammoth-size footprint into the environment. This cycle of fast production to keep up with and pioneers ever-changing fads, leading to mountains of excess inventory that these companies struggle to get rid of sustainably.
That is where Evrnu comes in with its mission to turn post and pre-consumer waste into new clothes, forming a circular model for fashion. As Business Insider writer Gad Allon puts it, “While these recycling campaigns are great marketing tools, the reality is that the scale and technology needed for them to work doesn't exist. Recycling clothes is expensive, and the existing technology isn't adequate to handle the volume needed to make a difference for the planet.”
To make this point Allon makes an example out of H&M’s recycling efforts, in which textile waste is created into new products like washrags, which only live a short life before returning to the landfill.
Still, Evrnu may be cut from a new cloth.
While the company only works with cotton at the moment, they hope to expand to other fibers, creating a multi-fiber and multi-waste approach that differs widely from other innovators in the fashion recycling space.
This Forbes article takes a deep dive into how the startup’s technology works, but the main attribute that sets Evrnu apart is the closed-loop approach. Here, the waste can be made into new materials over and over again, because the recycled textiles it makes are also completely recyclable. According to the startup, even the “toughest type of textile waste” can be turned into new materials with NuCycl.
This isn't Zara's only attempt to use technology to overcome its reputation as a fast fashion contributor to the global problem of textile waste and pollution. Through the Sustainability Innovation Hub, the fashion giant also has a collaboration with Renewcell, which like Evrnu, has a wood-pulp-replacing recycling process for their line of sweaters, dresses, and pants in sustainability fashion’s classic neutral tones.
Zara’s Piñatex partnership spawned shoes and handbags created with 72% pineapple leaf waste. Its collaboration with Infinited Fiber birthed a neon wardrobe made with 60% recycled clothing waste and a 3-year contract detailing that Zara purchases 30% of the startup’s annual production.
Lastly, the Sustainability Innovation Hub’s first collaboration with the carbon capture startup Lanzatech incorporates captured CO2 into the ruffles of dresses, skirts, and tops, in an effort to lower the price of carbon capture.
Evrnu’s impact reduction estimates are calculated internally and have not been peer-reviewed, as Forbes reports. But as the market intelligence platform, Net Zero Insights calculates, the B-corp-certified company has a much higher-than-average Net0 score. The company scores a 75%, which according to the platform is in the 92nd percentile. The Net0 score is calculated in terms of the amount of CO2 emissions released and those diverted, thus according to Net Zero Insights, Evrnu is exceeding its mission.
Aside from Zara, the company has partnered with other big brand retailers like Adidas, Target, Levi’s, and long-time environmentally conscious luxury fashion brand, Stella McCartney.
“We are thrilled to partner with influential, large-scale brands like Zara to commercialize and scale NuCycl materials," Stacy Flynn, Evrnu’s co-founding CEO said in a statement. “Evrnu's vision is to help brands create clothing out of recycled materials that can continue to be recycled. We are heartened by the growing demand from both brands and consumers for new kinds of high-performance, circular materials."