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Uniqlo links with Toray for major sustainability initiatives

Published
today Sep 17, 2019
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Japan’s Uniqlo and fibres and textiles giant Toray affirmed their commitment to sustainability this week at an event in London where they unveiled two major recycling initiatives.


Pieces from Uniqlo's Ultra Light Down collection will now be able to provide the filling for new items



With both companies’ top executive teams on hand, including Fast Retailing chief Tadashi Yanai, they announced the joint development of down clothing using recycled down and Uniqlo’s Dry-Ex apparel using fabric from polyester fibres made with recycled PET bottles. 

The two initiatives, which launch later this month in Japan only for now, “will contribute to sustainability by giving consumers access to merchandise that optimises the use of valuable resources,” they said.

The announcement event was held in London to coincide with the firm’s LifeWear Day consumer exhibition, which is at Somerset House in the city this year.

Tadashi Yanai said the company “is committed to improving the sustainability of society. Through such an important partnership [with Toray], we can continue to offer high-performance, high-quality, and sustainable clothing to all customers around the world.” 

That said, as mentioned, the project is beginning in Japan only and as Toray Industries’ president and CEO Akihiro Nikkaku later explained to Fashionnetwork.com, it's not simple a case of ‘today Japan, tomorrow the world’ as there are challenges in some countries. 

Processes outside of the companies’ control that support the projects need to be efficient and economical. The exec said that Japanese consumers are used to recycling carefully with all plastics cleaned and labels removed, something that doesn’t happen everywhere.

But regardless of any hopefully-short-term issues, the initiatives are clearly a major step for one of the world’s most innovative fibre specialists and for one of its biggest clothing retailers.

Nikkaku added that “we challenge ourselves to find solutions to global social issues with our belief that ‘materials can change our lives’. By promoting businesses that contribute to sustainability together with our partner Uniqlo, we aim to create new value and realise a prosperous society through LifeWear.” 

THE PROCESS


So how will it all work? For the recycled down pieces, Uniqlo stores will collect used Ultra Light Down items from customers and a new Toray-developed system will extract the material from them to be cleansed for use in new down merchandise. Collections of used items will start later in September in Japan, and some down products from the AW20 season will use the recycled material.

One question that could be asked is why it’s taken so long to get to this point. But conventionally, the stuffing in duvets and other objects incorporating down is manually removed. “Such processes are arduous with Ultra Light Down items because of their thin shells and complex construction,” the company said. 

By developing special extraction machinery, Toray has fully automated cutting, stirring and separating, and recovery, vastly speeding up the process. 

Meanwhile, the new Dry-EX items incorporating polyester from recycled PET bottles are important, particularly because Dry-Ex is a flagship Toray/Uniqlo offer, being able to “quickly wick away sweat and moisture.

From SS20, Uniqlo will begin to introduce Dry-Ex items that incorporate high-value-added polyester fibres derived from those reclaimed PET bottles. 

“This is a milestone because, while fibres made from reclaimed plastic bottles have been commercially available for some time, it has been hard to produce fibres featuring special cross-sections and fine fibres, owing to contaminants in PET bottles,” we were told.

Another challenge to address has been that plastic bottles yellow as they age, but Toray’s contaminant filtering technology overcomes these issues, “making it possible to manufacture fibres whose features are commensurate with those of fibres from plastic made directly from petrochemical feedstock, including those with special cross-sections.” At a simple level that means the garments will be the pristine white that consumers want their T-shirts to be.

And another important part of the step forward in technology is that the company’s Recycling Identification System enhances reliability by ensuring that fibres derived from plastic bottles are traceable.

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