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Ethics and environmental concerns reach the fashion market, making retailers change their culture. Recycled bottles become raw material to produce synthetic fabric and shoes

If you pass by the clothing brand store Everlane, in San Francisco, you will certainly be surprised: most of the clothes in the storefront are made of recycled plastic. The collection called ReNew has rescued three million plastic water bottles from the oceans, landfills and beaches to transform these materials in synthetic fabric.

The Everlane’s line of plastic parkas and jackets follows a global trend – companies such as Adidas and H&M have recently incorporated recycled plastic into their wares.  Some go further – Kelly Slater’s Outerknown line repurposes all kinds of shoreline waste as clothing. Others, like Timberland, focus just on water bottles.

“Plastic lives forever,” says Everlane’s Michael Preysman, in an interview to Wired, a magazine specialized in innovation and new technologies. After being collected, chipped, melted, and spun into yarn, water bottles can have a second life as yoga pants, a puffy jacket, or a pair of sneakers.

Preysman’s company has also pledged to completely remove virgin plastic from its supply chain in the next three years, replacing all the plastic packaging, zipper pulls, and synthetic fabric in its clothes. Polyester, Lycra, and nylon – the materials that afford stretch in active wear and durability in outerwear – are derived from plastic.

How it works

At Everlane, everything starts with partnerships with groups in Taiwan and Japan, which are responsible for the collection of wasted water bottles. They are sorted by color (only clear ones can be used), stripped of their caps, sanitized, and then sent to a giant grinder, where they’re pulverized into chips, melted, and spun into a fine yarn, which is stuffed and sewn into clothes.

It’s also a learning experience, both for Everlane and for its consumers. Right now, it costs 10 to 15 percent more to make clothes with recycled water bottles than to use synthetic fabrics. The company is betting on the fact that people will pay more to buy sustainable products, and that as more brands incorporate recycled plastic into their designs, the costs will eventually reduce.

Everlane’s history

If you read the company’s presentation, you may think that it’s a project for the future. “At Everlane, we want the right choice to be as easy as putting on a great T-shirt. That’s why we partner with the best, ethical factories around the world.” The  Preysman’s online clothes store offers ethics, fair price and sustainability. “We source only the finest materials. And share those stories with you – down to the true cost of every product we make. It’s a new way of doing things. We call it Radical Transparency.”

Preysman has a dual degree in engineering in economics at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In 2010, at the age of 25, he created an innovative proposal to the fashion market: to link quality and ethics from the beginning to the end of the production chain. He created a brand that makes designed clothes to last long, in accordance with environment protection policies and workforce rights. All of these enhances trust among employees and consumers. “We believe our customers have the right to know how much their clothes cost to make”.

To date, Preysman has raised $18 million in funding from investors. The company offers a full range of womenswear and menswear, along with leather goods and shoes. In 2015, Preysman was included in Forbes’ annual “30 Under 30” list for his work with Everlane and for “reinventing retail and e-commerce.”

Now at the age of 33, he keeps innovating. Last year, his company focused on making jeans that lessened water pollution from the dye and chemicals. When it started selling silk shirts, Everlane branded its material as “clean silk,” made without toxic dyes.

The entrepreneur hopes that, soon, silk will be made with 100% recycled water “Companies are responsible, in our opinion, for doing the right thing,” says Preysman. “If they’re not making changes to their supply chain, then they’re actively choosing to put profit over the planet.”

Content published in February 5, 2019

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