The light blue color of a new hoodie doesn’t come from a conventional dye: instead, sustainability-focused clothing brand Pangaia worked with a partner to create a dye from blue fabric scraps recovered in its factory. A rainbow of other colors in the new product line, from light pink and apricot to yellow and green, also came from processed textile waste.
The brand’s partner, Italian textile chemistry company Officina+39, transforms scraps and old clothes that would otherwise be thrown away into colored powder. Through a patented process, the recycled powder becomes a dye that can be sprayed, coated, printed or dipped onto new fabric.
“You literally chop the garment, turn it into a powder, then mix the other secret sauce to turn it back into a dye,” says Amanda Parkes, chief innovation officer at Pangaia. (Officina+39 does not publicly share details of how the proprietary process works.) Colors from old garments can also be mixed together to create new shades.
Three-year-old Pangaia – which Parkes considers a materials science company, not a typical fashion brand – has already dyed clothes with pigments made with microbes, made sunglasses from captured CO2 and created streetwear made from food waste, among other innovations aimed at reducing its environmental impact.
One of the biggest challenges in the fashion industry is the huge amount of waste it generates. As Pangaia strives to improve the footprint of its own products, it is also experimenting with new ways to manage textile waste, both in factories and with its consumers.
“We are committed to making our entire process circular,” Parkes says. Some waste clothing can be recycled into new fabric. Officina+39’s technology, however, has the advantage of also working with old fabrics that cannot be easily recycled because the fibers are not strong enough to be reused.
It also has some advantages over the typical dye. It is non-toxic and uses less water in the dyeing process. After use, it can be filtered out of water more easily than the process with standard (and toxic) dyes, which can eventually leak out from wastewater treatment and pollute rivers and lakes.
At its current stage, the technology has certain limitations – it is more difficult to create deep shades, for example. But Parkes says the process is still in development. With the new line, called Re-Color Capsule, the Pangaia team wants to demonstrate that it is possible to create consistent colors using various waste materials collected at the factory.
Parkes concludes, “We want to be a role model for brands to show how when everyone is responsible up and down the supply chain, this technology can best be used.”