WILMINGTON, United States — Adopting more sustainable practices is increasingly backed by consumer sentiment. Fifteen percent of US and European consumers expect to buy more ecologically and socially sustainable clothing, according to BoF and McKinsey’s State of Fashion Covid-19 Update.
Sorona is an eco-efficient performance fibre and brand of DuPont, a more than 200-year old global leader in technology-based materials. The Sorona fibre turns a formerly chemical process into a biological one, using 30 percent less energy and releasing 63 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than Nylon 6. Sorona is also a member of the Textile Exchange, The Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Ellen McArthur Foundation.
Sorona features performance attributes of softness, stretch, shape recovery, flexibility, easy-care and stain-resistant properties. The fibre has been used by brands including The North Face, Club Monaco, Helly Hansen and Stella McCartney, the last of whom launched the first commercially available bio-based faux fur using Sorona fibre in 2019.
Now, BoF sits down with Renee Henze, global marketing director of DuPont Biomaterials, to hear more about Sorona and its qualities contributing towards building a more circular economy within the fashion industry.
What distinguishes the Sorona fibre in the market?
Sorona’s headline features are performance and sustainability. As part of a biomaterials business, anything we work on must be renewably resourced, have performance aspects that are better than what we’re replacing and be accessible — which means to be able to produce it affordably at scale. You need to have mass adoption for a sustainability movement to take hold.
The fibre is also exceptionally soft — softer than polyester — and it has the capability to stretch and recover through a mechanical property of the polymer and fibres, unlike denim jeans, for example, which require a wash cycle to recover from stretch. Sorona also does not wrinkle, so when you’re using it in garments like trench coats or jackets, you can flatten it with your hands to release creases.
How does the fibre contribute to a circular economy?
Sorona is partially plant-based and recyclable, so we’re bracketing both ends of its life with sustainable features. We also aim to address that middle segment of the fabric’s life. For example, you may not have to wash your denim as often to recover the stretch if Sorona is present, thereby saving unnecessary water usage.
The fibre is also often used to replace spandex, which can’t be recycled. This is important during the wearable lifecycle of the garment, since spandex is affected by heat in the wash cycle. Sorona doesn’t wear out as quickly and isn’t affected by heat, so the stretch properties last a lot longer, extending the life of the garment.
What is one of the biggest challenges facing sustainable fibre development today?
There is a big push towards making sure we’re using materials that are recycled or recyclable. Right now, Sorona is recyclable but not made from recycled materials. The challenge there — and again, the challenge with the whole industry around recycling — is that there is not enough quality material available to do it.
The non-plant-based part of Sorona is traditional PTA – purified terephthalic acid – which is used in polyester. Chemical recycling would be fantastic because then you can take materials, whether it’s bottles, our material, a polyester fleece, and pull it all the way back to a monomer. The technology is not quite there yet but we’re working on a solution. We’re collaborating with chemical recyclers so that as soon as they get to scale, we can use that in our process.
Anything we work on must be renewably resourced, and have performance aspects that are better than what we’re replacing.
We also get asked a lot about making a fibre that is both bio-based and truly biodegradable. That’s something that we’re trying to figure out — can we do that while keeping the material’s performance and durability qualities? It’s important to have the highest performance quality with our sustainable alternatives so they’re adopted widely. We’re working on how to get Sorona into a 100 percent bio-based product, in addition to the recycled PTA.
Why is certification important?
We recently launched a certification programme called the Common Thread, within which there are five different categories. We want to have both the certification and testing, so brands and designers can trust promoting the quality and performance of the fabric if they choose to use our brand. It’s another level of assurance that when you’re putting the Sorona hang tag on a garment and using the name, it has gone through a quality, content and performance check.
Depending on the fabric and application, the fabrics will be sent to independent labs to test for Sorona content as well as a number of different performance factors, which allows us to give the fabrics, mills and brands a certification number. Sorona is there to support a brand, its initiatives and mission, whether it’s a performance story, sustainability story, or the combination of the two. The hang tag can help tell that story to the end consumer.
For example, before we launched the Common Thread programme, we took similar steps with Stella McCartney and our Sorona faux fur. We worked with a mill called Ecopel to put the collection together, and it went through performance testing. The team at Stella McCartney also tested it to ensure it had the right environmental profile for them as well as the right look and feel.
How do you work with different stakeholders in the supply chain?
We sell polymer to someone who spins it into a fibre. While we don’t spin the fibre ourselves, we work closely with the fibre centres that do. We also have people who are working with the mills from a development and application standpoint, as well as from an education and marketing standpoint. We ask the mills what they want to learn and need to know.
We’re also helping those mills make connections with the downstream brands and vice versa. We have a group of people in every region of the world — in North America, Europe and Japan, Korea and China, — who work directly with the brands, the designers, the innovation teams, to help them figure out how they can incorporate Sorona into whatever collection they’re working on. That brand team then works closely with the mill team to put those two pieces of the supply chain together.
We believe the solution comes through collaboration with other industry material players.
There are so many different constructions of Sorona that it’s really important for us to have that relationship with the mills, with the brands, to make the connections with all the different people on the supply chain, and it moves pretty fast.
All of these relationships help keep creators moving forward with their designs as they’re imagining what collections will look like a year from now.
How did Sorona work with its partners during lockdown?
A lot of mills and other businesses all along the supply chain are running on a shoestring budget. We have been adjusting to meet demand and are sensitive to the fact that small businesses need support. The relationships I just discussed building, we’re working hard right now to ensure their long-term sustainability.
I do think there is a silver lining to this. The brands have had even more of a chance to slow down and to reflect on their material use. As others are planning for their next collections, they are coming to us for that solution. We are trying to be good stewards and partners, helping people finesse those collections, make the right connections with mills. It’s about supporting one another and lifting one another up.
How is Sorona working with the wider fashion industry to further their sustainability mission?
We sit on the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Textile Exchange, to ensure that we’re a part of those conversations about how we can advance the industry. Then, where we can, we partner with a mill or brand to talk about those different issues to try to flush them out. It’s about advancing this industry, particularly around social and sustainability factors.
We’ve also partnered and launched a collection with Lenzing Tencel last year and we are doing the same with Unifi Repreve, taking recycled PET [polyester] fibres and combining them with Sorona to make a beautiful installation product. We believe the solution comes through collaboration with other industry material players — so we can put products together and advance sustainable initiatives together.
This is a sponsored feature paid for by DuPont Sorona as part of a BoF partnership.