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The $61 Million Bet on Wood Fibre Clothing

H&M's first sustainability-linked bond was significantly oversubscribed. Shutterstock.
H&M's first sustainability-linked bond was significantly oversubscribed. Shutterstock.

Is the fashion world ready for more clothes made of wood?

Suzano SA, the world’s largest wood pulp maker, is making a big bet that it is, and joining the party is Finnish startup Spinnova. The two players are entering a 50-50 joint venture to build a commercial-scale facility to produce a new green fibre made from wood pulp.

Production from the new facility, which requires an investment of 50 million euros ($61.1 million), won’t hit the market until 2022. But one of the biggest names in retail is already on board.

Swedish clothing giant Hennes & Mauritz AB said it will join the group of Scandinavian fashion brands that are participating in the development of materials in order to be a client of the green fibre.

The move follows a global trend in the fashion world, including companies like Chanel Ltd. and H&M, which are aiming to put an environmentally-friendly gloss on the business to lure clients and gain access to the green bond market.

H&M is “continuously testing and actively looking to further integrate the use of sustainable materials through our group’s brands,” Mattias Bodin, H&M Group’s Circular Innovation Lab Lead, said in a statement.

The entrance of H&M, which operates more than 5,000 stores in over 70 countries, paves the way for Suzano to be a major player in the textile segment. A major global supplier of the material used to make paper cups and tissue, the Brazilian company has a team of almost a hundred scientists researching beyond-paper applications for its wood and is aiming to replace fossil-fuel products, like plastics.

“It is not a niche market for us,” Vinicius Nonino, Suzano’s new business director, said in an interview. “We want to be a relevant player. We will compete with cotton with sustainability advantages and also with price.”

Unlike viscose, another textile fibre also made from wood, the pulp provided by Suzano to be used by Spinnova is processed without chemicals. Instead, it’s refined mechanically. The technology, which has been in development for 15 years, also allows fibre production using agricultural waste, such as wheat straw. Suzano is a shareholder of Spinnova since 2017, and currently holds a 23% stake in the startup.

“We use much less water than cotton in the whole process, from the eucalyptus cultivation through the fibre production,” said Fernando Bertolucci, Suzano’s head of technology and innovation.

By Fabiana Batista

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