The development of our DYECOShell(™) fabric began with two questions:
1) What fabric should coat our VERY new Transit Line?
2) How will we approach the aspect of sustainability in the future?
Quickly we realized that to meet our standards we couldn't just take an of-the-shelf fabric. Instead we wanted to invest more time, energy, and money into -fundamentally- developing new fabric.
Our goal was not “just” to find a solution for the product line but also to have an approach that would determine our view on fabrics in general. When defining the requirements for this particular fabric, both durability and sustainability emerged as the key factors to consider.
A critical realization was that a product's sustainability increases with its durability.
For us, durability means that all materials used are of the same [high] quality. Particularly on wearing parts like zippers, hardware and fabrics that need to withstand heavy use over many years without losing their aesthetic value or their functionality.In terms of fabric, abrasion resistance was the most crucial aspect for us.
Concerning sustainability, the mission was not that clear unfortunately.We contacted our fabric suppliers (and even found new ones) to discuss the topic of sustainable fabrics that would fulfill our requirements.
We met with people who specialized in different recycling methods and -at the same time- researched abrasion-resistant fabrics, hoping to find one that combines both aspects.While we came across interesting approaches, the lack of transparency in most of the recycling processes did not fully convince us.
For example, when recycling PET bottles, a lot of energy goes to waste and the polyester fabrics resulting from this aren‘t even close to the durability of a normal Nylon fabric, especially when it comes to backpacks.
The recycling of fishing nets, carpets, and other waste is similarly laborious and often you will find other plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene in the mix. Different fiber lengths and molecular structure differences make recycling from different sources even more difficult. In addition, fishing nets, for example, are very costly to recover and recycle as reaching high purity results consumes a lot of energy.
Some manufacturers also admitted that the recycled material is often not as resilient as its counterpart made of new granulate. Even when the processes are constantly improving, the results are hardly equivalent.
Simultaneously, we were looking for extremely durable and abrasion-resistant fibers and for this purpose we tested different fabrics that are considered to be very durable and resilient.
All these findings finally defined the benchmark for our base material, which -unfortunately- did not exist in the market at this point.
We wanted to be more abrasion resistant than anything we’ve used before, including fabrics used by military personnel all over the world. Not an easy task.In several experiments we combined Nylon 6.6 with UHMWPE (Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight Polyethylene), also known under the brand name DYNEEMA(™). Dyneema has unbelievable tensile strength and is often used for many tear-resistant fabrics.
Woven with nylon, however, we did not get beyond a certain point and the high use of the material was not proportionate to the improvement in abrasion-resistance capabilities.To this point, we have noticed that combining different materials is a difficult task (from a given thread strength onwards) even when performing over 100 different abrasion tests with fabric blends made just for us.
However, the most promising of them was a specially-treated and twisted nylon thread, tightly woven and with a special coating that is both waterproof and gives the fabric room to move. The result was a high-strength fabric that (finally) met our requirements for abrasion resistance.
Unfortunately, this fabric was also very heavy: over 500gr/m² and didn’t offer more sustainable features than others in the market..At this point, our sustainability objective has moved away from recycling and towards resource-conserving production.
Since the nylon recycling process proved to be very energy- and resource-intensive, we considered the possibility of reducing the initial footprint of a new fabric. Once again we made a round with different manufacturers and one process attracted our attention: DOPE DYEING.
WHAT IS DOPE DYEING
Dope Dyeing is a process in which the dyeing of the fabric in chemicals and water is simply omitted. After weaving, regular fabrics are exposed to different liquid substances, depending on their color and the dyeing process alone consumes about 89% of all water, which is used for the entire fabric production. The same applies to energy (60%), CO² (65%) and chemicals (63%).
This makes regular dyeing by far the most resource-intensive part in the entire fabric production process. As with conventionally produced fabrics, the raw material is processed in granulate form and extruded under the influence of heat. The result is a single wafer-thin continuous filament.
This is the basis for each yarn and different numbers of filaments spun together result in yarns of different thicknesses.
Normally these filaments are transparent to white and result in a kind-of “Off White” also called "Greige".In DOPE DYEING, the colorless granules are mixed with a colored granule before extrusion so the filament is extruded directly in the color previously defined.
During weaving, the already colored yarns are then woven into a fabric - without any dyeing at all.In our case we have decided to use two slightly different colored yarns, Black and Castlerock Grey.
Thus the product not only visualizes the principle of DOPE DYEING, but also brings a depth into the color that cannot be achieved with regularly dyed fabrics.DOPE DYEING has another big advantage.
A popular example is the comparison with a carrot and a radish. Radish only has a colored outer layer, whereas the carrot is completely orange to its core. This is also the case with DOPE DYEING where the filament is dyed through like a carrot.
This also makes it extremely resistant to fading and discoloration by abrasion and UV light. The same process is also applied to carpets that would otherwise fade very quickly due to the high abrasion they are exposed to.
CHALLENGES OF DOPE DYEING
With all the advantages, there are -however- a few difficulties. The choice of colors must be planned carefully and long in advance - as a yarn cannot be changed later on. Only the mixing of different colored yarns in the fabric offers a certain flexibility.
Additionally, the minimum order quantity for dope dyed yarns is a lot higher than for regular fabrics and as a -relatively- small brand, this is always a potential problem.In a final step, we've combined our knowledge about abrasion resistance and sustainability and created (together with our partner) a fabric made of:
nylon 840D x nylon 840D as well as a fabric made of nylon 840D x polypropylene 660D
- all yarns were dope dyed. The pure nylon fabric was extremely dense and more abrasion resistant than anything we tested, but also very heavy and expensive. In this regard, not only is nylon simply more expensive than polypropylene but the minimum order of nylon is also 4 times as high.The second fabric with polypropylene was 20% lighter and still more abrasion resistant than all the fabrics we had used before, with an average abrasion test result of more than 6000 revolutions in our standard test (Taber Test ASTM 3884 500g/H18) still doing very well. Even though weight and price are not our top priorities, we noticed that we had to achieve a certain balance and that the less important properties also came into the mix at the end.The result of the process is the first fabric of what we hope will inspire a large family of products - we named it:
DYECOSHELL(™)This first fabric will continue to evolve and gradually expand in the portfolio. With new materials, different coatings and modern techniques we will make our products more durable and sustainable without giving up our aesthetic signature.
In addition to DYECOShell(™) fabrics, we are gradually replacing our simpler fabrics with Dope Dyed fabrics. For example, the lining of the entire Transit Line is made (now) of dope dyed polyester.
We are aware that we have not uncovered all the possibilities out there and that there is still a lot to do, especially when it comes to sustainability but we will constantly review new recycling methods and resource-saving production processes and look for improvements.
Already in the next product cycle we will have some news on this topic and even though this article is quite technical, we hope to have given you an insight into our thoughts and ideas.