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Why Pangaia’s recycled denim jacket has ‘no tradeoffs’


Pangaia Re-new jacket front on model

Why Pangaia’s recycled denim jacket has ‘no tradeoffs’

Stacy Flynn wouldn’t have chosen denim as her first choice.

That was still the early days of the partnership between Evrnu, the textile recycling company she co-founded, and Pangaia, a brand slash innovation platform that uses a philosophy of “high-tech naturalism” to tackle fashion’s most pressing issues, including also resource depletion, pollution and waste.

But denim isn’t the easiest of fabrics, Flynn admitted. “I thought are you sure you want to wear jeans?” she said laughing.

Yes, Pangaia was sure, said Amanda Parkes, the company’s chief innovation officer. Though it dabbles in its own Himalayan nettle and hemp pieces, the London-based startup was impressed by the prototype pair of jeans that Evrnu created with Levi Strauss in 2016 using post-consumer regenerated cotton waste — an industry first. “We picked the fabric that we liked the most, and their denim is incredibly soft,” she said. And so it was denim.

On Thursday, the companies unveiled the reward of their brokerage for the first time: an oversized jacket called Renu, the first denim product made entirely from NuCycl, Evrnu’s now trademarked lyocell fibre. The Seattle-based company uses a blend of pre- and post-consumer textile waste that’s chemically broken down at the polymer level before being re-extruded into filaments that outperform polyester and nylon for toughness and strength, Flynn said. The resulting yarn can be recycled up to five times in the same cycle into fibers of similar or better quality. When the material is completely depleted, it biodegrades and returns to the soil as an engineered nutrient.

“Recycling is great, but it can also get into the biocycle,” Parkes said. “So we have both options. Normally [a product] must go to either the technical side or the natural side.”

Flynn intervened. “No compromises,” she said of the $400 number, which is designed to be disassembled, making recapturing its end-of-life components a breeze. “That’s the important thing here. We are really seeing a big technological shift from single-life to multi-life use for textiles.”

Debuting as part of Pangaia Lab, the brand’s experimental arm, Renu is just the beginning of the company’s ambitions. However, the challenge is scaling NuCycl. The fiber is currently manufactured in the 1 to 5 ton range at Evrnu’s laboratories in New Jersey and Washington, from where it is shipped to Turkey to be spun into yarn and then to Portugal to be woven and sewn into fabric to become clothes. Evrnu intends to kick-start things with a commercial facility in North Carolina that is scheduled to open in mid-2024. Then it will really start. At full throttle, Flynn expects to make an estimated 17,000 tons of the stuff a year. Armed with investor capital — a round in 2021 raised $15 million in Series B funding — Evrnu is also eyeing potential sites on the east and west coasts, as well as in Europe.

“This first plant is really crucial as an industrial proof of concept,” she said.

While the jacket is a limited edition, it’s just the start of a collaboration between Evrnu and Pangaia, the companies said.


NuCycl turned out to be what Pangaia was looking for. With its work on agricultural waste and alternative crops like seaweed and eucalyptus, the Flwrdwn manufacturer has made strides in replacing cotton as an input. But the brand still goes for white fluff in its organic, recycled and soon-to-be-regenerative organic forms, and with good reason. “It’s such an incredible fiber,” said Parkes. “So this is a real breakthrough – a big player offering us sustainable cotton that goes even beyond regenerative; no virgin inputs and the like.”

However, nailing down a lyocell-based jean had its hurdles. Christopher Stanev, Evrnu’s other co-founder, essentially had to “redesign” the fiber to make it look and feel like traditional denim, Flynn said.

“Lyocell has a good reputation; When you talk about lyocell in the industry, you automatically think it’s light and shiny and the word feminine comes up a lot,” she said. “Because we’re using cotton instead of trees, we’ve already started with something that feels more like cotton.”

Still, denim has certain expectations, many of which are culturally ingrained. Stanev experimented with how the filaments were extruded and crimped. The beauty of denim, Flynn said, is how the color flakes. But NuCycl “loves color; it soaks it up,” so adjustments had to be made during the coloring process as well. All of this took several years to perfect.

The jacket itself is also quite unique, Parkes said. It’s classic, a little elevated, and meant to be something that people hold on to longer than a t-shirt. Because Renu is a limited edition, the brand wanted to make something “as special as the fabric it’s made of.”

Also special: the new Pangaia Lab branding will show it. Renu boasts a “subtle but iconic” purple label that all items in the range will carry going forward, Parkes said, giving them a more “luxurious” look. Previous Lab products that followed a similar low-volume approach included circular T-shirts, clothing tinted with bacterial dyes, and eyeglass lenses made in part from carbon dioxide.

These products, she said, are “a bit more expensive and experimental,” but nothing prevents them from becoming scalable. “It’s how we dip our toe before a bigger launch,” Parkes added. Starting small also allows the newly formed B Corp and its partners to work out potential kinks in a new process.
Flynn admits that NuCycl’s price is “a little crazy” right now because it’s still lab scale. This will change as production shifts into higher gear. Of course, once Evrnu starts processing waste on both coasts in a “significant way”, the price will fall. But brands should also look at costs more holistically, she said. Instead of writing off unsold goods and marking them for destruction, companies can turn them into something else that sells.

“You have to look at the whole equation, so where is the product going? How do you get it back? what do you have left How do you get that out of the distribution centers back into the supply chain? And then how does that fit into the global supply chain to fulfill the next generation of product,” Flynn said. “It’s a huge problem, but it’s one we need to focus on. We will actually build a supply chain.”



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