Orange, seaweed and nettles do a T-shirt make
A quick Q&A with executives at the Spanish company Pyratex, on their efforts to make fabrics from fruit and other plant-based raw materials.
As demand for sustainability grows in the fashion industry — currently one of the world’s most polluting — new questions are emerging. What constitutes ethical sourcing, as the focus shifts to new raw materials? How is one to scale sustainably, while keeping costs low enough to permeate the mainstream?
In Spain, Pyratex, founded in 2014, is on a mission to develop solutions that cross textiles and technologies to replace synthetic fibres with more sustainable alternatives. Regina Polanco, founder & CEO of Pyratex, and Mery Díez Herbosa, head of R&D and production, discuss these efforts.
Where are your raw materials sourced from?
In our range, one can find Pyratex life that is made from organic cotton; Pyratex upcycled, made from upcycled cotton coming from post-industrial textile waste; Pyratex seacell, a fabric made with seaweed harvested in the fjords of Iceland; fabrics originating from agricultural waste such as Pyratex element 2 and Pyratex citrea.
We also work with nettle from the Himalayan highlands, in Pyratex element 1. Pyratex tropic is made from the kapok flower, which contains a fibre that is similar to wool.
The Pyratex element range originates from banana agri-waste coming from different locations in India. A banana tree is cut down after each harvest, the leaves and trunk are then left to burn, a process that releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By using this waste, Pyratex prevents these emissions. The fibres from the agri-waste are spun into yarns through a mechanical process and then knitted in Portugal.
What were the challenges of creating Pyratex fabrics and integrating them into the fashion industry?
There certainly are challenges. Natural fibres are alive and irregular, making it more difficult to control the final result. Another challenge is to ensure that all processes within our supply chain are responsible, from the plant and its farming practices to the final product.
The average textile supply chain is a complex one. Pyratex executes an in-depth due diligence to keep the entire supply chain as transparent and traceable as possible.
How is Pyratex collaborating with the industry?
We create our fabrics from the fibre level, and the R&D can happen on the fibre, yarn or fabric-and-finishing stage. For example, we developed a fibre for the textile Industry from plants used in traditional medicine. Other times, we collaborate with existing fibres to develop yarns and scalable fabrics, as in the case of Pyratex seacell, a fabric made from seaweed-based fibre, with our long-term partner Smartcel.
Some of the brands we are working with are Scotch & Soda, who created a collection using Pyratex element 1, together with Trees for All, a global foundation that has been carrying out reforestation projects in Central and South America, Africa and Asia, as well as the Netherlands, for more than 20 years.
Mara Hoffman created a swimwear collection made with Pyratex power fabrics. Mango launched a collection consisting of a T-shirt and shorts made with Pyratex seacell. Camper has used our Pyratex seacell for three launches of socks. To name a few.
What is the environmental advantage of using such materials?
These fibres can be likened to the textile version of superfoods. The finished fabric retains all the positive qualities of its source, which can range from agricultural waste to seaweed from the North Atlantic. These include superior breathability, UV protection, cooling effects, anti-irritation.
We maintain a continuous commitment to advancing towards regenerative materials. We work with a number of certifications in the factories, processes and fibres, including OEKO-TEX, Bluesign and PEFC.
What are the challenges of scaling up such materials?
When innovating at the raw material or fibre stage, we face the task of establishing supply chains. This involves onboarding production partners who can handle the processing of these fibres correctly.
Furthermore, there are costing challenges. Innovations typically incur higher costs, considering all the stages from research and development to market launch. Additionally, it’s essential to factor in the competitive landscape, as staying ahead of competitors in terms of innovation can also entail increased expenses. Balancing these challenges is crucial for the successful scaling of the materials we develop.