More and more customers are also paying attention to sustainability when it comes to fashion and clothing. But garments are more than fabric - after all, there are also yarns, fibers and applications such as zippers. All the better if they are also made from the same biobased solutions: from biobased VESTAMID® Terra.
“The zipper is a rather complicated product,” says Gabriele Mosso, suspecting that his comments will probably surprise some people. This everyday object, that’s so familiar to us all, which we have relied upon for so long to close jackets, bags or bed linen - undoubtedly an ingenious concept, but: complicated, really? “It’s a fascinating object,” affirms Mosso. As head of the Italian zipper manufacturer Nyguard for 15 years, he calls himself a “zipper
maniac” with a wink and knows what he’s talking about. For a zipper to function smoothly a lot of detailed work is required, the right material, the exact shape. The teeth must mesh smoothly, must not get stuck, must not falter. And the fastener must literally integrate seamlessly into the tape. The idea for the zipper was born 125 years ago, at that time using sliding metal clasps. But the first versions all failed because they were cumbersome or quickly snagged. “In recent decades not much has changed about the basic idea for zips,” says Mosso. But the details have. Today, the clasp is mostly made of plastic and the strap is also synthetic.
This is where material development meets sustainability. More and more consumers feel a lot more comfortable when they feel that their consumption is not contributing to growing mountains of waste. So what could sustainable fashion look like? Recycling garments would be one variant: “Recycling materials is generally difficult when different materials are firmly bonded together,” says Mosso. That’s as true for composite packaging as it is in this case for pants with zippers. Different types of synthetic textiles and accessories are difficult to properly separate.
The same applies for certificates of origin for these various individual parts. The apparel industry is well-known for sourcing numerous components from completely different countries and production locations - from yarn, to buttons and zippers. “The latest challenge in textile is to achieve a complete traceability and circularity in value-chain. A process in which all the synthetic textiles and accessories could be recycled together” says Alan Garosi, Head of Marketing at Fulgar, the likewise Italian manufacturer from which Nyguard obtains the yarn for its zipper tapes. Aware about that, Mosso adds: “Why not make the zipper out of the same material as the tape it’s attached to? From plastic, sure, but why not from a more sustainable, biobased plastic. And even better: from a material that would also be suitable for use to make the complete garment?” This would at least bring us a decisive step closer to the possibility of recycling clothing. Even if there is still a long way to go before this vision is realized, because some details of clothing recycling still have to be invented - the pre-requisites on the part of the manufacturers would be created.
After some market research, Gabriele Mosso found what he was looking for at Evonik. The specialty chemical company’s
VESTAMID® Terra is a polyamide made entirely from biobased material, castor oil to be precise. This is a raw material that is inedible for many animals so is not used as a food source, or as animal feed. Additionally, since the plant known as the ‘miracle tree’, tolerates dry soils and drought, cultivation of the renewable raw material does not compete with land used to grow food. This makes it an ideal plant for use in biobased solutions. At Nyguard, the decision was made about four years ago to move consistently in this direction. “We can’t compete with really big companies anyway - so we purposefully created a niche for ourselves,” says Mosso. Nyguard still occasionally produces zippers from plastic that is not biobased: “But the proportion of renewable raw materials is moving strongly toward 100 percent.”
It is precisely for orders like these, for outdoor and luxury clothing, that Fulgar also sees the close cooperation with Nyguard’s zipper manufacturers as a real benefit: “After all, we also have to think about the end of life of our products,” says Garosi. “If it becomes easier to recycle a garment, then that’s a meaningful thing for all sides.” That, in turn, pays into the larger issue of sustainability.
“A few years ago, companies were interested in sustainable zippers but not yet willing to pay for them,” says Nyguard CEO Mosso, an experience that matches that of Fulgar. But now, that has changed, and in 2020 in particular, demand has increased significantly. For Mosso, this is proof that his decision to fully focus on biobased plastics was the right one.
In the meantime, he is increasingly approaching customers with custom-made model designs of combinations of zipper and yarn, both of which are made using VESTAMID® Terra. “We’re sort of doubling our sales strength there,” he says. “It’s true co-marketing. And it’s highly successful because it hits just the right nerve.” Especially since, to his knowledge, he remains the only supplier currently offering zippers made from biobased materials. “That’s because we were early adopters of it, and our production process is already very well set up for it.” He winks. The zipper - that is, after all, a thoroughly complicated product in some details.
Evonik is one of the world leaders in specialty chemicals. The company is active in more than 100 countries around the world and generated sales of €12.2 billion and an operating profit (adjusted EBITDA) of €1.91 billion in 2020. Evonik goes far beyond chemistry to create innovative, profitable and sustainable solutions for customers. About 33,000 employees work together for a common purpose: We want to improve life today and tomorrow.
About Smart Materials
The Smart Materials division includes businesses with innovative materials that enable resource-saving solutions and replace conventional materials. They are the smart answer to the major challenges of our time: environment, energy efficiency, urbanization, mobility and health. The Smart Materials division generated sales of around €3.4 billion in 2020 with about 7,900 employees.
In so far as forecasts or expectations are expressed in this press release or where our statements concern the future, these forecasts, expectations or statements may involve known or unknown risks and uncertainties. Actual results or developments may vary, depending on changes in the operating environment. Neither Evonik Industries AG nor its group companies assume an obligation to update the forecasts, expectations or statements contained in this release.