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Ralph Lauren Corporation Invests in Natural Fiber Upcycling

Ralph Lauren Corporation Invests in Natural Fiber Upcycling
(Photo Credit: Natural Fiber Welding)

Ralph Lauren Corporation has invested in a sustainable material science startup that developed a process for upcycling natural fibers such as cotton waste into performance materials. The fashion giant seeks to scale up this process, and create sustainable apparel from it.

The startup, Natural Fiber Welding, was founded in Peoria, Illinois, in 2015. Patented technology developed by their founder and CEO Luke Haverhals uses green chemistry principles and closed-loop processes to revitalize recycled fibers and engineer performance cotton textiles, according to the company. They achieve this through “precise manipulation of molecular bonding.”

Clarus, the resulting material, can be made from any natural fiber, whether it’s recycled, virgin, or virgin organic, WWD reported. The material went from the lab to pilot scale in 2017, Natural Fiber Welding says.

David Lauren, vice chairman and chief innovation officer at Ralph Lauren, calls investing with partners to scale innovative solutions a key part of their sustainability strategy.

The short fibers created from the cotton recycling process mean that it’s often unsuitable for use in new cotton apparel, according to Ralph Lauren Corporation and Natural Fiber Welding. By investing in technology that addresses this issue, the fashion company anticipates being able to expand its use of recycled post-consumer cotton.

By 2025, the company committed to sourcing 100% sustainable cotton for its Ralph Lauren brand. “Over time, the partnership will enable Ralph Lauren to replace and reduce its reliance on non-biodegradable synthetics, such as polyester and nylon, while scaling the use of more sustainable and upcycled materials,” the fashion company said.

The 2020 Sustainable Cotton Ranking, which assesses consumer-facing companies with significant cotton use, put Ralph Lauren Corporation in its “starting the journey” category earlier this year. In February, they scored 6.3 out of 100 points, moving up from 2.5 in 2017. Despite being a member of the Better Cotton Initiative, the company had not published information about the volumes of sustainable cotton sourced, the cotton’s origins, how much is used in products, or suppliers, at the time of the ranking.

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