T-REX Project consortium: Introducing Aalto University

We continue introducing T-REX Project consortium partners, and this week, we are in conversation with Kirsi Niinimäki, Associate Professor at Aalto University in Finland, about her role in the project and the work done by the university.
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Describe your role at Aalto University.  

I am Associate Professor in Fashion research, and I am leading a research group called Fashion/Textile Futures. Our research focuses on sustainability issues in the textile and fashion sectors. Circular economy and design, as well as multidisciplinary collaboration, form the base for my scientific research. I aim towards a holistic understanding in the sustainable fashion and textiles field, focusing on the connection between garment design, manufacturing, business models and consumer behaviour.  

Can you explain your participation in the T-REX Project?

In the T-REX project, we research Social Life cycle analysis, and we try to construct a framework on how to do that especially in textile circulation. We also research consumer behavior in textile circulation, and specifically we are interested in citizen engagement and how to activate consumers to extend the use time of garments but also how to increase their knowledge on textile waste collection. Moreover, we are involved in building a new understanding of garment design principles which enable textile recycling at the end of the product’s lifetime — these will be shared in the design guidelines at the end of the project.  

What do you think is the biggest challenge the T-REX Project will need to overcome?  

Transition from a linear system to a circular one is quite challenging, and it needs technical innovations but also a totally new mindset from different stakeholders. This change is the biggest challenge in the T-REX Project. Providing solutions for different fibre recycling is one part of the work, but textile waste collection is another part to be solved. Here, activating consumers to bring back their textile waste in right collection points is an important part of the work. And of course, LCA is an important measurement to prove the environmental benefits in textile recycling. 

What is the biggest opportunity to unlock within textile-to-textile recycling?  

The most important task is to scale up textile waste recycling and to close the loop through  fibre-to-fibre recycling. The aim is to reach a high quality fibre and yarn from textile waste which can be used in the textile industry and can substitute some virgin materials currently used in the textile industry. The quality issue is quite critical here. Of course, textile waste can be down-cycled (ending up in fillings or composites) but from a business point of view that is not so profitable. In the year 2025, we will have a lot more textile waste to deal with in Europe, since the new EU waste regulations concern all EU member states (separate textile waste collection). Therefore, we need to make sure we are equipped with solutions to bringing more of the end-of-use textiles back into the loop as feedstock. 

Future outlook: How do you envision the textile value chain in 2050? 

In 2050, we will have a renewed textile value chain which is based on partnering and a closed-loop ecosystem. Textiles are designed to be longer lasting and recyclable, and this also means that we will be producing less, and the size of the system will be smaller than today, but recycling forms a big part of the textile industry. We know exactly the length of the use time of the garments, and they will be returned back to an effective recycling system when their technical life is over. The recycling aspects are included to the garment already in the design phase, so garments are easy to recycle into new yarns again and in this way, there is a better and more sustainable balance in the system.  

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