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Insights / Material Innovations
”We plan to use a fermentation process with specific bacteria to create bio-ethanol”
On how to make garments of sugar
FLORIAN PALLUEL
29 Jun 2022

Tell us about yourself.

— I am Florian Palluel, sustainability manager at French outdoor clothing brand Picture. My work is to improve our historical environmental and social commitment. I am largely inspired by climate scientists and energy engineers. Through the IPCC conclusions and other reports from experts, I try to drive the climate/carbon strategy of Picture as relevantly as possible, so we can ’do our fair share’. The B Corp impact assessment is also a strong tool to improve our overall commitment. Finally, an important part of my work consists also in using our voice as a company to make environmental topics easier to understand for our community, employees, factories, and others.

So, how do you work?

— The biggest challenge for us and for almost all brands in the textile industry consists in taking part in two big fights: energy transition and sobriety. This is crucial and honestly, brands never talk about that. What’s a textile product made of? It’s nothing more than a product that needs energy to be made. Spinning, weaving, and dyeing machines need electricity to work. And guess what? Production of electricity, especially from coal, is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. It should be the first priority of the textile industry too, Palluel states, continuing,

— Between 2000-2015, sales of textile — in volume, worldwide — went +100%. Usage of products? -20%. The world population: +16%. Here we can easily see a huge problem of overproduction and overconsumption, led by the fast fashion model. Such an amount of production leads to huge energy dependencies, and that’s how we are back to my coal example. It’s all connected. If a brand misses these topics in its commitment, then it misses the most important.

Today, more than 60% of your shell pieces are made of sugar. Can you tell us more? 

— It’s about bio-sourced polyester. But first, what is polyester? It’s, by far, the most used material in the textile industry. Polyester fabric (PET) consists of mono-ethylene-glycol (30%) and terephthalic acid (70%), both petro-chemical compounds. In other words, it comes from oil. Thankfully other solutions exist. We’ve used recycled polyester made from used plastic bottles since the very beginning in 2008 and the brand is always looking for new solutions to directly or indirectly wipe out its dependence on fossil fuels. Bio-sourcing represents one of these solutions. So, what is bio-sourcing? In the case of a snow jacket, it means creating a fabric partially made with plant material such as sugar cane or castor beans. In general, plants that contain sucrose, such as beets and sugar cane, or starch from, for instance, wheat or corn, can be transformed into bio-mono ethylene glycol (Bio-MEG) to replace conventional petroleum-based MEG. The shell fabric, derived from sugarcane waste and blended with recycled PET, provides the same level of durability and performance as traditional polyester, says Palluel. He continues:

— Fermenting sugars to make ethanol is one of the oldest biotechnologies used by human beings, especially in the alcohol industry, and has been around since prehistory to make alcoholic beverages. More recently, ethanol has also been used as a fuel. We now plan to use a fermentation process with specific bacteria that will transform the sugars from the raw material to create, through a chemical reaction, bio-ethanol. This bio-ethanol will then be converted into bio-mono ethylene glycol (BIO-MEG) through another phase of synthesis which provides us with a non-petroleum based MEG! It might look complicated on the surface, but we are simply applying an age-old process to textile manufacturing. In the 1950s in France, we already had the ability to make polyamide fabrics using castor bean oil. The petro-chemical industry decided otherwise by launching low-cost textiles onto the market. However, bio-sourcing should not be seen as the unique and perfect solution for the textile industry. It has an interesting role to move away from oil when it comes to create polyester pellets but the rest of the supply chain is long and most of the time full of fossil fuels dependency until the finished product. Also, bio sourcing does not tell about other main problems of the textile industry, such as overproduction and overconsumption.

Picture.

And you also work with other material innovations.

— Yes, we’ll arrive next summer, 2023, with recycled polyester from post-consumer textile. This is an interesting move to push for more circularity. Also, for next summer, we are back with some special backpacks, designed to be upcycled. So, if you for some reason end up wearing your backpack out, give it a second life by cutting ’along the dotted line’ in order to transform your pack into separate accessories. Upcycling is one initiative among others leading the brand down the path to circularity. For this season basically all our outerwear products are made from waste, recycled polyester from post-consumer plastic bottles. Speaking of waste, the material in our wetsuits mainly comes from recycled tires and recycled polyamide from fishing nets.

What else do you have coming? 

— We are working on our second rental offer next fall as we think rental is part of the package for a ’less is more’ vision in the textile industry. If you don’t plan to wear your products a lot, especially because it’s a ski outfit and you’ll be in the mountains only 1 week this season, then rental is a very good idea — and it could mean less production in the first place, says Palluel.

Florian Palluel.