News, Sustainability, Garment manufacturer • 6 min read

Textile hackathon for sustainability: sparking inspiration outside of the comfort zone

Marcel Willems September 29, 2020

Things tend to naturally slow down in the summer months. In my experience, this makes it the perfect time to get recharged with new inspiration. This summer, I didn’t have to go far to find it! In August I was lucky enough to join the Project Helix hackathon in Maastricht, organised by our friends at FibrXL. Two days of inspiring keynotes, break-out sessions, and most importantly, community-building with industry partners representing the entire value chain — all with the goal of helping the technical textile industry take concrete action towards creating a circular economy.

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum

At the hackathon, I learned that it all comes down to putting our heads together (not literally, of course...all our meetings were COVID-19 proof). With so many different partners from the value chain present, everyone had a unique perspective to share. Over the course of the event, we had many opportunities to sharpen each other with new sustainability insights.

On TenCate Protective Fabrics’ behalf, I shared insights on how we’re making our product portfolio greener by using the low-footprint fibre TENCEL™ as an excellent sustainable alternative for cotton. While we were on the topic of sustainable fibres, I learned about Aquafil’s “endless” ECONYL® yarn. They’ve closed the lifecycle loop by recycling 90% of used nylon fibres into a yarn which displays the same properties as virgin nylon. Incredible, right?

The Design to Recycle movement was another big source of inspiration. It makes recyclability a key requirement along with other performance criteria early in the product ideation phase, instead of reducing sustainability to an afterthought. I was so inspired, in fact, that I snuck off to call our R&D team during the hackathon. I’m excited to share that they’re already investigating ways to integrate the Design to Recycle principle into our product innovation process.

Finally, we put our heads together to talk about sustainability within the political landscape. With sustainability on the docket for much of the European Commission’s new legislation, it’s clear that it’s time to hop on the train and get involved. This means daring to take a closer look at industry norms together, in order to make space for a broader palate of new sustainable solutions.

Making a dent in the universe

An ambitious goal, to be sure. But if we have so much in common with each other, why would we try to innovate everything in isolation? When we turn inward, we lose out on the benefits cross-pollination can bring us. I’m convinced we can only meet our sustainability goals if we take action together across our industry.

The Project Helix hackathon was the perfect example of the magic that happens when an entire value chain gets together to collaborate towards a more sustainable future, but let’s not stop here! As Henry Ford said, “
Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Picture of Marcel Willems

Marcel Willems

Vice President of Sales & Business Development | TenCate Protective Fabrics