TT: How are advancements in textile recycling technologies contributing to the reduction of waste and promotion of a circular economy in the fashion industry?
Currently, the primary focus is on chemical recycling processes, which, when viewed externally, appear to shift one problem to another. The environmental impact of these chemical processes raises concerns. While they address waste destruction and the conversion of waste into chemical fibres or oil, they also pose risks of depleting natural resources. The potential scarcity of these resources may jeopardise our ability to benefit from the natural properties of fibres in the long run. Only time will reveal the true consequences.
TT: Can you explain the motivation behind founding Transforming Textiles?
The inspiration behind founding Transforming Textiles and creating Sense-Tex stems from a personal experience during the COVID-19 pandemic when my mother was isolated in an elderly home and pandemic-related waste prompted a desire for change. The vision expanded to address overconsumption and environmental concerns in the textile industry. Initial frustrations over the industry’s challenges, including waste and overuse of natural resources, fuelled the idea of transforming textiles into self-generating smart materials. The focus shifted from creating new materials to addressing recycling challenges in the textile industry. We emphasise the need for cross-sector collaborations to achieve a sustainable and circular system change. Sense-Tex aims to integrate technology with textiles responsibly, considering environmental impact and user health. The journey led to a commitment to incorporating recycling as an integral part of the overall product development process.
TT: How did the collaboration between Sara Rosberg and Marcelo Boldt influence the direction of Sense-Tex's development?
Realising our industry's need for assistance from other sectors, I participated in a Hackathon in Portugal called Galactica. The goal was to bring textile professionals into the space industry to collaborate on problem-solving. At the event, I had the opportunity to meet Marcelo Boldt, a space engineer, and we initiated a unique collaboration. Despite our language barrier, we were driven by a common desire to make a positive impact on the world.
Coming from the creative sector but having limited knowledge of the technological and scientific world, I had to elevate my understanding to contribute meaningfully to technical discussions. We combined Marcelo's space technology with my expertise in technical textiles and product development to create our MVP (minimum viable product). The collaboration proved successful, garnering interest from the space Industry. This led to our transition into a space-tech start-up and our inclusion in the ESA Nordic Launch Programme 2022. We were also chosen as a top 10 finalist to present at Spaceport in Oslo.
The collaboration served as a bridge between our industries, and I found a welcoming community in the space-tech sector, filled with brilliant minds and technical innovations. Despite my initial apprehension about presenting a smart yarn in front of space engineers and astrophysicists, I was met with respect from the community. Being accepted as an innovator in the space-tech community was a rewarding experience. Additionally, we were selected for the Cassini Matchmaking Programme (by EU and EUSPA), making us one of the 18 chosen space-tech start-ups out of 200 in 2022.
TT: What challenges did you face in integrating advanced sensor technology with textiles, and how did you overcome them?
I regret to share that the challenges we encountered while integrating sensor solutions did not stem from a lack of innovation or expertise in creating sensor integrations. Rather, they were primarily attributed to the mindset of others, particularly in securing funding for our space-tech startup focused on smart textiles/yarns with a Deep Tech approach.
Despite having client interest in the healthcare sector, aligning with our vision of creating inclusive business models, and operating in three verticals simultaneously, we faced scepticism and pressure to narrow our focus. Investors and VCs found our multidimensional approach perplexing, urging us to ‘choose one’ or discard the textile aspect for a sole focus on technology. Despite such discouragement, we persevered and continued operating in all three verticals, as we believed it was essential to address challenges on industrial, technical, and recycling fronts. Being a female founder, a special needs mom, and lacking an MA or PhD in Science or Technology, I faced additional hurdles in explaining my engineering expertise. These factors, combined with a struggle for funding, led me to personally finance the project, ensuring its progression from A to B over the past four years.
TT: Can you describe the process of developing the Sense-Tex yarn-thread technology and its unique properties?
When we initiated the creation of our first prototypes, we utilised traditional production methods, incorporating conductors into the knitted fabric process. However, laboratory analysis revealed a concerning issue: micro fragments of the silver coating were released, contaminating our drinking water.
To address this, we devised a solution to encapsulate the conductive fibre within a composite yarn structure. During my research for health-enhancing fibres with antiviral and antibacterial properties, I identified Ramie, SeaCell, SmartCel (Zinc Oxide), Silver, and Soybean. These fibres, when combined, could offer optimal benefits and resist direct skin contact.
To bring this innovation to life, we undertook the unprecedented task of creating a yarn with all five fibres. Our head of manufacturing, Tahir Haytoglu, collaborated with Turkiye’s largest textile manufacturers in the project, resulting in the birth of Sense-Tex. The success of this project would not have been possible without the unwavering support of our Turkish manufacturing partners: Tahir Haytoglu, Sima Gila Sarfetti – Fetih Tekstil (marketing manager), Yalcin Demirbag – Fetih Tekstil (R&D manager), Semiha Sagnak- Fetih Tekstil (design manager), Sebnem Orkide Alaca – Fetih Tekstil (senior designer), Fatih Susamci – Ozen Mensucat (fabric project manager), and last but not least Gokhan Tandogan – Kipas Textiles (yarn R&D manager).
TT: Can you describe your approach to recycling and how the Sense-Tex technology enables a circular textile economy?
Our goal is to launch a smart recycling factory by 2030, collaborating with space engineers and other experts to mechanically separate and re-use fibres from Sense-Tex without resorting to chemical processes. This innovative approach applies both on earth and in space, distinguishing itself from the current methods where shredded fibres cannot be fully recycled for new garments.
TT: How do the certifications from Friend of the Sea and Friend of the Earth reflect your commitment to environmental conservation and sustainability?
At Transforming Textiles, we proudly endorse the efforts of both Friends of Sea and Friends of Earth, actively contributing to their initiatives while championing the certifications we have attained for Sense-Tex. Sense-Tex incorporates Certified SeaCell Algae fibre, recognised by Friends of the Sea, and Soybean and Ramie, certified by Friends of the Earth. Our manufacturing process goes a step further by eliminating chemicals, optimising the natural properties of the fibres for enhanced user benefits and reducing our environmental footprint. We are honoured to receive acknowledgment from both Friends of the Sea and Friends of the Earth organisations for our commitment to sustainability and responsible textile production.
TT: How does Transforming Textiles balance innovation with environmental responsibility in its textile production methods?
Achieving balance involves respecting all aspects of the supply chain, with particular emphasis on the manufacturing process. Industrial manufacturing changes are not instantaneous; they necessitate systematic shifts aligned with evolving textile and technological innovations. Recognising this, we are exploring the integration of new smart features into manufacturing processes. This approach aims to facilitate both smooth production and efficient recycling procedures, extending the impact of these advancements to both earthly and space environments.
TT: What are the future goals and vision of Transforming Textiles in terms of expanding your product offerings and impact on the textile industry?
Our future goals encompass the establishment of a smart recycling factory, not only on earth but also with a vision to develop solutions for recycling and producing Sense-Tex during lunar and Mars explorations. Additionally, we aim to expand our portfolio by creating more smart yarn solutions and variations of Sense-Tex, fostering innovation both in-house and through collaborations with external partners. Our inclusion in the materials connexion database in New York is a fortunate opportunity that we anticipate will pave the way for cross-sector collaborations.
On the technological front, we are actively engaged in projects within the space industry, focusing on the creation of optimised sensor and battery solutions tailored for smart textiles and smart yarns.
TT: What challenges do manufacturers face in integrating wearable technology into textiles, and how are they being addressed?
There are, of course, many challenges both in machine production and recycling. From my experiences, it seems that the social and human factor plays a significant role. Throughout my journey with Transforming Textiles, I realised not everyone shares the same passion for textiles, and many are unaware of how they are produced, or the skills required to envision the future in fashion. This skillset is often undervalued, creating a problem.
I have the utmost respect for everyone involved in the design and manufacturing process of Sense-Tex, whether working on the floor or behind a desk. Everyone matters and deserves acknowledgment for their hard work and effort in creating what has been achieved. Like life, it is not a ‘one-man show’. To move towards a socially sustainable future, we need to show respect for all involved in the processes and think of it as a circular unit instead of a pyramid structure.
TT: In what ways are smart textiles being used to enhance personal health and wellness, and what are the potential future applications in this area?
We can only speak for ourselves and what we do with Sense-Tex. By combining the natural properties of fibres merged into Sense-Tex yarn, we have created a fabric resembling cotton but with none of its content. It lasts three times longer in washing compared to cotton and provides better protection against viruses and bacteria.
Connecting sensors to such a T-shirt enables vital signs measurement, akin to a smartwatch. In designing sheets or robes, we enter the healthcare space to monitor patients and staff, working preventatively to curb the spread of diseases and potentially save lives. The willingness of the healthcare industry to invest in future innovations remains a question.
Using a recyclable, circular textile passing industrial washing tests for hospitals (70N) allows a transition to using less while being more sustainable, benefiting all parties involved. However, challenges in practical everyday use, implementation, and development costs arise when integrating tech and sensors in hospitals. While initial costs are high, the long-term benefits are substantial, and organisations should not overlook the potential, especially considering the healthcare industry's contribution to textile waste.
Overall, a mindset change is crucial across all verticals. Collaborating cross-sectors opens endless possibilities. We hope our work inspires others to engage in cross-sector, interdisciplinary problem-solving, leading to wonderful outcomes.