Cyndi Rhoades- The Woman who Aims to Bring Circularity in Textiles

  • 1st Mar'21
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Cyndi commenced her career as a filmmaker who made music videos and documentaries. This developed her interest in the impact of commerce and global economics on the society and environment.

And she founded a startup named “Worn Again” in 2005 and has continued to give her valuable contribution to the company up till now. Worn Again is now known as Worn Again Technologies.

Cyndi is also a regular speaker at industry conferences and events where she talks about circularity in textiles.

 

How Worn Again Technologies was formed?

  • While she was in film making, she saw all the fashion waste and consumerism that went into it, and that had driven her crazy.

  • In an interview with Pioneers TV(A feature of Virgin Media Pioneers) in 2011, where she was asked how she felt about the early days when she started this business, she said, “I don't know if you’ve watched the film Sex, Life and Videotape where she goes on and on about the trash and she doesn’t know where it’s all going and was driving here crazy. I felt a similar feeling about waste and the mountains and mountains of waste that were adding up after rampant consumerism and I wanted to do something about it.”

  • That’s when she began this startup named “Worn Again” in 2005 in East London, with the idea of upcycling(Upcycling is the process of converting scrap into something useful or of a higher value that people will want to buy) textile waste.

 

Story Behind Worn Again Technologies

Then

  • Initially, Worn Again Technologies was launched in partnership with Vivo Barefoot, the footwear company. The mission of the company back then was to convert disused textiles like old blankets from prison, leather scrap from the automobile industry, decommissioned hot air balloons and Virgin Atlantic seat covers into new useful products like footwear, handbags, jackets and accessories.

  • Then Jamie Bardett joined the business in 2008 followed by Nick Ryan in 2011 and made major contributions to the business and helped the venture enter into successful partnerships which included Eurostar and Hemingway Designs.

  • While the upcycling venture was working fine but not making a real difference to the problem of textile waste as it was just adding a few years to the waste in order to eventually end up in landfills. 

 

Now

  • They decided they wanted to be a catalyst for the circular textile industry. They needed to develop a process that would work at the molecular level. 

  • Cyndi and Nick took the challenge and found an important component that was missing was Technology. And they found Dr. Adam who’s a scientist based in Cambridge, England, at the time. He became Worn Again’s Chief Scientific Officer since then.

  • So the issue at the time was there were no technologies that could decontaminate chemicals and separate the most used and blended materials- polyester and cotton.

  • They put this forward to Adam that they want to develop a virgin-equivalent raw material that is cost-competitive for the clothing industry. Adam’s response to this was, ‘Of course, polyester and cellulose in cotton are polymers, what’s the problem?’

  • That's when both the forces combined, they started looking for a technology that does the same.

  • Over half a decade later, in January 2020, the company opened its first Research and Development Plant in England with support from H&M Group and Kering Group.

  • Worn Again Technologies says, “Today, our pioneering polymer recycling technology is being optimised and brought to life by world-class scientists, chemical engineers, and strategic partners who have a shared ambition: to fast track this vision of a waste-free, circular resource world.”

 

How Worn Again Technology Works?

 

Image Courtesy: Unreasonable Impact UK & Europe 2020

 

  • As per their official Press Release published on 22nd January 2020, 

- The pilot plant is designed to develop a Worn Again Technologies’ proprietary process that will separate, decontaminate and extract PET polymer and cellulose (from cotton) from non-reusable textiles, PET bottles and packaging.

- This will further go back into the supply chains as raw materials to manufacture new products, thereby becoming a part of a continual cycle.

  • “The research and development plant will provide the company with the ability to perfect its recycling process and reproduce raw materials. After end-of-use polyester-cotton mixed textiles have been collected and separated and decontaminated using solvents, Worn Again Technologies are able to recapture the textiles’ raw materials. From this, they will be able to produce two recycled materials: a virgin-equivalent polyester resin that can be melted and spun into yarn, and a cellulosic pulp that can be used in viscose,” as explained in a WWD article.

 

What are the Challenges and How will Worn Again Technologies Impact the Environment and the Textile industry?

Cyndi Rhoades has been an Unreasonable Fellow since October 2020 and recently participated in Unreasonable Impact UK & Europe 2020 where she explains the Challenges and Solutions,

  • “Today’s methods for textile-to-textile recycling are extremely limited. They can neither separate out dyes and other contaminants that went into textiles, nor separate mixed fibers, such as polyester and cotton blends.

  • As a result, less than 1 percent of existing textiles go back into the making of new textiles, while an estimated 53 million tonnes of textiles are going to landfill or incineration every year worldwide. To add to these challenges, the demand for raw materials to make new textiles is set to increase by 63 percent in the next 10 years.

 

Image Courtesy: Unreasonable Impact UK & Europe 2020

 

  • Clearly, new solutions to meet future resource demands are needed. Worn Again Technologies’ pioneering polymer recycling technology is able to separate, decontaminate and extract polyester and cellulose (from cotton) from non-reusable textiles to be made back into new products in the existing supply chains. 

  • The aim of their technology is to enable these recaptured resources to be kept in constant circulation, driving positive economic, social, and environmental benefits, competitively processing blended inputs and producing dual outputs while preserving global resources. The technology is being developed for licensing to plant operators worldwide.”

 

Cyndi’s Achievements

  • Cyndi was awarded the PCIAW Outstanding Contribution to the Textile Industry in 2019.

  • She was a finalist for The Circular Economy Awards, Leadership award.

  • Previous laurels include being a Courvoisier Future 500 Ambassador, a Force for Good Pioneer by Tomorrow’s Company and an Enterprise UK Ambassador. 

  • She is an early pioneer of the sustainable fashion movement, a co-founder of the RE: Fashion Awards, the world’s first Sustainable Fashion Awards in London, and more recently a Co-Founder of World Circular Textiles Day. 

 

Company’s Recent Initiatives and Achievements

  • The company announced the launch of its pilot R&D facility as a major step forward in its development process on 22 January 2020. The plant is located at CPI which is a technology and innovation centre in Redcar, England. 

  • As per their official press release on 17 June 2020, “Worn Again Technologies has secured up to €8 million in new equity capital from investors, including follow-on commitments from two of its existing strategic investors, H&M Group and Sulzer.”

  • The company's investors include H&M Group, Sulzer Chemtech, Himes Corporation, Directex as well as the support of Kering, ASICS Europe, Sympatex, Dibella and Dhana.

  • The company also claims that “In November 2017, Worn Again Technologies was invited to become part of the Fashion for Good scaling programme and in 2018, the company was awarded a grant to become the first chemical recycling technology to be Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certified as well as being named one of the LAUNCH Circular Innovators for 2018. In 2019, Worn Again Technologies was awarded the ANDAM Innovation Prize and ‘One to Watch’ at Global Good Awards.”

 

Happy International Women's Day! Because only one day isn't enough to celebrate our Champions.

 

We, at OpenGrowth, are continually looking for trending startups in the ecosystem.  If you want to know any further information about the startup ecosystem or have any mind-boggling ideas, do refer to the other blogs at OpenGrowth. If you have any suggestions, do let us know in the comment section below.

 

*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with our members.

About the author:

Ayushi Vanzara, OpenGrowth Content Team

Ayushi is currently pursuing Chartered Accountancy. No secrets there that she loves to read!  She believes words have the power of healing and is a medium that can convey like no other. She hopes to connect with people through her empathy, thoughtfulness, and by adding value to their lives.


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