Five From Finland
Technical textile innovations
New technical products and processes are changing the way we produce, use and recycle textiles.Adobe / Julia Bushueva
Whether the need is for antimicrobial treatments, sustainable textile fibres, immune-system boosting clothes or pressure garments, the Finnish textile industry has an innovation for it.
Sports clothes are the first to spring to mind when someone mentions technical textile innovations. In reality, new textile products and technologies address a vast range of concerns. In particular, sustainability, the growing mountains of clothing waste and health care issues from medical devices to lack of exposure to forest microbes are crucial topics today.
We take a look at five Finnish textile innovations aiming to make their mark in the world.
One way to tackle the growing amounts of textile waste is recycling. This is where Ioncell, a new textile fibre technology developed at Aalto University, steps in. The method turns used textiles and pulp into high-quality textile fibre without any harmful chemicals.
“Ioncell fibres have the best properties of all man-made cellulose fibres and also significantly better mechanical properties than cotton,” says Herbert Sixta, lead researcher at Aalto University. “In addition, the process is very suitable for recycling cellulosic waste textiles.”
At the technology’s core is an ionic liquid used to dissolve cellulose. It’s a non-flammable, environmentally friendly solvent that can be re-circulated in the production process. Furthermore, the technology has potential applications outside the textile industry. According to Sixta, it could offer a new sustainable platform for various materials, such as films, hydrogels, powders for food additives and reinforced fibres for composite.
Ioncell has already been tested with various companies, such as Finnish fashion icon Marimekko, and is currently in a pilot production phase. The research team aims to reach the point where investors could build and operate a commercial plant within the next two years.
Don’t have a forest nearby? Now you can reap the health benefits of forest microbes by wearing them. The new Metsä (‘forest’) underwear and accessories range from Finnish clothing company Ruskovilla is the world’s first to contain natural forest microbes.
The clothes, made of organic silk wool, use the Reconnecting Nature forest extract developed by Helsinki-based startup Uute Scientific. According to the company, partly owned by the University of Helsinki, the extract contains an optimal mix of natural microbes found in forests and nature. It was developed as part of ADELE, a joint research project between universities that proved that exposure to rich biodiversity is connected to lower levels of autoimmune diseases such as allergy, asthma and type-1 diabetes.
“Underwear covers a large part of our skin, and it is also worn during the winter months when microbe exposure in the icy and snow-covered nature is otherwise impossible,” says Ruskovilla CEO Ossi Näkki. “With this as our starting point, we started to examine how the extract could be added to organic silk wool as part of the production process. ”
Ruskovilla predicts that demand for the range will emerge particularly in large cities no access to nature. The products are available for babies, children and adults.
Pressure garments to fit a camel. That is an easy sentence to catch someone’s interest with. But for Tampered-based company Lymed, it’s the reality. The company says it offers the world’s largest selection of pressure garments with a product catalogue of 8,550 products.
“[We] manufacture medical pressure garments for all currently known indications and applications of pressure therapy – from humans to animals,” tells Essi Toikka, partners and operations manager at Lymed.
Each garment is custom-made using the company’s high-quality materials and patterning system. Lymed’s primary customers are public and private healthcare providers around the world, and the company already exports around 40 per cent of its products.
What about the camels? Lymed developed relaxing and soothing pressure garments for camels at the request of its customers at the Arab Health exhibition. It is an example of the company’s open-minded approach to expanding its operations. It is currently investing in a new manufacturing facility to meet market demand.
“We are constantly looking for new opportunities in textiles and healthcare that will diversify our operations even further and secure our future,” Toikka told the Fab magazine.
Another new alternative to traditional textile fibres comes from the forest industry company Metsä Group. It has developed a high-quality textile fibre, Kuura, from paper-grade pulp. This means it provides a higher yield of textile fibre from wood and energy savings during the production process.
“Compared to the other wood-based textile fibres, Kuura is performing especially well in ecological and social sustainability,” says Niklas von Weymarn, CEO of Metsä Group’s innovation company Metsä Spring. “For example, although still in the demo phase, Kuura was already awarded a Green Shirt in the CanopyStyle audit process.”
The Green Shirt rating requires, for example, a risk-free, transparent supply chain and traceable raw materials. According to Weymarn, the fibre is made out of wood from certified and sustainably-managed Finnish forests. The fibre was also recently acknowledged in the potential innovations category at the 2021 Quality Innovation Awards.
Currently, Kuura is in the demo phase. Its production process is further developed at a fossil fuel-free demo plant in Äänekoski, Finland. Weymarn expects the demo phase to last another one to two years, after which Metsä Group will assess starting a business around it.
Innovation in the textile industry takes many forms. A great example is Espoo-based biotechnology company NordShield. Its wood-based textile treatment technology offers antimicrobial protection without harmful chemicals or heavy metals. The biodegradable technology creates a physical layer that prevents micro-organisms and viruses on the textiles.
“[Our customers] are brands and manufacturers that want to offer their customers a sustainable product and added value in terms of, for example, odour control in clothes or protection against microbes on textiles in general,” reveals Kristoffer Ekman, CEO of NordShield.
In addition to consumer applications, NordShield has a product tailored for textiles classified as medical devices.
Although the company was founded in 2016, its products have been decades in the making. According to Ekman, their underlying technology has been researched and developed since the 1980s. The resulting bio-based treatment for textile fibres was launched in late 2020.