From fiber to fiber: new spinning mill gives old textiles a new lease of life
By: Anne Roos van Wijngaarden
The Netherlands hardly has its own textile industry anymore, but in times of sustainable thinking the desire to produce closer to home is resurfacing. After all, offshore production goes hand in hand with misery, from unlivable wages to toxic blue water. Now Paula Gerritsen went one step further. She not only started a local spinning mill, but immediately chose the circular path by only processing used fibers into new yarns.
In October, Eurol moved to make room for the two enormous spinning machines of the new Twente spinning mill. The factory was to be called Spinning Jenny – a reference to Thomas Highs' spinning machine that gave an efficiency boost to cotton production in 1764. With an investment of more than seven million, Gerritsen managed to do it. Nowadays, yarn is spun on a large scale every day in the factory from pieces of old and leftover textile.
Where we need to go
Ultimately, that should be three million kilos of yarn per year. Ambitious? "It's not easy", Gerritsen begins, "but in the end this is of course where we have to go. So there really is a business in it." The serious investment in Spinning Jenny is a signal of that prospect and gives confidence in Gerritsen's business model.
That model starts with fiberized textiles that arrive in bales. You can divide the material into two categories: post-industrial and post-consumer. The first, for example, is about leftover pieces of fabric from weaving and knitting mills. The latter includes all kinds of textiles that have already been used. Spinning Jenny is a spinning mill, not a recycler. So those pieces of fabric are cut in advance by parties abroad and torn into shreds. “That is our starting material for making new yarns,” explains Gerritsen.
The fiberized textile waste does not only come from our own country. “Netherlands, Germany, Belgium; throughout Europe we buy our fibers from various parties. We do not want to be dependent on one recycler.” Thanks to this broad network, Gerritsen and her team can benefit from different types of output. She says that you get very different yarn when you process old jeans (denim) than when you use recycled polyester or cotton.
Gerritsen: “We buy bales with a certain specification, so if we want, for example, 40 percent cotton with 20 percent acrylic and something else, we can get that. That is sorted. Therefore, we can say quite accurately what is in it. Not exactly on the percentage, but you do get a report of what you have bought.”
From yarn to yarn
The colors and materials that the company purchases therefore serve different purposes, for example company clothing. The machine park can even use it to make yarn for new workwear, fiber-to-fiber. Virgin material must then be added for strength. The great thing is that this application is easy to scale up, due to the consistent composition of workwear: 65 percent polyester and 35 percent cotton. So you almost only have to sort them by color.
“We can indeed not separate polyester-cotton,” confirms Gerritsen when that problem theme comes up, “but that is not necessary for us, because we have applications for everything.” She refers to products such as fabric for car seats, mattresses and roller blinds. A special mix of old sports shoe and polyester fibers from clothing is also popular. "That can go back into the sports shoe industry," says Gerritsen, "and it is not an easy product - in the top of a sports shoe contains a lot of bulges and foreign materials, which is why we can only add 20 percent, but that is actually a lot.”
Spinning Jenny was not born out of thin air. It is the crown piece of a twelve-year consortium, Texperium. That was a club of professionals who jointly investigated how recycling in the Netherlands can be improved and increased. The result is as concrete as this factory.
Gerritsen: “We are not yet at capacity and new customers are welcome, but we are already producing for many parties. That starts with tests of 1,000 to 1,500 kilos. And the next orders will be bigger. Our customers are willing to pay 10 to 15 percent more for a local product. We simply offer competitive rates, but that is only possible with the scale of this factory. We have to make mass if we want to be profitable. And that is exactly our strategy.”
A great input in sustainability.