Decoding sustainable clothing
How an IGNITE project is helping to figure out how to reduce textile waste
Dr. Syed Naveed Rizvi is an accomplished Textile Researcher with over a decade of expertise in textiles, wearable materials, and PPE. He works in George Brown’s Fashion Exchange to help our partners embrace fashion technology and achieve sustainability.
He recently wrapped an IGNITE project targeting ways to identify textile content to support the recycling of fabrics.
Question: Tell us a little bit about the project.
Dr. Syed Naveed Rizvi: The whole project is based on the idea of sustainability and textiles recycling. Right now we can’t really recycle every type of textile fiber, and for those we can, every textile fiber has a different recycling process. Cotton is different than polyester and so on.
Question: When does sorting fibers become an issue?
Rizvi: Let’s talk about textile waste or donations. You donate something to a thrift store, right? Now they’ll usually rely on the label to sort it. But if it can’t be resold, and will instead be recycled, how do you sort them? Which one is cotton, which is polyester, which one is mixed, and so on? The label doesn’t tell the full story.
Question: So you have to figure out the exact fiber content of a garment to process and recycle it correctly?
Rizvi: Yes. In our lab, we have this technology called a short wave infrared spectrometer. With this tool, we actually throw some infrared light onto the fabric, and some of the fibers will absorb the light and sometimes will reflect back.
Question: How can you tell which is which?
Rizvi: Every fiber as its own signature. We have samples of all different types of fabrics: cotton, polyester, nylon, viscose, and so on. And then we put that in front of our equipment and see what kind of spectrum it’s generating. Are there any similarities there? Differences? We’re looking for the trends across different types of fibers.
Question: What did you learn?
Rizvi: The results we got were very encouraging. We found out that cotton showed similar trends, as did polyester. There have been similar studies in Europe, but they operate on near infrared whereas we’re operating with short-wave infrared.
In our next phase, we’ll be building a whole database: what cotton looks like, what polyester looks like, what viscose looks like, and so forth. If there’s a special kind of finish on the fabric, what will happen to the spectrum?
Question: Why did IGNITE funding feel like the right way to develop this project?
Rizvi: IGNITE funding was basically like a sandbox. You can play around and experiment, see if there is actually a larger project there. All the existing literature was on conducting these tests using near-infrared, not short-wave infrared, so I wasn’t sure it was possible. IGNITE funding allowed us to mount a smaller-scale project, just to deepen our understanding of the technological application, before we moved forward to a larger phase.
- Fashion Exchange
- Textile and Garment Labs