How did you get the idea of offering a tights deposit return system?
We thought about the impact of used tights. 7,000 tonnes of tights are thrown away in France each year . These are recovered and incinerated, thereby serving as fuel. And this is a real shame. What could we do with them instead? We said to ourselves that tights could be recovered thanks to a deposit return system, so as to recover and recycle them. In 2019 we organised an up-cycling workshop to learn how to make scrunchies. We said to ourselves that the recovered tights could be used to make the elastic that makes up scrunchies.
Why is it of interest to recover used tights?
Made from only nylon and elastane, they can easily be transformed. All that needs to be done is to cut them, to twist them or to plait them in order to modify their physical and mechanical properties.
Can you explain to us the value chain for these tights?
It’s in two phases. Upstream we locally produce tights from recycled nylon. Sold by our Italian spinner, Fulgar, this recycled nylon called Q-NOVA® is obtained using melted down nylon offcuts, made into granules and then spun. The nylon thread is then mixed with elastane and dyed. All of this is knitted together to obtain tights. All these manufacturing steps are carried out within a radius of 100km around Bergame, in the north of Italy, a region where all the expertise in this fibre is concentrated. All our spinners, manufacturers and dyers are all there. Making for a local supply chain. Fibres are then GRS (Global Recycled Standard) certified and the dye Oekotex 100 certified, (designed not to contain harmful substances). Downstream, we have organised the return deposit system, from collection to recycling in France. In another local supply chain.
What is the environmental impact of these tights?
Working in a local supply chain, enables us to reduce energy consumption. We also greatly reduce the environmental impact with our new raw material, Q-NOVA®, which makes use of off-cuts that were never intended to be used.
Are your tights designed differently in order to last longer?
Q-NOVA® is very high quality recycled nylon because it comes from non-used and virgin raw material. In addition we have chosen a traditional 3D knitting technique which provides a denser and therefore more resistant meshing. To act on the durability of the tights, we strengthened the toe and heel and the gusset. Our stress testing results are excellent. There is only one hole in every thousand passes in the abrasion meter - a machine that simulates friction on fabric.
What are the technical limits?
Web development needs to be carried out to establish the deposit return system. This is something very new in fashion. As our logistics coordinator couldn’t handle used products, we also had to create a partnership with La Poste in order to have these worn tights delivered to us in Paris. In addition, we are going to rework the material to improve it to obtain tighter scrunchies. We also need fabrics to sew the scrunchies. We use off-cuts from our off-the-peg items, but a little time is needed to obtain a sufficient stockpile.
How have you organised the recovery of these used tights?
To recover tights that have already been worn and used, in order to rework the material, we have devised the deposit return system. Customers pay a 2 euro deposit per pair purchased. This is reimbursed when they return their used tights (all brands). When there’s a sufficient stockpile of tights to be recovered, we send them to an inclusive workplace organisation (French : ESAT - Etablissement et Service d’Aide par le Travail) in Paris which transforms them into scrunchies.
How is the product viewed by customers?
We launched an Ulule campaign in September 2020, hoping to sell 2,000 Paris of tights based on this principle. With this we could then start to set up a deposit return system and create a recovery process. It was a success. We sold more than 5,500 pairs of tights. This was one of Ulule’s 15 best campaigns in fashion of all time. A sign that there was both a real need and sufficient volume for us to be able to launch a test phase.
In 2021, we found obtain about the inclusive workplace organisations that might be able to help us transform these used tights. We chose to work with the inclusive workshop organisation, Jules et Marcel Levy, in the heart of Paris. The first scrunchies produced from recycled material came out in March 2021. Six months later, we have produced two batches, each with 250 pairs of tight. And the client satisfaction rate is 4,4/5. Our tests are conclusive. We are probably going to launch a new campaign and recovery and recycling process because we’ve found the right partner.
What is your next step?
In just one year we ended up selling 6,500 pairs of tights made from nylon off-cuts, enabling us to recycle 500kg of thread. We are going to widen our range of tights with polka dot and herringbone designs. Thanks to a returnable mechanism, we were able to recover 50kg of used tights. With this we can manufacture 500 scrunchies. The aim is also to manufacture more. We would like to carry out more tests and produce more elastic bands using tights. In order to go further with this recovery and recycling process and to create jobs.
Thank you Matthieu JUNGFER, Cofounder of Atelier Unes