Waterless dyeing could be next environmental push for outdoor apparel

Nike announced a new strategic partnership to push and scale waterless dyeing technology, something that could gain ground in the environmentally conscious outdoor industry.
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On Wednesday, athletic footwear and apparel giant Nike announced a new strategic partnership to push and scale waterless dyeing technology, something that could gain ground in the environmentally conscious outdoor industry.

Nike officials said they would work with DyeCoo Textile Systems B.V., a Netherlands-based company that has developed and built the one of the first commercially available waterless textile dyeing machines. Instead of water, DyeCoo’s technology uses recycled carbon dioxide to dye polyester fabrics, and officials said research is underway to apply the process to other synthetic and natural fabrics.

“We believe this technology has the potential to revolutionize textile manufacturing,” Nike Vice President of Merchandising and Product Eric Sprunk said in a statement. “We want to collaborate with progressive dye houses, textile manufacturers and consumer apparel brands to scale this technology and push it throughout the industry.”

Nike officials said the brand will showcase apparel using textiles dyed without water at events later this year.

Patagonia officials, who in early 2011 set out to track and reduce its water use, told SNEWS they are aware of the waterless dyeing technology and are investigating the possibilities along with others to try and achieve its goals.

With few machines in the world that can handle large-scale production (something the Nike partnership is looking to change), Patagonia is still studying the options, said Jess Clayton, public relations spokeswoman for the company.

“We’re definitely going to track it and see where the cost-to-benefit ratio comes out,” Clayton told SNEWS. “I think that if more machines are produced and if the cost-to-benefit ratio is good, I don't see why not. It is still a little early to know though.”

Nike and DyeCoo officials estimate that 100-150 liters of water is needed to process 1 kilogram of textile material. That’s roughly 12-18 gallons per 1 pound of material, and that doesn’t include the water it takes to produce cotton or wool materials at farms. Nike officials said industry analysts estimate that more than 39 million tons of polyester will be dyed annually by 2015.

Beyond the benefits of using no water, DyeCoo officials said the technology reduces energy and chemical use, eliminates the need for drying and wastewater disposal, and cuts the process time in half. They also claimed increased dyeing quality and control, along with greater flexibility on where the process can take place.

“We hope more industry leaders will join us in leveraging this innovative technology in the near future,” DyeCoo CEO Reinier Mommaal said.

--David Clucas

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