Nick Graham wants to be able to turn his sweaters into pants, his pants into shoes and his shoes into accessories. The bottom line, he wants his newest collection to have an after-life rather than in landfills, where 80 percent of all apparel ends up.
With the debut of his new sportswear collection “Nick Graham re.fresh” to be rolled out in fall 2020, Graham is exploring new ways into how the company can sustainably produce its products. Not only are the garments made from recycled yarns and materials, but they are also produced to be up-cycled into new products in a circular process he calls “3D”: Design, Distribute, Dismantle.
The core fabric for the collection is primarily recycled polyester, which reduces the carbon footprint by 62 percent versus virgin polyester. All of the polyester will be Global Recycling Standard (GRS) certified.
The collection does not use any non-polymer based blended fabrics because of the difficulties in separating two kinds of yarns in the recycling process, the use of metals is also limited because of the difficulty in removing those materials from garments.
“After looking at all of the options out there, the opportunity with recycled polymers and polyesters is the most efficient material to help us achieve the goal of reducing the carbon footprint of our product,” said Graham. “It is by no means perfect, there are still many issues with polyester in terms of its release of micro-fibers into the environment and other factors, but its use of resources such as water and arable land is minimal compared with other fibers.”
The designer cited outdoor brand Patagonia as an inspiration for their work in balancing environmental issues while using petroleum-based fibers and their continuing work to improve the efficiency of their production.
Polyester is also well known for its energy efficiency in the consumer life-cycle including cold water wash, faster drying time, wrinkle-free to avoiding ironing, and doesn’t need to be laundered as often as cotton. The yarns of polyester are also much more durable and last much longer.
Though the message of the collection is one of reusability, the collection also uses Graham’s signature wit and irony in its design. Sport shirts are classic and ironic; classic paisleys and micro florals are combined with mountain scenic prints and wild animals. Collegiate inspired cardigans, rugby striped sweaters, basic crewnecks, and argyle sweater vests can be worn with quilted camouflage and plaid bomber jackets to create a wardrobe that any trendy environmentalist can wear.
John Kammeier, president of Nick Graham, said, “Given the success of our first sportswear collection in spring 2020, the ‘Nick Graham refresh’ concept is a positive evolution for the brand. We know this is going to do very well.”
So, could his collection really be up-cycled into other garments, shoes, and accessories? “Absolutely!” the designer said, adding that he has been in discussions with U.S.-based recycling mills that can turn his apparel back into polyester pellets or yarns at the end of the season. From there he could even use it for his spring 2021 collection.
Recent developments in technology using enzymes and other biological means can stabilize the polyester yarns from breaking down giving it the same properties as virgin polyester. Technology is also addressing the release of micro-fibers which is a big problem with the fiber.
“We know that there are many other issues involved in the supply chain such as renewable energy, water usage, and transportation, but the first thing we can affect is the carbon footprint of the product,” added Graham. “We understand that we have much to learn, but we have to start somewhere.”
The company plans to expand the re•fresh label into its underwear, loungewear, footwear, accessories, and tailored clothing collections, and is considering women’s, children’s and home in the near future.