Searching for alternatives to toxic fabrics by recycling plastic bottles: Quagga fashion labelFrancesca Palange
Bringing an animal that has been extinct for one hundred years back to life may seem like madness, indeed, it has a touch of Frankenstein about it… nevertheless Dr Reinhold Rau (1932-2006) and his team managed to do it, using the breeding back concept, a kind of artificial selective breeding. In 2016, the team managed to breed six Equus quagga, a plains zebra that was wiped out by man in the nineteenth century. It is a naturalist’s dream, an attempt to reinstate peace between nature and the animal kingdom, and humankind, the irresponsible destroyer of our planet.
Stefano, too, was in the midst of what appeared to be a hare-brained and unattainable project, when he stumbled upon this zoological story. And so he decided to call his project Quagga, in honour of this earlier realised dream.
Stefano has worked as a designer in the world of fashion for twenty years and has seen it all; companies that do not pay their collaborators or suppliers, go bankrupt and then reopen under a different name; materials being used that harm the planet and are toxic for consumers. In other words, it is a world full of truly despicable people…
Stefano wanted to make a difference and spent a good two years searching for alternatives to toxic fabrics. Not feeling completely satisfied after several experiments with plant viscose (made from waste product such as maize and other plants), he opted to use polyester which could be made into durable and waterproof textiles. An entirely Italian production chain was set up, based on the core values of zero miles (all transfers are carried out within an area of 60km in Piedmont), strong ethics (100% of materials are recycled and recyclable) and veganism (no animal products are used including no feathers, skins, leathers, wool or silk).
But what exactly is it? Quagga produces padded jackets for men, women and children, made entirely from the plastic bottles and containers that are thrown into recycling bins.
The first production phase takes place at a recycling collection consortium in Cuneo where the different types of plastic are sorted and then crushed into small chips. These are then sent to Sinterama, part of the Gruppo Miroglio Spa in Biella. This is where the thread, NewLife, is created, using mechanical extrusion and no chemical processes. The thread is then worked on and transformed into fabric by another company, Technofabric, in Saluzzo, province of Cuneo, before being finished and dyed in Turin.
It is an interesting project indeed, and one that is growing every year and attracting more and more customers who appreciate the fabrics and padding exclusively derived from recycled plastic, the wearability, the superior protection against the cold and rain, the aesthetic and the cut. And let’s not forget that, to this day, Quagga is the only Italian manufacturer making padded winter clothes certified by ICEA (Istituto Certificazione Etica ed Ambientale, the Institute of Ethical and Environmental Certification) and for this alone it has been studied for four doctoral theses at the Universities of Turin, Milan, Vicenza and Florence.
Unlike mainstream fashion, where profit margins are decidedly high (costs are marked up seven-fold between production and sale…), Stefano and his five business partners have also decided to be ethical about their pricing, with Quagga charging a mark-up of only 300%. It is a well and truly deserving ethical and sustainable Made in Italy product of excellence to get behind, a hare-brained project similar to the one that brought an extinct animal back to life.
Text by Eletta Revelli
Translation by Fuschia Hutton
The article about Quagga, which we originally published on the Italian version of the blog, stimulated an interesting debate about the use of plastics to create garments. We are absolutely aware of the fact that, if we are to save our oceans or at least quell their advanced state of pollution, then the use of plastic and all its derivatives must be completely banned not just in clothing, but in all contexts – but this is still far away on the horizon. Right now, we must try as much as possible to reduce consumption and, at the same time, recycle and reuse it, as Stefano Bonaventura, the founder of the Quagga project, explains in this comment:
In 2010, when we began carrying out research for our Quagga product, we weighed up all the options available to us with extreme and meticulous attention, so that we could guarantee as little environmental impact as possible in all phases of the production process.
We ruled out man-made fibres such as viscose, cupro and acetates because, although they are made from plants and are theoretically biodegradable, their production requires a huge amount of chemicals that are especially polluting, such as caustic soda.
Natural animal fibres such as wool, other ovine fur, and silk were also excluded because they did not fit with the Quagga project’s ethical and anti-speciesism stance. Finally, natural plant fibres did not appear to be a particularly advantageous alternative from an environmentally sustainable point of view – cotton is not cultivated nationally (Italy – editor), and transportation from remote places like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India or Turkey would have reduced or completely cancelled out any eventual advantages of organic cultivation because of the CO2 emitted during transportation. Furthermore, backing for natural textiles, which is used for protection against the wind, rain and snow, would need to be treated with waterproofing agents not at all compatible with the objectives we had set.
On the contrary, it has emerged that using fibres obtained from recycling locally (in small consortiums not far from where the product is woven in Piedmont) brings multiple advantages; a reduction in non-biodegradable rubbish dumps, low CO2 emissions and reduced use of chemical substances by controlled and certified companies that follow safety protocol in a way that is not easy to monitor in remote production companies. Other considerations to make were the qualities inherent in the synthetic materials obtained: the more durable the better (a longer life=less impact), versatility (better technical performance=less use of padding=less impact), less maintenance required (less cleaning=less impact) and waterproofing with minimal amounts of chemical substances (=less impact).
Of course, Quagga garments are not biodegradable and at the end of their life cycle represent a threat to the ecosystem; because of this, inside every single product sold by us we ask consumers to dispose of it in the correct plastic recycling bin or invite them to send the item back to us for a 20% discount on a new item or a 5% reimbursement of the cost of the item. By collaborating with specialist recycling centres we can guarantee a new life to fibres obtained by recycling polyester products.
One last consideration: fabrics woven with shuttles like ours are, i.e. fabrics made from crossing weft and warp at right angles, experience little fibre loss during the washing phase. A study conducted by Greenme found that pile weaves, i.e. weaves carried out on circular looms which are mechanically treated to create a voluminous textile, shed easier during the washing phase because the are less integrated into the support owing to the characteristic pile effect which leaves the surface fibres free.
Translation by Fuschia Hutton
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