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Research and Innovation

Zeis Textiles Extension Takes on Key Role in Global Sustainability Efforts

Stella McCartney Hoodie

By Raymond Jones

The word Evrnu is not exactly a household word. In fact, it hardly looks like a word at all. 

In the past four years, however, a Seattle-based company with this name has become a key player in the global effort to promote sustainability in the textile industry. To achieve that goal, Evrnu (pronounced “ever new”) has undertaken a significant initiative to convert old cotton garments into durable, fashionable new clothing.

To pursue this concept successfully, the company needed outside help in overcoming the technical issues that arise when using recycled fibers as a raw material. That challenge led to a partnership with Zeis Textiles Extension (ZTE), an arm of the Wilson College of Textiles, which has a national reputation for the variety and quality of its consulting services.

The relationship with Evrnu dates back to 2017, when company co-founders Christo Stanev and Stacy Flynn first approached ZTE for assistance. Tim Pleasants, senior lab operations manager for ZTE labs, has served as NC State’s primary contact and head problem-solver since that time. Pleasants describes the partnership with Evrnu as mutually beneficial in any number of ways.

“The specifications we got from Evrnu presented a unique set of challenges,” Pleasants says, “because the process of spinning fibers from recycled fabric into serviceable yarns is a tough technical nut to crack. Having said that, we like to deal with technical matters that test our ingenuity and resources. And it’s certainly been gratifying to see what clothing designers have been able to do with these impressive new fabrics, which are produced from materials previously sent to landfills.” 

Another partnership that has greatly enhanced Evrnu’s global visibility is a merchandising arrangement with a fashion icon whose family name is known everywhere. That icon is Stella McCartney, whose father Paul sang with one of those English rock groups that performed back in the 1960s.

adidas by Stella McCartney Infinite Hoodie Kristina Mladenovic

Evrnu first partnered with the adidas by Stella McCartney team for the fall/winter 2019 collection. An Evrnu news release distributed at the time noted that McCartney’s team had embraced the mission of “innovating and creating with the planet in mind, by using materials that reduce environmental impact.” This mission was especially timely, given the extraordinary volume of waste produced by the fashion industry. Indeed, Evrnu’s release reported that an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste are discarded annually by the industry. 

Pleasants, who has worked in the textile industry for more than 37 years, came to ZTE after career stops at Cotton Incorporated and Burlington Industries. He’s seen some unusual production challenges during that time, including a job that required shipping 40,000 pounds of rope a month to Guatemala for use in manufacturing Central America’s ubiquitous hammocks. He says the work with Evrnu, however, has been extraordinarily engaging for all involved. 

Evrnu’s co-founder Stacy Flynn says this about the company’s relationship with NC State: “Our continued partnership with NC State has allowed us to fine-tune our fiber characteristics to optimize yarn-spinning, knitting, weaving and the recyclability of our products. It is a vital service, and critical for the development of new technologies, as most of the small-run demonstration capacity centers for textile development have left the U.S.

“At Evrnu, we often contemplate how we can evolve the U.S. textile industry by focusing on recycling innovation, by pushing the boundaries of what is currently perceived as ‘waste’ and by converting it into a valuable new resource for the apparel industry. The combination of better performance, recyclability and impact reduction will be the standard as we move through the 21st century. The U.S. textile industry should lead this effort.” 

ZTE has been a part of the Wilson College of Textiles since 2006. Steve and Frosene Zeis founded the unit at that time to expand the extension mission of the college, although industry courses and services had begun nearly 60 years prior. In keeping with NC State’s mission as a land grant institution ZTE develops partnerships for industry education and workforce development, participates in trade shows, offers training workshops all over the world and provides research and development capabilities on a fee-for-service model. 

Additionally, ZTE assists private companies with the testing and prototyping of new fabrics, and its staff experts often serve as “principal investigators” in a wide range of research projects. One current project involves working with the U.S. Department of Defense to explore hemp as a raw material in producing military uniforms. 

Pleasants describes the Evrnu partnership as “one of the coolest stories I’ve ever been a part of.” It fits well, he says, with one of ZTE’s very top priorities: sustainability. Also, he relishes every possible opportunity to team up with other creative individuals, both inside and outside the university, “who are good at taking ideas and turning them into new products.”