With sustainability at the forefront of luxury fashion, a new emphasis has been placed on creating alternative eco-friendly materials. With its transparent production process, Econyl has quickly become the frontrunner, with the likes of Gucci and Burberry utilizing the upcycled nylon substitute when creating their collections, and Prada planning to replace all of its nylon with recycled materials like Econyl — often dubbed eco-nylon — by the end of 2021. So what is Econyl and how is it environmentally friendly? Consider this your guide to fashion’s new favorite fabric.
What is Econyl?
Developed by Italian textile mill Aquafil and launched in 2011, Econyl is a nylon fabric made from upcycling waste, such as fishing nets and textile production scraps destined for disposal. Essentially, it has the same characteristics and physical resemblance to traditional nylon but has biodegradable properties, meaning it can be broken down and recreated into new materials repeatedly, diverting waste from landfill and offering significant reductions in CO2 emissions. ‘As a fabric that reduces waste and the need to extract raw materials such as oil, Econyl gets a sustainability tick from us,’ says Mhairi McClymont, head of content and community at Good On You, the world’s leading source for ethical brand ratings. ‘It allows brands to create something new and beautiful out of items that would otherwise be thrown away. It’s also a practical material providing durable, stretchy comfort for sportswear, outerwear and swimwear – unlike some other sustainable fabrics which may not perform as well.’
How is Econyl made?
To create Econyl, ocean waste is recycled and regenerated into a new nylon yarn that is exactly the same quality as virgin nylon. As explained on the Good On You website, waste is collected, then cleaned and shredded, depolymerized to extract nylon, polymerized, transformed into yarn, and then re-commercialized into textile products.
'Econyl and Re-Nylon fabrics are recycled polyester, so they’re made from waste streams — there’s a circularity in that,’ explains Céline Semaan, executive director of climate-positive organization The Slow Factory. ‘Both of these fabrics, instead of using raw plastics and raw oil to create the polyester… use pre-existing plastic or nylons, and recycle them to create new garments.’ However, there is still some way to go to make Econyl completely sustainable. ‘Econyl is not totally immune from releasing micro-fibers when thrown into the wash. To help, consumers can invest in a special bag to throw in the laundry which catches the micro-particles that are released,’ says Semaan. Good On You’s Mhairi McClymont has another tip: ‘It’s thought that cool hand-washing can help reduce the shedding of microplastics – and will also make vibrant colors last longer.’
Econyl in Gucci’s Off The Grid Collection
'Off the grid means to live in a way that is unrecorded: behaving independently, in tune with the natural surroundings and away from the mainstream,’ explains Gucci of its conscious collections, which are designed in support of Gucci Circular Lines – an initiative that’s been created to champion the Italian brand’s vision for circular production. These collections are brought to life using recycled, organic, bio-based and sustainably sourced materials, one of which is Econyl. The brand makes use of nylon leftovers from its manufacturing processes, as well as pre- and post-consumer waste like abandoned fishing nets and carpets. ‘Gucci Off The Grid has been conceived to enhance respect for, and responsibility towards, the environment,’ the brand explains of the gender-fluid line. Comprising footwear, luggage, accessories and ready-to-wear, every detail is considered and designed to lighten our environmental footprint.
Econyl in Mara Hoffman’s swimwear
Mindful, conscious practices are central to New York designer Mara Hoffman’s eponymous label. Some of the most influential people on the planet, from artists to models, actors to jewelers, are falling for the designer’s sustainably focused collections. Each summery edit uses eco-friendly materials and is made in socially responsible conditions, including the designer’s much-loved swimwear pieces, crafted from Econyl yarns. ‘Mara Hoffman was the first designer to use Econyl; the first to give it a chance and popularize it,’ says Céline Semaan.
'Bikinis and one-pieces need to be made from a material that isn’t going to soak up water and get weighed down,’ notes Mhairi McClymont. ‘So Econyl and other recycled plastics are a good choice.’ Since 2017, Mara Hoffman’s use of Econyl fabric has diverted more than 17,767lb of waste from landfill, including 4,442lb of fishing nets.