Is This Fiber The Future of Sustainable Bags?
Sustainability is a pillar of Bergans’ business model. From repairing and reselling used gear, to renting out outdoor equipment, they’re totally down to maximize the use of products for as long as possible to help our environment.
But what about when you break that product down at the end of its use cycle? Could it actually still offer value? Bergans believes it can, which is why they’ve partnered with Spinnova to explore a radical concept of ‘product ownership’. In essence, if Bergans’ new project goes according to plan, we wouldn’t own a product, but rather the material it’s made from. Material that can be used to make new products. And that material stems from an innovative Spinnova textile fiber with the potential to be recycled over and over. And in short: change the whole game.
The world’s most sustainable fiber?
Spinnova is a Finnish company whose goal is to make the textile industry drastically more sustainable through creating cellulose-based materials. Spinnova fiber is made from renewable resources, specifically wood pulp from Scandinavian FSC certified wood. The pulp is mechanically refined to create a fine, paste-like substance called micro fibrillated cellulose. Spinnova fibers made from wood pulp are even classified as paper by the EU. The most unique part of this process is that no harmful chemicals are involved in the mechanical manufacturing process. Even the water used in the process is captured when it evaporates and reused.
The fact that the material isn’t chemically altered means that theoretically it should be endlessly recyclable without any performance loss. The fiber is a circular product that can be ground up on a micro level and used again several times to create new fiber.
Teaming up to tackle a circular challenge
Enter Bergans’ new innovation team: Bergans Future Labs, which has joined forces with Spinnova to create the first consumer product made from Spinnova fiber. In a nod to Bergans’ backpack history, they set out to create a backpack. But not just any backpack. Rather, a bag that could be ground up at the end of its product life cycle, without the need for any disassembly, in order to create new Spinnova fiber. A challenge to say the least. No metal. No plastic. No zippers. No dye. No PU coating. But all necessary exclusions in order to test the product’s circularity.
But while the concept was intriguing, material scarcity was definitely a factor to contend with. You see, Spinnova is not yet fully industrialized and the lab could only produce limited quantities of material each day. And the fiber is currently not strong enough to create products exclusively made from it.
So the partnership decided to opt for a small prototype daypack that would feature 50% Spinnova material. The rest of the materials all have a natural origin: cellulose-based fibre lyocell, lamb wool and wood. These resources were verified as being compatible with the recycling process and offered a minimal environmental footprint. Felt was created by Spinnova to use as back panel and harness padding. A Finnish company weaved webbing and edge binding tape. Organic cotton thread was used. Print was replaced by laser engraving. And wooden toggles were made from locally sourced ash (fun fact: Bergans designer Johannes Flem made these himself in his garage/woodshop).
With sketches and ideas in place, they created seven prototypes. But testing the materials within an industrial setting was vital. So next it was off to their manufacturer Sambu in Vietnam to obtain manufacturing feedback and to create a very limited production run of 20 backpacks.
An experiment in the making
The daypack is their first offering in the brands’ joint innovation project referred to as The Collection of Tomorrow. A collaborative space where they will continue to explore the material, its potential, and its constraints.
The theory behind the collection is that when you can no longer utilize the backpack, you can trade the Spinnova material it contains for new Spinnova material, but in the form of another product. At present Bergans and Spinnova don’t know what the next product in the collection will be. Perhaps clothing. Perhaps another bag. However, whatever the product is, they will only charge for the cutting and sewing, as folks already own the material.
Both brands are approaching the project as an experiment. One that is nowhere near to being profitable at present. But one that they both agreed needed to exist in order to push design, challenge consumer views of resource ownership, and to encourage greater sustainability throughout the industry. Can they close that gap between product recycling and new material to create circularity? They don’t know yet. But they’re willing to try. And guess what? They’re getting end users involved.
Rethinking industry and consumer preconceptions
Spinnova fiber is not commercially available. Quantities are extremely limited; understandable for an innovative material still in development. But one of the best ways to further that development is to put it to the test. So Bergans and Spinnova have encouraged the 20 lucky owners of these packs to share their feedback on how the material performs. Each bag comes with a laser-engraved wood tag featuring a unique QR code that provides direct email access to the Bergans Future Labs and Spinnova teams.
Looking to the future now
The Collection of Tomorrow is a bold experiment with no guarantee of success. But arguably this maverick experimentation is what the industry needs. With increasing demand for resources, sustainable production is becoming ever more important. And this innovative take on textiles represents great potential for product circularity. The journey has just started and we’re super eager to see where it leads.
If you’re keen to check this pack out in person, it’ll be showing at ISPO Munich Jan 26th-29th.
And if you’d like to follow along as this exciting project progresses make sure to follow Bergens Future Labs on Instagram.