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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Venerable Japanese Company Goes Circular with Versatile, Upcycled Textile

Meet NUNOUS — a brand-new, radically versatile material made from fabric waste — developed by fabric-dyeing giant Seishoku Co., Ltd.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has identified fashion as the second-most-polluting industry on the planet, which has drawn worldwide critical attention to the enormous amount of waste that is connected to clothing and textiles. Aside from the obvious waste resulting from unsold and end-of-life clothes that get thrown away, the industry also generates waste behind the scenes during manufacturing processes such as spinning, cutting and dyeing.

To address the latter, fabric-dyeing company Seishoku Co., Ltd developed a brand-new material that reduces fabric waste and unlocks new possibilities.

A new material born from textile waste and biopolymers

Remarkably versatile, NUNOUS feels soft to the touch, yet is solid and heavy. The surface boasts layers of color that create complex and unique combinations. Able to resemble fabric, leather and even stone, NUNOUS is a new type of material gaining attention for its wide array of potential uses ranging from decorative objects to interior finishes.

It was developed by Seishoku Co — a material dyeing and processing company founded in 1880 in Okayama, a quiet rural prefecture in the south of Japan.

The idea for NUNOUS began with the out-of-spec products that occur regularly during textile manufacturing. Seishoku dyes up to as much as 50 kilometers of fabric each day; and inevitable imperfections result in some products that cannot be sold. While these products may only make up 1-2 percent of their total output, they found it difficult to throw away fabric that was otherwise beautifully dyed simply because of small flaws or uneven color. Seishoku also wanted to avoid the environmental impact and lost resources that result from fabric waste, and thus began searching for a method to recycle these materials while preserving their beautiful colors. Working with the Industrial Technology Center of Okayama Prefecture, they developed a lamination technique that allows hundreds of sheets of fabric to be layered between resin film and then heated and pressed into sheets. To even further reduce the product’s environmental impact, they utilized biopolymer resin made from non-edible sugarcane. The result is NUNOUS — a new type of material that gives waste fabric a second life.

Possibilities as limitless as customers’ imaginations

'Kokeshi' dolls made from layers of NUNOUS | Image credit: NUNOUS

In the five years since it was developed in 2018, NUNOUS has been incorporated into many projects and places around the world beyond its humble Okayama roots. The material can be made from a wide variety of sources — including cotton, hemp and wool textiles. One company has taken advantage of this to upcycle its old work uniforms into NUNOUS decorations for its office interior. In another case, an apparel brand collected fabric that was cut from trousers to make shorts, and used it to create NUNOUS — out of which it produced new clothes that were exhibited at Paris Fashion Week. As architects and other companies beyond the fashion industry put greater focus on sustainability, it is hoped that NUNOUS will help them upcycle waste in a multitude of ways.

Seishoku is currently working on changes to NUNOUS that will make it a viable material for even wider applications — including improving its fire resistance and aiming to increase the maximum size of each sheet above the current limitation of 450 x 250 mm. The ability to create large NUNOUS sheets that clear fire-safety standards will dramatically increase its potential for use as elements such as wallpaper.

At the factory where test pieces are produced, Seishoku president Akira Himei told us more.

“The majority of ideas on how to utilize NUNOUS come from customers who are looking to use sustainable materials,” he said. “If wallpaper is too difficult, they say, then how about using it in lighting or signage? They come up with applications that highlight the unique combinations of colors, things we would have never thought of. Giving NUNOUS this kind of exposure in places where it’s seen by many people will hopefully also create chances for the general public to think about the fashion and textile industries’ waste problem.”

Fueled by motivations and ideas such as these, this venerable local company will continue expanding its global efforts to create a sustainable future.