Fashion firm Marimekko turns to birch tree based alternative to water-intensive cotton

"The surface of the ready textile has a dim glow and it is pleasing to the touch," Aalto University introduces their new fabric. What else should we expect, from a textile with the soul of the whispering birches that glow along the edges of northern forests?

Mikko Raskinen/Promo image

Researchers at Finland's Aalto University were inspired to develop more sustainable alternatives to natural fibers like cotton in the face of predictions that demand for natural fibers will double by 2030. The scientists developed a new process, called Ioncell, to turn birch pulp from Finnish pulp mills into fibers:

The production method for Ioncell has been developed by Professor Herbert Sixta's research group. The method is based on a liquid salt (ionic liquid) developed under the guidance of Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen which is a very efficient cellulose solvent. The fibres derived from it are carded and spun to yarns at the Textile University of Börås in Sweden.

The fun Finnish fashion company Marimekko learned of the fabric at meetings of the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster (FIBIC). They worked together with Professor Sixta's group to get enough of the fabric to introduce the birch dress earlier this year at their fashion show.

© Courtesy of Marimekko

The knit dress, named Allu, was designed by Tuula Pöyhönen. Marimekko praises the fabric for being more ecological than cotton and for its durability, two benefits for a company with an eye on sustainability.

The silky feeling of the thinner-than-paper bark that peels away from the birch tree lingers in my finger memory as I imagine wearing a birch tree dress. I can hardly wait until they are available, 3-5 years from now -- if scale up to production quantities proceeds as planned.

Tags: Cotton | Designers | Organic Agriculture | Water Conservation

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