Trigema Develops Biodegradable T-shirt

In Germany, if you see the company name Trigema or a reference to the always impeccably tailored CEO Wolfgang Grupp, it will certainly be closely linked to the company’s commitment to textile production in Germany—as advertised by chimpanzee. Grupp’s got sustainability hands-down: in spite of the flight of jobs (in the textile sector especially) to the Far East, none of Trigema’s 1200 workers has ever been made redundant, and the company guarantees employment for the children of any current employee. In the quest to keep the edge, Trigema has now partnered with Dr. Michael Braungart of the Environmental Research Institute in Hamburg and suppliers, including dye-stuff manufacturer Ciba, to develop a T-shirt which can end its life on the compost heap.
Trigema, the largest t-shirt and sports clothing manufacturer in Germany, has long offered clothing meeting the Oeko-tex standards for prevention of substances harmful to humans in textiles—especially important for people with chemical sensitivities and allergic reactions. The biodegradable t-shirt will go a step further, having only components which can be fully biodegraded to substances which are part of the known biological cycle.

To achieve this, Trigema uses 100% cotton, from the USA and Pakistan, which is free of pesticides and fertilizer residues and the yarn is spun with natural paraffin. Trigema uses dyes which have been specially developed to be biodegradable—which are reported to be longer-lasting and truer than standard dyes in addition to their human- and ecofriendly properties.

Trigema is still on the search for biodegradable buttons, so there will be no biodegradable polo shirts in the first round of test marketing. With a limited market demand, T-shirts will cost €14,65 (US$ 17.60), about a 50% premium over non-biodegradable t-shirts of comparable quality. Left unadressed is the question of consumer behavior: will customers really drop their t-shirts with the eggshells and coffee grinds into the bio bin? Or will the degradable t-shirt be an interesting footnote in the research of future garbologists?

Collaborating chemist Michael Braungart, together with the famed William McDonough, is behind the cradle to cradle concept and associated certification and has been mentioned often in Treehugger, including for contributions to the biodegradable upholstering which will grace the Airbus A380.