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In close collaboration, UPM and Vaude claim to be creating the world’s first fleece jacket made from wood-based polyester, in a bid to bridge the gap between recycled and sustainable virgin fibres, propelling performance fashion beyond the realm of fossil fuels.

Traditionally, the resin used to make polyester contains 30% mono ethylene glycol (MEG), sourced from crude oil. However, UPM and Vaude will replace this component entirely with a new bio-mono ethylene glycol (BioMEG) called BioPura, developed by UPM. BioPura is a drop-in solution that seamlessly integrates into existing polyester manufacturing processes due to its molecular compatibility with conventional MEG.

Achieving transformative change in the chemical industry requires strong partnerships across the value chain. In this case, Indorama Ventures, a leading chemical company, will polymerise and spin a polyester yarn containing UPM’s BioPura BioMEG at its facility in Guben, Germany.

Subsequently, Pontetorto, a renowned textile manufacturer based in Prato, Italy, will process the yarn into an innovative bio-based polyester fabric. Vaude will use this fabric to produce the final garment.

Recognising the urgent need for sustainable solutions in the textile and footwear industries, UPM says it is addressing the challenge of reducing the reliance on fossil-based polymers. According to UPM, approximately 60% of materials used in the fashion industry are derived from fossil fuels. UPM aims to produce new, climate-neutral materials sourced from sustainably managed forest biomass to replace fossil raw materials in the textile value chain.

Michael Duetsch, vice president of Biochemicals at UPM, emphasised the significance of this partnership, stating: “We are prototyping a world beyond fossils with Vaude, proving that the next level of sustainable textiles is available. Vaude sets an example in breaking away from oil-based textiles and reducing emission reductions that the whole industry must follow.”

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UPM reports that polyester is the most widely used fibre globally, yet only 14.8% of it is currently derived from recycled feedstock, such as PET bottles. Moreover, less than one percent of the material used in clothing production is recycled into new clothing. Therefore, opting for sustainable feedstock presents a “remarkable opportunity”.

René Bethmann, senior innovation manager at Vaude, highlighted the importance of sustainability and product longevity and said: “By incorporating UPM’s bio-based materials, we are able to further explore and unlock the power of renewable circularity – to use less, source from renewable sources, and ensure the product can remain in the value chain after its useful life.”

UPM is investing €750m ($823m) in the construction of the world’s first industrial-scale biorefinery in Leuna, Germany. The biorefinery will convert sustainably sourced, certified hardwood into next-generation biochemicals, facilitating the transition from fossil-based to renewable materials across various industries.

With an annual production target of 220,000 tonnes, the biorefinery is set to commence operations by the end of 2023.